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Pied Beauty (2017) children’s choir and string orchestra

Categories amateur music-making, Chamber Music, children's choir, choral, Links: Video, music for strings

This piece was commissioned by French-Chinese composer Qigang Chen, whose Gong Geng college runs a Summer camp for rural children to study music with superb teachers and perform with wonderful players.  The college is situated in the remote Zhejiang countryside–so remote, that one can only access it by boat. I have been lucky and privileged enough to be able to attend his legendary composition workshops twice, and they were truly life-changing experiences for me.

This was my first original composition for children’s choir, and it was a daring decision to choose such a difficult (intractable, even) poet as Hopkins to set to music, especially for children for whom English is not their mother tongue. I have adapted his “curtal sonnet”, rearranging his lines into a shorter form, preserving the rhymes which aid memorisation, but with plentiful repetition to reduce the burden of learning for the children.

I wanted to introduce Chinese children (and the university students) to a harmonic and gestural language associated with early twentieth century British music, and made a deliberate study of the harmonic “moves” that Finzi and Howells often make in their pieces. In particular I studied Finzi’s “I said to Love”, and Howells “Take him, earth, for cherishing” and the requiem.

The conductor of this performance is my beloved conducting teacher from my days at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Chen Lin.

Video of the performance in Lishui Grand Theatre:



Praise him.

Glory be to God for dappled things.
Glory be for chestnut falls and finches’ wings.

Glory be to God for dappled things,
Glory be to God for finches’ wings,
For skies of coupled-colour as a brinded cow,
For fold fallow and plough.

Glory be to God, for stipple on trout that swim,
Glory be for all things strange, whose beauty is past change.

Glory be for stipple on trout that swim
Glory be for trades, their gear and trim,
All things counter, strange,
He fathers forth, whose beauty is past change.

Praise him.

[Text adapted from Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim:
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise him. ]


《斑驳之美》运用英国十九世纪牧师、诗人杰勒德•曼利•霍普金斯 (1844-1889)的所谓“缩略十四行诗”为歌词。由于该诗的词汇和句法较复杂的原因,为了助于孩子更容易地掌握歌词,作曲家改变诗行的顺序,把有压韵的诗行放在一起,并做删减,或重复了关键的内容。印子和尾声都运用严肃的,虔诚的,神秘地音乐,同时孩子唱“赞美他”(诗里面的“他”当然指的是天主教中的上帝)。中间部分是主副曲结构(主歌和副歌重复一遍)。歌词描绘以及欣赏大自然与人间中的所有斑驳的物体,包括栗色的秋天、鸣鸟、多云的天空、鳟鱼、各种行业的装备。耳朵明锐的观众有可能听出来,印子、主歌、副歌三个旋律都由两个短暂的动机形成,只不过顺序和方向经过变化了。