The Butterfly Lover's Violin Concerto.

June 28, 2004 at 08:55 PM · I'm curious why this beautiful work isn't played by a larger majority of performers.

Is it that ghastly difficult to intepret that people seem to mentally confine it to ethnically chinese performers to play this peice?

While I know shaham has been a great advocate, has anyone else any experience on this work?

Replies (50)

June 28, 2004 at 09:10 PM · Do you have a recording I could listen to?

June 28, 2004 at 09:18 PM · I tend to find this piece only has a special place in the hearts of Japaneese/Chinese (Asian) players because it is kind of a step in the direction of western composition.

To me, This Concerto, is boring. That's all I can say. I've listened to it about three times...and I just do not find anything special about it, for me anyways.

June 28, 2004 at 10:49 PM · I'm Chinese and have played this piece before (at my parents insistence), but I didn't really like it. To me it really wasn't outstanding like other violin concertos. It only holds a special place in the hearts of Chinese/Japanese b/c it was the theme of a romance movie a while ago.

Overall, it's not a good piece.

Ciao, Grace

June 28, 2004 at 11:42 PM · I like this concerto but I can't find the music.

June 28, 2004 at 11:43 PM · Grace is right. This piece is actually really easy to interpret. Just watch the movie, and the same melody is used over and over and over again. Plus it's time consuming! This piece is like 20 pages or more i forgot. MY friend took up to 2 years to play it well. 2 Years is time that can be spent doing a piece much more beneficial.

June 28, 2004 at 11:54 PM · I think its an impressive work of music. It really is upsetting to know that not many people like to add it to their repertoire.

June 29, 2004 at 01:31 AM · Not a good piece? I beg to differ.

June 29, 2004 at 02:02 AM · Personally, this concerto didn't catch my ear at all. Why do you find this concerto beautiful Sum o_O? Maybe you see something I don't :p

June 29, 2004 at 02:12 AM · Let me attempt to explain.

We very often put aside what we are not entirely acustomed to the very first time, from the comments already gathered, all that I deduce, is that a vast majority of violinists choose to view this piece critically even before they have actually tried the score.

While not nearly technically demanding as many contemperary concerti,the work has more musicality(in my opinion) than Stravinsky, Berg and Schoengberg put together.

Having listened to many pieces of dissonance and disturbance. I find the representation of such emotion is better flavoured in the Concerto topic of discussion compared to the mentioned composers.

Undoubtedly these views may not be shared.

The enjoyment of the concerto can only be a product of musical and cultural understanding.

With a storyline written down for the performer to refer to during practice and for performance is such a rare oppertunity.

Many a time, the performer has two choices to make every piece, to be themselves, or to be the composer.

We are constantly battling the self/other concept in the representation of the music.

Yet with a story laid out, we are relieved the mental torture of having to forcefully depict a scene.

A story of woe is something we can all draw a certain personal experience from too.

I was just hoping more people played the piece, it has inate elagance few people decide to tap into.

June 29, 2004 at 03:35 AM · Hey Sum,

Where did u pull that out of? The piece is a repetitive waste of paper w/ a lot of notes, but no musicality. There's just a lot of tempo and key changes that are SUPPOSED to make the piece more intersting (I'm guessing) but don't, just more annoying. Not that I'm against those, they do make music more interesting, but then again, I wouldn't consider this piece music. The composer, Chen Gang, also seemed to like to use a lot of Italian words at every single tempo change (For example: Tempo 1-Adagio cantabile, Tempo 2-Allegro, Temp.3-Adagio assai doloroso, Temp.4-Meno mosso (Pesante), Temp.5-affrettando Piu mosso, temp. 6-Duramente, ad lib-recitando elevato, temp.7-allegro molto resoluto, temp8-patimento, temp9-rabbioso, temp10-lagrimoso, temp11-presto resoluto, ad lib-allegro moderato recit. lamentoso, temp12-presto resoluto, 5ad libs in between w/ sostenuto recit., temp13-allegro molto, temp14-patimento, ad lib-cadenza vecit., temp15-tranquillo, temp 16-adagio cantabile, temp17-piu mosso, temp 18-magnificamente, temp19(the last one finally)-lento. These are most of the different words he employed (and i'm sure I missed many). Although the composer has a reason for all these, the piece would be much better if a lot of it was cut out.

