Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet, a touching love story that is one of the four greatest folktales in ancient China. Set in the Eastern Jin dynasty (265–420 AD), the beautiful tale has existed for over a thousand years, enduring until this day.
Back in the Jin dynasty, feudal ethics forbid women from exposing and expressing themselves in public. They should either occupy themselves in the kitchen or be attentive to their husbands. Being the only daughter in the Zhu family, Zhu Yingtai developed a rebellious nature early on. She somehow managed to disguise herself as a man and go to school under her new identity. She met Liang Shanbo on her way and the two clicked immediately.
For three years at school, they spent most of their time together, day and night, while during the whole time Liang had no idea that the person he was sharing the same bed with is actually a pretty and lively girl. He always saw her as a sworn brother of his and treated her with respect and genuineness. Zhu gradually fell in love with Liang as days went by.
One day, they took a trip to the rivers nearby and Zhu hinted several times that she is actually a girl, but Liang failed to notice. A pair of mandarin ducks, the embodiment for love in Chinese culture swam across and she tried using nature to unveil the truth. “My elder brother, when we part today, who knows when we shall meet again? We are just like these ducks, who separate in flight.” Zhu asked. “Esteemed little brother,” Liang said, “even if we are brothers about to part ways, how can you compare us to a husband and wife?”
When he finally realized the truth, it was already too late. Under the feudal marriage system, she had to obey her father’s order to marry another guy called Ma Wencai. Who would have imagined that it was the last time they met with each other alive? By the time Liang Shanbo realized his feelings for her, he would find out that she was going to be somebody else’s wife soon. His health deteriorated out of lovesickness, which took his life in the end, while Zhu fought strongly against her family’s order to marry Ma but failed. She had to hop onto the bridal sedan chair, and while on their way to the marital ceremony the wedding procession came across Liang’s graveyard. Just then, the storm burst in all its fury, and his grave cracked open and Zhu didn’t hesitate to jump inside. To everyone’s astonishment, they both emerged as butterflies.
Butterflies are symbols of freedom, and this classic story has kept reminding people for over a thousand years that it is always worth the price to pursue true love under any circumstances. Some relate it to a feminist ideal, acclaiming Zhu’s role as a girl with an open mind and emancipated spirit in history. Later generations drew different interpretations from the story, however one thing remained unchanged, which is the appraisal for love and freedom.
One of the top comments under the violin concerto on music app Xiami said, “If such beautiful and sadly moving love could persist in this world, why would they have to turn into butterflies after all?”
The violin concerto Butterfly Lovers, composed by renowned musicians He Zhanhao and Chen Gang during their studies in Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1958, is the most popular Chinese orchestral music in the world. 60 years later, it is still required listening for those who want to understand Chinese music and culture. This immortal national music classic is a point of pride for the Chinese people and the entire oriental music realm.
Listening to this violin concerto, you could easily feel the changes in plot through the variations of tones. The introduction appears vividly delightful, which represents the period of time when the two first met and Zhu went to school filled with aspirations for the future. While the later part turns more delicate and subtle depicting the complicated mixture of friendship and love between the protagonists. It then grows stronger with more dramatic scenes — the truth unveiled, and Zhu’s resisting her father’s orders. In conclusion, the mournful and grief-stricken “butterfly scene” leaves an impression in the heart of every listener.
The whole concerto is diverse, melodious and deeply touching, boasting changes in pace, and changes in tone from mild and exquisite to grand and magnificent.
Violinist Lv Siqing expressed his feelings towards this masterpiece in an interview, “I’ve played this concerto numerous times, and every time I discovered something new.” As an iconic Chinese classical musician, he has already played this concerto both in China and abroad for as many as three hundred times. “Among these three hundred times, there are not two times that are completely the same. I didn’t do this on purpose, it’s just that every time I play it, there are some improvised and fleeting moments of inspirations.”
For the past 30 years, Lv has stepped onto the overseas stage multiple times to play Butterfly Lovers “I feel responsible to present this masterpiece by Chinese composers to foreign audiences.” This time Lv will be joining hands with China Broadcasting Chinese Orchestra in reviving this classic in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle from June 21 to June 26. It would be an audio-visual feast for audiences from all countries, allowing them to glimpse into the core of traditional Chinese classical music and China’s splendid national culture.
Booking details below.
7:30 pm, June 21, 2019
6801 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028
7:30 pm, June 23, 24, 2019
Palace of Fine Arts
3601 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
7:30 pm, June 26, 2019
321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109
Featured photo credit to Shanghai Daily