The Secret Music of China
Orchestra, Chorus and Cast under the direction of ALEXANDER LASZLO
China is an immense land, and a land of great age and history. But it is also a land of great beauty and mistery. In this unusual collection, Alexander Laszlo presents tone pictures of eight of the many aspects of China in its fascinating mixture of delicacy and brutality, light and shadow, exquisite loveliness and ugly poverty.
RAPE OF NANKING – Night. December 13, 1937. Nanking is raging in battle. Women left the maelstrom tremble with fear. Outside the room, a command to halt is heard, and a child calls out: The Japanese are here! In a rush, the crowd tries to escape, but some are too late. Trapped, a group of women return to the room and lock themselves in. A soldier pounds at the door, and then crashes through, followed by others. One girl nearly escapes, but a soldier blocks her way. Amid the uproar and screams, he thrusts at her with his bayonet. Night, December 13, 1937.
GHOSTS OF THE GREAT WALL – Dark clouds cover the sky, the wind whines across the plains around the Great Wall, constructed by the cruel emperor of China, Chin. It is told that Chin and his retinue reside here, his ghostly voice calling orders to the unhappy men who were forced to build the wall. Mingled in the wailing winds are his commands and the bitter replies of the men. Two thousands years ago, these men were buried alive in the wall so that their spirits might hold back the enemy. But their spirits are imprisoned and in pain. The wind still blows, moaning across the plains, carrying the lost voices and ghostly secrets of the Great Wall.
PIGEON SERENADE – An old farmer sits carying tiny flutes for his pigeons, flutes of gourd and bamboo which he ties to the birds’ legs so that in flight they make music. From nearby farms, whole families come to watch and listen – the children laugh with pleasure. Later, the pigeons return to rest and the farmer pets them, calling each by a favored name. The pigeons fly off again, making new harmonies and cadenzas with their tiny flutes.
CRICKET FIGHT – Two cricket owners call the farmers to attend the fight. There is laughter and banter as bets are made. Tension mounts until the fight begins and the loud hum of the crickets is heard. The owners tease the crickets with bristles, and they become furious. The crickets begin to fight madly, fending with their legs. The noise become louder until one cricket is killed, his body slowly turning over. Losers and winners begin to chatter again, tom toms break out in honor of the winner. But he, too, has been wounded, and slowly dies. The crowd leaves the arena and only the two dead crickets remain.
YELLOW RIVER – The Yangtze gleams and curl away from the docks as coolies carry the heavy cargo. Among their cries are heard ancient chants of farewell from the fishermen of a nearby sampan. The boat slips from its dock and heads upriver amid a rush and pattern of color, passing ancient pagodas framed by fruit tree blossoms, the tiny farms. As the riverbed narrows, coolies work with poles to direct the boat through the pass. The trackers, heavy ropes wound about their bodies, pull the boat through the rapids, singing a wailing melody. The river whirls in pools or fashins, boiling, breaking, foaming. A captain of a passing boat shouts a greeting. Caught up in the atmosphere are the secrets of the three River Gods, their images painted in many places, to guard against the evil spirits of the Yellow River.
JADE LADY – Very long ago, the emperor Chan-Tsung visited Tai-Shan, a great mountain of China. There among its temples, in a pool of crystal water, he saw the image of a lovely woman, whom he called The Daughter of the Spirit of Tai-Shan. In her honor, he built a temple containing the Jade Lady, and chinese women believe that this goddess has a power to bestow children upon barren women. At the foot of the mountain, hopeful women wait to make the pilgrimage. The coolies carry them up slowly, chanting. At the temple, a prayer-song echoes through the arches, across the sounds of a phoenix-flute, a Yang-Ching or Chinese harpsichord, Pi Pa or guitar, a Ku drum, and shudderings gongs. Other women take up the song, but at sunset, the coolie leader calls impatiently. The descent is made quickly, and the coolies are happy at the close of the day. But the women are questioning and hopeful, wondering if the powers of the Jade Lady will be of help to them.
ON A FLOWER BOAT – Amid the flutes, the tinkling bells and the soft lutes, voices are heard behind discreetly drawn curtains. A whispering matron greets callers at the pleasure boat, and introduces a sing-song girl, who offers a love-song. Another woman offers a jade plate piled with delicacies. In the dusky light of a kang a woman prepares an opium pipe for the caller. The voice of the sing-song girl is joined by others, blending and fading in the soft lights and colors and sounds, confusing reality in the rich atmosphere of the Pleasure Boat, the Flower Boat of Chinese Dreams.
LANTERN STREET – In Peking, the pad, pad of coolie steps sound up Lantern Street, a street of wondrous rhythm. Along the street, a color-symphony of lanterns glows in blue, lilac, carmin and jade. Tinkling glasses attached to the lanterns whisper, deep gongs, fairy-like flutes and small chine-bells fill the air. The coolie moves past two merchants, a newsboy, a pair of lovers, an impetuous soldier, a boy and his father, and an angry policeman. In even tempo his steps pad on through the color and gaiety and brilliance of this romantic street.