War Songs: from Middle Kingdom to Tartars for flute and guitar (2013), ca. 10’

戰詩: 漢月胡地的糾葛

Score available from Trigon Music Press

While attending primary school in Taiwan, I was required to memorize Tang poetry.  I didn't fully understand the intricacy and complexity of these poems until recently, when I revisited them with my daughter, who was attending primary school in Taiwan.  The poetry of the Tang Dynasty, while regular in form, explores rich and timeless subjects and philosophy.  I was particularly intrigued by a large body of poetry on the subject of wars; they reveal the constant struggles between the Middle Kingdom Han people and the peripheral invaders, such as the Mongols and Tartars.  Indeed, eventually, it was the Mongols and Manchurians who defeated the Middle Kingdom and established the Yuan and Qing Dynasties for almost five hundred years.  I was reminded that the assimilation and culture exchange chronicled in these poems took place long before our own familiar 21st Century.

The first three poems convey the violence of wars, while the last poem," Midnight Song" expresses a longing for peace time.  The performers, in addition to evoking the war scenes and Eastern sound world, recite the last poem at the end of the piece.

War Songs: From Middle Kingdom to Tartars was commissioned by Mary Jo White, flutist and Robert Nathanson, guitarist.  Additional funding was provided by a Cahill Grant from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

The English translations of these poems are taken from Chinese Poetry of Tang and Song Dynasties: A New Translation (by C.K. Ho), and have been used with permission given by The Commercial Press (H.K.) Limited. 

雖然小的時候在台灣背了許多唐詩, 但大多不求甚解。《戰詩》是最近再次接觸唐詩,有感而發所創作的曲子。唐詩所涵蓋的領域、境界相當廣泛,其中的「戰詩」更讓我了解到,泱泱大中國與邊疆民族間的紛爭歷史竟是那麼長久,尤其是在南宋以後,先後被外族統治了近五百年;原來,國際間的紛爭與文化的大融合不只發生於21世紀的今天,而是古今中外共同的歷史經驗。這首樂曲的前三曲是描寫戰爭的殘酷與悲壯,最後一曲則是以李白的<子夜秋歌>呈現了對太平天下的嚮往與期待。長笛與吉他兩種西洋樂器除了表現出東方的韻味之外,演奏者並在<子夜秋歌>的結尾用河洛語唸唱。

On The West Of The Long Mountain1


     Chen Tan (812-855)


By death they swore,

      to send the Huns2 to hell;

On barbarian soil,

      five thousand warriors in sables3 fell.

How sad their bones are lying by

      the Wu-ding River4:

In the spring dreams of many wives,

      their spirits still dwell.


At The Frontier


      Lu Lun (742-798)


The moon was blotted out;

      the wild geese flew at great height.

Chan Yue5 was sneaking away in the night.

     Our light cavalry

      was  about to give chase;

The heavy snow

      covered bows and swords outright.


Ascending The City Walls Where Surrender Was Accepted


     Li Yi (748-829)


Beneath the Hui Le Peak6,

      The sands are like snow;

Beyond the surrender-accepting walls,

      The moonlight is like rime.

From nowhere comes

      The tunes on a reed flute,

Throughout the night,

      For their homes soldiers all pine.


Midnight Song


     Li Bai (701-762)


A strip of moon

      hangs over Chang An7,

Amid ten thousand families’

     clothe-pounding8 sound.

Never can the autumn wind blow away,

     My affection for Yu Quan9.

When will the Huns be defeated?

    My husband would then be homeward bound.


1 Long Mountain is situated in Gansu Province.

2 Also known as Xiongau.  Those were barbarians who from time to time raided the Chinese towns along the ancient northern border.

3 Elite warriors wore sable furs in winter in the northwest frontier.

4 A river on the northwest border.

5 The cheif of the Tartar Army who was defeated.

6 A peak of a mountain situated in Ningxia Province.

7 Capital city in Tang Dynasty.  Now the city of Xi’an.

8 In the old days people pounded the clothes to wash them.

9 Border pass in ancient northwest China, also known as Jade Pass or You Men Guan in Dunhuang county, Gansu Province.