I'm sorry if anyone agrees w/ me.

Ciao, Grace

June 29, 2004 at 04:26 AM · The music is supposed to be a love song, not a headache to play.

Ciao, Grace

June 29, 2004 at 04:39 AM · Sum look at our names...Hsu and Liu, this piece is part of my culture. I have the score and i've played through 6 pages before deciding it's the same thing over and over again. It's just another story of woe, like Romeo and Juliet. If you feel stories of woe are so great than play the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that are based off Bach Cantitas which are based off the story of Jesus's birth, passion and rebirth. What more tragedy is there than the story of Jesus and his sacrifice? Watch the movie of the butterfly lovers, there's nothing special about it.

June 29, 2004 at 05:42 AM · Don't let us get deviated from the topic of discussion shall we?

This concerto is very much of my culture too.

I've enjoyed it immensely for a really long time.

I am just truly amazed as to why the lot of you find it such a tedious piece.

It is possibly more enjoyable than several of the more commonly played concerti or pieces on the violin.

Both to listen to and to perform.

But, judging from these responses, I guess I am the odd one.

June 29, 2004 at 06:34 AM · Although I've never heard this Butterfly lovers concerto, I think it's foolish to challenge the musicality of works like the Berg or Stravinsky concerti. You may feel that other people don't understand the Butterfly lovers but have you considered that you might not understand Berg?


June 29, 2004 at 07:26 AM · Carl, Yes i have to agree, I do not understand Alban Berg.

June 29, 2004 at 09:53 AM · Hi Aaron here. I just absolutely love the Butterfly Lovers. I don't have the score in fact but after I watched the movie and listened to Vanesa mae's album (She recorded it under "China Girl" or something like that), I have decided that I really love it. However I can only manage the first about 30-40 bars, mostly on the main theme, then the rest I forgot or just couldn't follow. To me this piece has all the different expressions and mood captured in one concerto. This is one piece I can relate to, even though I haven't played the complete score. Lengthy no doubt it is but I am sure many of you (non-chinese) will like it in a different way. Does anyone know where I can find the score? Who is the publisher?


June 29, 2004 at 09:53 AM · Hi Aaron here. I just absolutely love the Butterfly Lovers. I don't have the score in fact but after I watched the movie and listened to Vanesa mae's album (She recorded it under "China Girl" or something like that), I have decided that I really love it. However I can only manage the first about 30-40 bars, mostly on the main theme, then the rest I forgot or just couldn't follow. To me this piece has all the different expressions and mood captured in one concerto. This is one piece I can relate to, even though I haven't played the complete score. Lengthy no doubt it is but I am sure many of you (non-chinese) will like it in a different way. Does anyone know where I can find the score? Who is the publisher?


June 29, 2004 at 03:28 PM ·

browse down to composer's name Chen.

June 29, 2004 at 06:34 PM · Hi Grace,

I agree with you that this piece is very repetivite in a lot of places. I do like the piece, but mainly just the theme part only. However, for your comment "is a repetitive waste of paper w/ a lot of notes, but no musicality.", I would think we should all respect people work's (not only famous composers). It took composers days and nights to finish a piece, and I am sure no concerto would appeal to everyone. As you say you're chinese, I would think you should be more forgiving and understanding to your culture. As far as I know, Bufferfly Lovers is one of the first violin concerto composed by chinese. I believe most of the greatest composers might not compose a perfect concerto in their first time.

Honestly, I dont' like Stravinsky's work. Maybe I'm not at the level to appreciate it (yet), and his pieces all sound so similar to me. However, I would still respect his *contribution* to the musical world. And no matter how "terrible" butterfly may sound to you, it has its value and contribution to those who like it.

I respect that you don't like the piece in different ways, but your comment may sound too harsh and unrespecful to the composer, and to people like Sum YL who likes the piece.

June 29, 2004 at 07:32 PM · Beecham (?) called Barber's violinconcerto a Lollipop, and The Butterfly Lover's is much in the same catagory.

