after Xin Qiji I (2018)
for string quartet
For the Rolston String Quartet on the occasion of the 2019 Soundstreams Emerging Composers Workshop
-Performed by the Rolston String Quartet, Alliance Française de Toronto; Toronto, Canada, Feb. 2019
To the Tune of Tai Chang Yin: Mid-Autumn in Jiankang
A disk of autumn gleam alights upon the golden waves;
The flying mirror has been glossed anew.
I raise my cup and ask the lunar nymph:
I suffer whitened hair—
O, who can bear its mocking hue?
I wish to ride the wind and part—
I cross ten-thousand li of sky;
Below I see tall mountains and great streams.
They say if one could dare to cut the dancing
Fragrant lunar tree,
Then one would see more bright and youthful days.
Spoken Chinese, like classical Chinese music for the guqin, incorporates a rich lexicon of subtly differentiated timbres, intricate glissandi, and spacious resonances. Song dynasty ci poetry—originally set to composed melodies, most of which are now lost—has, by virtue of the language’s inherent musicality, a songlike quality of its own: the poetic work of Xin Qiji (1140-1207) is particularly abundant in imaginative rhyme, assonance, and highly expressive combinations of tonal inflections. As part of an ongoing project to provide musical analogies to poetic expressive devices, after Xin Qiji I, for String Quartet, is one possible “musicalization,” so to speak, of this short and rather whimsical ci. Rhyme and assonance transform into parallel pitch structures; inflections become glissandi; consonants become washes of airy noise; formants are suggested by ephemeral harmonics—the poem, in the spirit of still serenity suggested by its opening moonlit scene, is spoken by the quartet as a timid, whispered song.