The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend of a tragic love story of a pair of lovers, Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), whose names form the title of the story. The title is often abbreviated to Liang Zhu (梁祝) and often regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.
♦ About the story
It was in the feudal China hundreds of years ago, when love as young people’s own choice was considered to be devious from the norm of the society. A young woman name Zhu Yingtai from Shangyu, Zhejiang province, disguised herself as a man traveling to Hangzhou to study. During her journey, she met and joined Liang Shanbo, a companion schoolmate from Kuaiji (now known as Shaoxing) in the same province.
They studied together for three years, during which their relationship was strengthened. However, Liang never guessed Zhu’s true identity; he only found out that she was a girl when both met again in Zhu’s hometown, while she was dressed in female clothing. Although they were devoted and passionate about each other at that time, Zhu was already engaged with Ma Wencai, a man her parents had arranged for her to be married to. Depressed, Liang died in office as a county magistrate. On the way Zhu was to be married to Ma, whirlwinds prevented the wedding procession from escorting Zhu beyond Liang’s tomb. Zhu left the procession to pay her respects for Liang. Liang’s tomb split and Zhu jumped into it to join him. A pair of butterflies emerged from the tomb and flew away.
♦ Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto
The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto is one of the most famous works of Chinese music and certainly one of the most famous outside of China. It is an orchestral adaptation of an ancient legend, the Butterfly Lovers. Written for the western style orchestra, it features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques.
Traditional Chinese composers often write in a different tonal system than western classical music. As a result, this can make the music sound constantly out of tune to some Western ears. The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto is written in traditional 5-note technique (pentatonic scale), it utilizes many Chinese melodies, chord structures and patterns.
The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto was written in 1959 by two Chinese composers, Chen Gang (陈钢, born 1935) and He Zhanhao (何占豪, born 1933), while they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The music did not acquire popularity before the late 1970s, when China loosened its restrictions after the Cultural Revolution. Once released from censorship, it became an embodiment of China in transition. The work is a common feature in figure skating and in concert halls worldwide. This concerto is now often performed with Chinese instruments playing the violin part, the most common being Erhu, Pipa and Liuqin. In such cases the soloist is often accompanied by an orchestra consisting of Chinese instruments.
He Zhanhao is more widely credited for the composition of the concerto. However, his main contribution was the famous opening theme while most of the development was in fact written by Chen Gang. This was revealed in an exclusive interview with the latter.
The debut of the Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto was performed by Yu Lina at the age of 18 in Shanghai as part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary year of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Along with Yu Lina, one of the first violinists who made a recording of this concerto was made in 1959 with SHEN Rong as the soloist with the Symphony Orchestra of Shanghai Music Conservatory conducted by FAN Cheng-wu.
♦ Film and television
► The Love Eterne is a 1963 Hong Kong musical film of the Huangmei opera genre, directed by Li Han-hsiang.
► The Lovers is a 1994 Hong Kong film directed by Tsui Hark, starring Charlie Yeung and Nicky Wu.
► The Butterfly Lovers is a 2008 Hong Kong film based on the legend, but in a wuxia setting, directed by Jingle Ma and starring Wu Chun and Charlene Choi.
► The Butterfly Lovers: Leon and Jo (蝴蝶夢-梁山伯與祝英台) is an animated film directed by Tsai Min-chin, voice-played by Elva Hsiao, René Liu and Jacky Wu.
► Qishi Fuqi – Liang Shanbo Yu Zhu Yingtai (七世夫妻－梁山伯與祝英台) is a 1999 Taiwanese television series produced by Formosa TV in Hokkien, starring Zhao Jing and Alyssa Chia.
► Xin Liang Shanbo Yu Zhu Yingtai (新梁山伯與祝英台) is a 2000 Taiwanese television series released by CTV, starring Show Luo and Noel Leung.
► Butterfly Lovers is a 2007 Chinese television series starring Peter Ho and Dong Jie.