There are lots of wonderful colors and melodies in it, but it may not be as original as Stravinsky, Schönberg and Berg.

I can speek lenghtly about my negative views on this concerto, but I shall instead say some positive things.

1. It is pleasing to the ear and pleasant to listen to.

In Nishizaki's (third) recording you even find a nice deep that is absent in Mae's recording.

2. I once read an interview about young (chinese) kids picking up the violin just because they love that concerto, I have to date never heard that about Berg (but I've heard one stop playing the violin because of it).

3. Mostly chicks plays it, and that is nice.

4. Buri never played it for me.

June 29, 2004 at 10:17 PM · This whole discussion seems to have the wider subtext of 'difficult-to-understand-but-often-highly-rated works versus more-accessable-but-not-necessarily-highly-rated works'.

People listen to music for different reasons, and no dispute needs arise just because some listen to music to gain a more intellectual satisfaction from it than others.


June 29, 2004 at 10:43 PM · I've never heard this music, but when I read all discussions, it seems to me like you talk about contemporary composition which you put at the same line with Stravinsky, Berg,Barber, etc. It means that we can't judge these works until we carefully listen to them with score for many times, study its form, modes, harmony and their connections. Sometimes we need to have some background knowledge to understand these works and judge them.

June 29, 2004 at 11:38 PM · Greetings,

Mattias, as regards your fourth point, I think that is propbably why you still love music.

The prune lovers concerto remains an unperformed classic. Too many players running out of the room to make serious rehearsal of such a complex work possible,



June 30, 2004 at 12:19 AM · Chen & He: Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto Research

As Kenny Choy posted Johnson Strings is a dealer who is trying to keep in stock the Violin/Piano edition and the Full Score . If you need the orchestra parts send me an e-mail and I can help you rent them.

Listed below is a re-post about the concerto.

Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhan Hao (a.k.a. Ho ZhanHao) and Chen Gang (a.k.a. Chen Kung). dur 27' (Title = Liang Zhu Xiao Ti Qin Xie Zou Qu)

The premiere of the violin concerto was 27/5/1959 for violin and orchestra

and 4/5/1959 for violin and piano, performed by the composers who were students at that time.

The instrumentation is: 2-2-2-2 - 4-2-3-0 - timp, 3 perc, hp, piano, strings, solo Violin (The percussion includes a part for 2 Chinese instruments- Gu Ban (which can be played on woodblocks)


From: Klaus Heymann

Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2004 5:44 PM

Dear Clint,

HNH International Ltd. is the publisher for the 50% of the Butterfly Lovers that belong to Chen Gang. We just published a new score and parts and can sell the score and rent the parts … we will pay the other publisher, Universal Music Publishing, the 50% belonging to Ho Zhan Hao.

Shanghai Music Press Ltd. has rights only in China and Yih Mei Book Company in Hong Kong has no rights at all.

Klaus Heymann

Level 11 * Cyberport 1

100 Cyberport Road

Hong Kong SAR

Tel: 852-2760 7818 + Fax: 852-2760 1962



From Johnson Strings a USA dealer

11 John Street - Newton Centre, MA 02459, 617-964-0954, 800-359-9351

[This dealer, as can any other dealer, will import the violin/piano edition and the full score]

The violin/piano parts are computer engraved, as is the full score.

Butterfly Lovers Concerto; Chen/He [Violin/Piano] (a publication in Chinese)

Violin/piano $14.00 (prices can change)

The Butterfly Lovers Concerto, composed in 1959 and said to be the most recorded music in China, is based on melodies derived from an operatic tale of star-crossed lovers. Printed in China, this lovely concerto is scored for violin with accompaniment transcribed for piano.

Butterfly Lovers Concerto; Chen/He; SCORE [Full Orchestra Score]

$24.00 (prices can change)


From emusicquest

Composer: Chen, Gang & He, Zhan Hao

Edition: BUTTERFLY LOVERS, THE, FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA [!28'] ! timp, perc, harp, pno, strings, vln solo HONG KONG perf mat rent

Publisher: Hong Kong Music Media Publishing Co., Ltd

Kai It Building, 9th Floor 58 Pak Tai Street

Tokwawan, Kowloon Hong Kong

Composer: Chen, Gang

Edition: BUTTERFLY LOVERS, THE, FOR PIANO [??] AND ORCHESTRA ! timp, perc, harp, strings, pno solo HONG KONG perf mat rent

Publisher: Hong Kong Music Media Publishing Co., Ltd.


snip from a web site;

In Singapore at the National Library at Stamford Road, they have several copies there in the section of Music Scores.

