Symphony #1 - "Jasmine"
(2004/5, rev. 2014)
by Ron Hannah
Duration: about 19 minutes
It is in three movements, not at all modernistic but very poignant and dramatic in places, designed to appeal to conservative audiences in China (and here in the West), but still introducing moments of dissonance and bits of jazzy harmony that hopefully will stretch their listening habits a little. Its drama goes a long way toward expressing my love of that ancient land and its people. All three movements are collages of Chinese folk melodies, so my first movement could hardly be a standard sonata-allegro form, yet it works nicely I think. The second is dominated by the song Jasmine, possibly China's most famous musical export, and the third is a rondo, a form that lends itself well to a collection of different tunes.
Those folk melodies I found in various places, though most were sent to me by my good friend Liu Qin. I have tried to stick to Han (the majority group in China) folksongs. This is partly for reasons of cultural homogeneity, and sadly, partly for political reasons. You will not find Tibetan songs here, for instance, nor songs from Xinjiang in the far west of current-day China. The people in those regions are being overwhelmed by Han Chinese as their government encourages them to migrate and settle, and there is much unhappiness to be under Chinese hegemony, however I have been careful to include a song from Taiwan in the 3rd movement, as that island is culturally
Han (though no doubt some minorities there would disagree). It is distressing for an artist to have to consider such a mundane thing as politics. An exception to my general rule is the inclusion of a song of the Naxi people of Yunnan Province (the area in which I was living at the time of writing). As far as I can tell, these people accept, more or less, their domination by the Han and they and other local minorites get along well enough with them. Besides, their dance music is quite infectious. A Naxi tune is the basis of the 3rd movement Rondo, which means it keeps returning in various guises.
Living in China has its inevitable effect: one becomes enraptured or one hates
the place and flees. I love it, my partner of the time hated it and left. On my own, fulfilling a contract
until the time came to rejoin her elsewhere, I occupied my time with writing - both music and prose. This is one result of that creative activity.
The third movement has been performed a few times in Canada. I have no recordings of these performances, but I have created MIDI computer files using Logic Pro, and these are available to hear by clicking above. Yes, they are computer generated and much less than perfect, but they have the advantage of having had the composer himself design them, so their tempi and balance are pretty much as I would like them to be. Use your imagination and enjoy!
The orchestra is as follows, and to obtain parts please visit the Canadian Music Centre or send me an email (below).
- 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
- 2 oboes
- 2 clarinets in Bb
- 2 bassoons
- 4 horns in F
- 2 trumpets
- 2 trombones
- 1 bass trombone
- 2 percussionists
- 1 timpanist
- standard strings (Violins 1 & 2, Violas, Cellos and Basses)
Afterthought: There is a violin concerto based on a Chinese Romeo and Juliet story, called
The Butterfly Lovers. Its story is poignant and it is much loved in China but the music is in my opinion (I've heard two live performances and a recording) a forgettable rehash of Romantic clichés, and I truly hope that my piece is better. (It is!)