Friday, 13 February 2009

Yi-kwei Sze Chinese Lieder song

Shanghai born bass baritone Yi-kwei Sze (1915-1994) is famous in the west because he moved to the US in 1947. He was highly acclaimed. Some of his recordings are still available, more should be. Tcherepnin wrote his op 95 for him, Seven Chinese Folksongs. No longer in print, but there's a copy in the New York Public Library (Music).

The song above, though is "How can I forget her?", written by Zhao Yuanren, (1892-1982), a scholar and linguist who developed a system for romanizing Chinese characters. The poem is by another linguist Liu Ban-nung, his friend. Composer, poet and singer were all exiles, as most people were in those war torn decades from 1931 onwards. The Sensucht the song expresses, though, applies on many levels. The song has become a classic, so firmly embedded in Chinese culture that many people don't realize it was art song. Part of the reason Chinese composers and poets get relatively forgotten is that their art has become absorbed in everyday culture.

The second video clip shows a soprano version, taken from a movie in the 1950's. In the West, art song and popular song are separate. In China, however, even though western classical tradition started to take hold from the late 19th century, there was less division. Film, above all else, was the art form par excellence of modern China, an extremely important means by which ideas spread. Indeed, film helped unify the country in the face of war and hardship.

Please see the Yi kwei sze website HERE for more information.

Here's a translation. Note that in Chinese "he" and "she" are the same word.

In the sky, floating clouds;
On the earth, a gentle breeze.
The cool air blowing through my hair;
How can I not think of her?

The moon in love with the sea;
The sea in love with the moon.
Ah, on this sweet, silvery night
How can I not think of her?

Blossoms drifting on the water;
Fishes sporting in the stream,
Swallow, what is that you're saying?
How could I not think of her?

Bare trees shivering in the wind;
Wildfire aflame in the evening glow.
The sun still colouring the western sky;
How could I not think of her?

1 comment:

duriandave said...

Hi! I love the film that this clip comes from, and I've always been curious about this song. So, it's great to learn about its history and to read a translation of the lyrics. Thanks so much!