A Set of Chinese Folks Songs: for Solo Viola

Score title

A Set of Chinese Folks Songs: for Solo Viola


Zhou Long

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Program note

This work, in eight short movements, is based upon Chinese mountain songs, work songs, and poular tunes.

Folk songs mirror peoples daily lives, their thoughts and sentiments, local customs and manners. In China, folk music and songs have traditionally crisscrossed the established boundaries between high and low culture. Folk songs were historically valued by Chinas officialdom as expressions of regional culture and transmitters of timeless value. Early dynasties promoted the collection and study of such songs. The Book of Songs, a Confucian classic dating back to ancient times, is a comprehensive anthology of songs and poems that has profoundly influenced Chinese literature for more than 2000 years.

There are three main forms of Chinese folk songs: shan ge, or mountain songs, are sung in the open air, often with long trills that can carry over great distances; hao zi, or working songs, are simple tunes with strong rhythms sung by workmen to accompany their labour; xiao diao, more structured and sophisticated, are arranged and performed by professional and semi-professional musicians for entertainment.

The eight Chinese folk songs arranged for string quartet are from different regions in various styles. The first, Lan Hua Hua (Shaanxi) tells the story of a country girl who escapes from a forced marriage to a rich family and flees to her lover.

In Driving the Mule (Shaanxi) a young girl searches for her boyfriend among a team of mule drivers passing by; the melody is typical of the Shaanxi style with many fourth and minor seventh intervals.

The Flowing Stream (Yunnan) is a love song; seeing the moon above and the flowing waters below, a young girls thoughts turn to her lover. The rising moon is bright, my sweetheart is in the deep mountain, he is like the moon walking in the sky. My sweetheart! The flowing stream around the mountain is clear. The moon is shining over the hillside, looking at the moon and thinking of my sweetheart, the breezes are sweeping past the hillside. My sweetheart! Dont you hear my cry?

Jasmine Flower (Jiangsu) is popular in China and abroad. Jasmine flower, such a beautiful flower, her sweet scent overwhelms all others in the garden. I want to pluck her for myself, but I am afraid of the gardens keeper. Jasmine flower, such a beautiful flower, she is as white as snow when she is blooming. I want to pluck her for myself, but I am afraid of gossips around. Jasmine flower, such a beautiful flower, her looks surpass all others in the garden. I want to pluck her for myself, but I am afraid that she wont bloom in the year to come.

In A Horseherds Mountain Song (Yunnan) a horseherd sings about the mundane occurrences of daily life — horses needing grass to feed, and the grass needing the morning dew to grow.

When Will the Acacia Bloom? (Sichuan) tells of a young girl awaiting her lover under the Acacia tree; when asked by her mother what she is doing, she is embarrassed and replies that she is waiting for the Acacia flowers to bloom.

The tune of A Single Bamboo Can Easily Bend (Hunan) is typical of the Hunan folk style; the words imply that unity is strength.

In the sentimental Leaving Home (Shanxi), a wife bids farewell to her husband who is going westward to seek his livelihood.