ancient lament (2018)       

for soprano solo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, harp 2 percussionists, 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos, double bass

Commissioned by OSSIA New Music

-Performed by OSSIA New Music, cond. Edo Frenkel, sol. Robin Steitz, Eastman School of Music; Rochester, New York, Feb. 2018

-SOCAN Young Composer Prize, 2018

Jiang Kui

 

Gu Yuan (Lament in an Ancient Mode)

Amid the dusk,

A hazy mountain mist

Obscures the bank ahead.

I wish to tie the boat to land: but where?

I cannot overtake departed souls,

Nor can I know the men who’ve yet to come...

Alone I dream of ancient times.

 

What footing can be had in matters of this world?

A single hand can turn the clouds and rain...

In distant Golden Valley fell a flower:

Lü Zhu now lies amid the dust.

We mourn for her misfortuned life:

But who can bring her justice?

Can spring be gone, like this, for good?

...A maiden servant grieves amid the twilight dusk;

Her hair is turning white.

 

This life is short of joys: sorrows have no end.

My zither’s strings about to break from bitter sounds,

A mountain vista stands before my eyes;

Tears stain my feet.

Sire, do you not see: year by year,

Upon the waters of the Fen, only autumn

Geese fly by.

(translation by composer)

Original Chinese:

 

姜夔

古怨

 

日暮

四山兮煙霧

暗前浦

將維舟兮無所

追我前兮不逮

懷後來兮何處

屢回顧

 

世事兮何據

手翻覆兮雲雨

過金谷兮花謝

委塵土

悲佳人兮薄命

誰為主

豈不猶有春兮

妾自傷兮遲暮

髮將素

 

歡有窮兮恨無數

弦欲絕兮聲苦

滿目江山兮

淚沾屨

君不見年年

汾水上兮惟秋

雁飛去

Jiang Kui’s poetic work fluidly addresses conventionally disparate realms of personal, historopolitical, and metaphysical conflict: Gu Yuan shifts seamlessly from the intimacy of personal reminiscence and the practical worries of the present to the immutable desolation of vast landscapes and the weight of ancient history. This rich layering of meanings suggests a musical setting that likewise contracts and expands between planes of stasis, obscurity, movement, and clarity. The narrative arc of the poem, in which the personality of the poet seems to emerge from and ultimately vanish into a barren landscape, guides the musical development: cantabile lines are gradually condensed and germinate from washes and wisps of airy noise, only to dissipate, in the work’s conclusion, into a bleak and intemporal soundscape.

    composer