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A Moonlit Night on the Spring River: Music Is Poetry

Representative of Chinese classic music

This music is my favorite piece among the “Top 10 Chinese Classic Music” (the 6th one).

In 2008, this music was used in the Opening Ceremony of Beijing 2008 Olympic games, when the actors recited first few sentences from the poem I will introduce below.

History of Different Names

As originally a Pipa solo composed by an unknown composer, it has been popular in China since Ming Dynasty. Its earliest music score documentation was firstly seen on hand-copies around 1820 A.D. In 1895, it was collected in <13 Sets of Pipa Music Scores> by Li Fangyuan, named as “Pipa of Xunyang (浔阳琵琶)”. In 1929, Shen Haochu named it as “Flute & Drum Music at Dusk” (夕阳箫鼓) in his <Yangzheng Pipa Scores>. Around 1925, two musicians in Shanghai rearranged it into a Chinese national orchestra, named as “A Moonlit Night on the Spring River (春江花月夜)”. And this name, which is after a famous poem, soon was accepted by most musicians and audiences.

After World War II, the great Chinese music composer Peng Xiu-Wen rearranged this music into a much better Chinese national orchestra version. Then it soon became famous around China, and also introduced abroad.

Music Is Poetry

Worli Sea Face

A Moonlit Night on the Spring River by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuzeytac/3057530383/}araswami{/link}

As mentioned above, since 1925, this music is renamed as “A Moonlit Night on the Spring River”, which is the name of a poem from Tang Dynasty by Zhang Ruoxu. Unlike infamous poets such as Li Bai, who had written thousands of good poems, Zhang Ruoxu has only two poems documented. However, one is enough, he does not need many.

“A Moonlit Night on the Spring River” by Zhang Ruoxu is known as “His Only Poem But Better than Entire Tang Dynasty Poems”. Wen Yi-Duo credited it as “Poem of Poems, Top of the Top”.

Read this poem, and you will understand the charming beauty of “A Moonlit Night on the Spring River” integrating essence of poetry, music, and painting.

A Moonlit Night On The Spring River 春江花月夜
[Tang Dynasty] Zhang Ruoxu [唐] 张若虚
In spring the river rises as high as the sea,
And with the river’s rise the moon uprises bright.
She follows the rolling waves for ten thousand li,
And where the river flows, there overflows her light.
The river winds around the fragrant islet where
The blooming flowers in her light all look like snow.
You cannot tell her beams from hoar frost in the air,
Nor from white sand upon Farewell Beach below.
No dust has stained the water blending with the skies;
A lonely wheel like moon shines brilliant far and wide.
Who by the riverside first saw the moon arise?
When did the moon first see a man by riverside?
Ah, generations have come and pasted away;
From year to year the moons look alike, old and new.
We do not know tonight for whom she sheds her ray,
But hear the river say to its water adieu.
Away, away is sailing a single cloud white;
On Farewell Beach pine away maples green.
Where is the wanderer sailing his boat tonight?
Who, pining away, on the moonlit rails would learn?
Alas! The moon is lingering over the tower;
It should have seen the dressing table of the fair.
She rolls the curtain up and light comes in her bower;
She washes but can’t wash away the moonbeams there.
She sees the moon, but her beloved is out of sight;
She’d follow it to shine on her beloved one’s face.
But message-bearing swans can’t fly out of moonlight,
Nor can letter-sending fish leap out of their place.
Last night he dreamed that falling flowers would not stay.
Alas! He can’t go home, although half spring has gone.
The running water bearing spring will pass away;
The moon declining over the pool will sink anon.
The moon declining sinks into a heavy mist;
It’s a long way between southern rivers and eastern seas.
How many can go home by moonlight who are missed?
The sinking moon sheds yearning o’er riverside trees.
Translation from baidu

Various versions

China Central National Orchestra version

A Guzheng (Zither) Duet Version
A very good version with high sound quality. Embedding Disabled.
A Poem recite starts at 2’36”.

A Chinese style Fan-dance to the music
performed by Chen Ai-lian in1961
[Chinese Keywords]
民乐 春江花月夜

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