If you reside outside Singapore, or wish to purchase an original copy for yourself, the publisher is Shanghai Music Press Limited, People's Republic of China. .

Good Luck. - Yeuk Fan

[ This company has the rights in China only per e-mail from Klaus Heymann ]


From an e-mail [This is a dealer who sells the violin/piano edition. They are not the publisher]


It is published by Yih Mei Book Co. in Hong Kong.,7 Tin Lok Lane,G/F,Wanchai,Hong Kong, China, Phone: (852) 25740564


A long article about the piece and some suggestions on how to get the score in China.


Record reviews.

Snip; the notes included are very informative, pointing out how the sonata form of this concertante work fits in just nicely with the program and that there exists a second version of the Concerto, a revision by Chen Gang.

Some Recordings; One site gives the information that there is 30 recordings of the Concerto. Takako Nishizaki ,James Judd, New Zealand Symphony.

---------- Lu Si-qing, Violin, Chen Xie-yang, Conductor,Shanhai Symphony Orchestra

------------ Siqing Lu -Violin

snip> Siqing Lu records exclusively for Naxos International (Far East), and has made four recordings of the most famous Chinese violin work, Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto." His interpretation has been widely considered the best among more than 30 available recordings of this work.


Takako Nishizaki- Violin, Kenneth Jean,

snip- Due to restrictions imposed by the Composers' and Authors' Society of Hong Kong, complete listening samples are not available for copyrighted works.

--------------------- An Mp3 of a recording by Vanessa Mae- Violin

----------------------- Vanessa Mae- Violin

------------------------- Takako Nishizaki- Violin

snip from a review -What IS authentic about this recording is that she [Takako Nishizaki]is accompanied by the orchestra and conductor who gave the piece's premiere in 1959.

--------------------------------- Yu Lina- Violin

snip from a review- "To this date, Ms. Yu Li Na, the first person ever to play the Butterfly concerto, remains its best interpreter."

snip> The first recording of the Butterfly Lovers concerto, featuring Lina Yu as soloist, sold over ten million copies. Its popularity has been unflagging from the day of its debut to now.

--------------------- Sheng Zhongguo- Violin


[?? Violin ] (information in Chinese)


A piano sound bite of the Butterfly Choral


a community form about the Concerto


Before the cooperation between He and Chen there existed already

some melodies in a Liang-Zhu string quartett, called "Little Liang-Zhu",

written by He Zhan-Hao and some of his classmates.

There are several revisions by the composers who are still fighting

about the copyrights. Chen (a pianist) revised it first and then made the

"official" violin-piano version. There are also Liang-Zhu versions for

some traditional chinese instruments (Erhu, Pipa) and also for the


You can download several recordings at (chinese!)

homepage of Chen Gang


June 30, 2004 at 02:48 AM · wow, thanks for the research

June 30, 2004 at 03:11 AM · I love listening to this concerto!!

PS: Perhaps the reason why more people don't play it because they don't like butterflies? lol ;-)

June 30, 2004 at 03:52 AM · Greetings,

they have to grow into it. I advise my students to start with the caterpillar concerto,



June 30, 2004 at 06:18 AM · Very good Buri,


June 30, 2004 at 06:38 AM · he's full of puns tonight

June 30, 2004 at 08:00 AM · Buri, can you mail me a copy of that concerto? Having trouble pupating myself.

June 30, 2004 at 10:51 AM · Greetings,

I think you may be about six years too late...



June 30, 2004 at 09:12 PM · Sum i have a copy of the concerto. I believe it's 39 pages with piano and 9 pages of violin only. My copy is by Ho Zhan Hao and Chen Kang from Yih Mei Book. If you really want it i can make a copy of it for you and mail it or something. If you want just the violin part i'll make copies and send it to you. Piano and violin part is alotta copies and i don't wanna copy them XD

July 1, 2004 at 12:04 AM · maybe violin is made for western music instead of Asian flavored love song? I am a chinese and find that piece of music should only be played on chinese traditional instruments.

