The Butterfly Lovers Concerto was composed in the year 1958 by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao (right), who were then studying at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The pair were exploring the feasibility of setting Chinese music in a (Western) symphonic medium, incorporating borrowed devices from chinese folk theatrical music as well as vocal techniques of Zhe Jiang's Yu Theatre. The end result is a free-form concerto for the violin in one movement. Applying closely the storyline that I have described, the concerto may be divided into three sections as follows.
Part I describes Shanbo and Yingtai's meeting (Liang is represented on the cello and Zhu on the violin), their joining hands in brotherhood, the blossoming of love; their study and play and their sad separation when Zhu returns home.
Part II portrays their resistance to the arranged marriage. Their meeting at the tower and the eventual death and suicide of the lovers. The violin's free rhapsodic play involving many syncopated chords (Zhu and her resistance to marriage) is pitted against the orchestra (Zhu's father forcing the marriage) in a dramatic play. The meeting at the tower is exemplified by the interplay between the cello solo (Liang) and the violin solo (Zhu). The following section employs borrowed theatrical devices to bring across the sickness and death of Liang and further the dramatic suicide of Zhu (Chinese gong and reprise) Interested listeners can hear these devices to great effect if one imagines them as sung, as it were, from the violin.
Part III wraps up the saga as the flute and harps signify the mysteriousness of the imminent metamorphosis. The play of the butterflies is heard following a recapitulation of the love theme and their happiness is echoed by mortals.