July 1, 2004 at 01:42 AM · HI Hsu, Would be glad if I can have a copy of the violin + piano part too. Thanks.


July 1, 2004 at 02:01 AM · my teacher told me that the slids in that concerto are supposed to play like er hu o.O

July 1, 2004 at 02:06 AM · I wonder why is it the Butterfly Lover appeal only to Asians. I feel that the Butterfly Lover is interesting and different enough to be played by all. It has all the grace of romance, comedy, drama & tragedy, something like an Asian's Romeo & Juliet. But then I suppose that one needs to read the story or see the movie before one can truly appreciate the score for what it is. I especially like the first few bars, where there is a flute solo. The higher notes conjures up images of misty mountains in a peaceful serene morning and the low notes represent the valleys, then the next few bars where the flautist plays a trill, it represents butterflys flitting about the bushes and streams, all this before the main theme comes on. It is so expressive and easy to interpret. There is also a part where it represent children playing and running about the garden or forest. And another loud part (tuba perhaps) that represent the angry fathers rejection of the relationship of the lovers, and the girls sobbing plea. There are more expressions which I don't have the space to explain. It is just so beautiful. - AARON

July 1, 2004 at 02:18 AM · LU SIQING's recording for butterfly concerto is incredible, i cant stop listening to it!!! Spring in Xinjiang by chen gang is hecka good too.

July 1, 2004 at 03:17 AM · Appeals only to Asians? The only asian in me is from the Mongolians overrunning Russia and Poland, eons ago. (I detest Mongolian "throat-music" - sounds like they're singing "We're coming to eat your childrennnrrrrrr") but I love much of the Asian music! Guess ya have to go to the coast to find it. This thread has been great! ~AB

July 1, 2004 at 10:02 AM · Well apparently from this thread there has not been a lot of "positiveness" of this classical masterpiece. I'd suggest that anyone who wants to hear this piece, go get Vanessa Mays Album "China Girl" ... or was it "Chinese Girl"? I can't remember. She plays this masterpiece superbly and if I have just 10% of her skills and control I would be happy as a lark.


July 1, 2004 at 04:13 PM · It may not be the most structurally perfect concerto there is, since it was composedwhen the composer was still a student, and it imitates,in many passages, the traditional writing of Chinese instrument, which will look strange and perhaps uninteresting to those who are never exposed to traditional Chinese music. It is not play by most of the major Western violinists (except Gil Shaham,who I heard had to struggle through the piece) since it is a piece that requires the performer to have the "Chinese idiom", meaning the understanding of the Chinese language, the culture and the music to bring out the true beauty in this work. Lastly, it is NOT a film score! The melodies and the story are part of the Chinese folk tales that are used in many traditional Chinese operas and dramas.

Best luck.

July 1, 2004 at 05:15 PM · Hi, I'm a Singaporean. Well, Gil Shaham is coming to Singapore to perform the Butterfly Lovers Concerto with SSO in August. I believe this is going to be very interesting as I'll be able to see how a Caucasian interprets this piece of Chinese classical composition. Personally, I like this piece of music a lot. A good friend of mine commented this piece of music sounded like the composer’s graduation project, as such it’s pretty “raw” and too appealing in nature. In retrospect, I really consider this is a good piece of Chinese classical composition. I do have the score & agree with one of you saying that there are too many performance directions to take note. On the topic of why it’s more or less confines to ethnically Chinese performers, I guess it’s really got to do with the performer’s culture. In order for the performer to inoculation emotion in every note he’s playing beside fulfilling the technical part, he requires to have a full understanding of how the music should sound like when it’s sorrowful, happy, etc. Technically, the performer would be able to meet the demand of the composition. However, emotionally, the performer might not be able to deliver the “flavour” of the music. Most Chinese classical music requires certain techniques like “slids”, etc to create that Chinese twang or flavour in the music. There is a great difference between a “slid” with emotion and without emotion and there are a lot of such techniques in the Butterfly Lovers Concerto!! How would a performer take the risk of performing this concerto without having a greater understanding of the Chinese traditional music? Without emotion, a piece of music will just taste like plain water even after fulfilling all the technical & performance directions requirements………

July 1, 2004 at 05:20 PM · Yes, this piece of music was composed according to the twang of Yue Opera from Shanghai.

July 1, 2004 at 06:32 PM · does anybody else think the ravel quartet sounds asian at times?

July 1, 2004 at 07:48 PM · Ravel sounds Asian? Try Kodaly...... especially his Violin/Cello Duo...

July 2, 2004 at 01:27 AM · I think last movement of scottish fantasy sounds azn

btw that is my geography project on yangtze and i played butterfly concerto and got a A+ on it!! haha but i played out of tone

July 2, 2004 at 01:53 AM · still good playing though!!! I need to get the music now, that'll be next month.

July 3, 2004 at 02:33 AM · In the Akron Beacon Journal, Elaine Guregian previews the Cleveland Orchestra's upcoming summer season at Blossom Music Center. Guregian notes with special interest the "jumbo three-part concert on July 31" billed as "An Evening of Romance," featuring "the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and the violinist Gil Shaham. The idea for this concert," Guregian adds, "came when [summer festival director Jahja] Ling discovered that Shaham knew a piece called the Butterfly Lovers' Concerto," which is "a spinoff of an old Chinese folk tale about two lovers kept apart who find happiness only after death, when they are reincarnated as butterflies." Says Ling in the article, "Everybody knows [the concerto] in China and in Asia. I heard it in my childhood...But in the Western world, no one knows that concerto." The nearly three-hour concert also features works by Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

Please remember that the Violin and piano reduction is under copyright even in Asia by international law. It is ilegal to make photo copies. Any good music dealer can import a copy of the Orchestra score and the Violin/piano reduction. The orchestra parts are not for sale but available on rental from HNH International Ltd.

July 4, 2004 at 05:27 AM · Absolutely Unbelievable. I'm responding to Grace Liu, which through I had to read a bunch of stuff (including pupating concertos :-P) to get here, but I strongly strongly disagree. I've played this concerto, and I absolutely love it, it is, like someone pointed out, THE reason I picked violin when I started out instead of... well... viola :-\. Haha, anyways, that's not the point. She argues that because of the italian tempo markings, it's not musical. What a load. What piece does not use tempo markings? It's a long piece, and should use a lot of tempo markings. It doesn't follow strict concerto format (Virtuostic-Slow-Finale (that's just the way I categorize them)), that doesn't make it "a waste of paper". And just for your information, the composer also has the tempo markings in chinese... but actually, that's not even a big deal. No piece can be played with musicality if you follow the tempo markings. Lets see you play the first minute of Zigeunerweisen at a steady moderato. Impossible (actually I've heard it done and it was so stupid it was comical). If you actually sat down... and visioned the piece, the chinese harmonies and western instruments just blend together so well... I can't even describe it with words. And do you know the story? I haven't seen the movie, only the program notes, and just playing through this drama and romance is more than any bach partita could manage (find the story online if you can and after you read it listen to the concerto). If you cannot find feeling in such, it is difficult to imagine you could find feeling in any other concerto or piece at all. As for critique... has anyone researched the Tchaikovsky concerto? After the premier, the audience drowned out the applause with boos, and a critic said: "Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear." Obviously, general opinion has changed. I just hope after you listen to the Butterfly Lovers concerto with a non-biased heart you can change your opinion too.

- Wenhao Sun

July 4, 2004 at 08:27 AM · To anyone,

I was just wondering which of the recordings that exist of the Butterfly's lovers concerto is the best?

I currently have and quite like the Xue Wei recording but are there any others?


Jack Lin

July 4, 2004 at 09:01 AM · I would, without a doubt, fully recommend Vanessa Mae's Album titled "China Girl" from EMI Records where she performed and recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. The conductor was Viktor Fedotov. I think that she interpreted the Butterfly Lover's Concerto very convincingly. Every time I switch on this piece i can almost half expect to see butterflies flitting about the garden. - AARON

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