He & Chen The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto

March 30, 2005 at 07:14 AM · Rhapsody in Red - How Western Classical Music Became Chinese

By Sheila Melvin and Jindong Cai -

Algora Publishing NY 2004

ISBN: 0-87586-179-2 (softcover)

An Excerpt:

But perhaps the most representative piece of this era

is the work of two students at the Shanghai

Conservatory, a violinist named He Zhanhao and a

composition major named Chen Gang. The piece they

composed is formally titled Liang Shanbo and Zhu

Yintai but is more commonly known in English as The

Butterfly Lovers. It is a violin concerto in three

parts based on a much-loved legend that is often

referred to as "China's Romeo and Juliet". In

writing it, the two composers were influenced both by

their study of foreign technique and their familiarity

with China's own music. As He Zhanhao explained it,

I came from folk music and went to the Conservatory.

So, I sang Yueju [Shaoxing opera] but played the

violin. When I got to the conservatory, I studied

foreign technique very hard. But, I asked, who am I

studying this for? Am I going to play Bach and

Beethoven for the peasants? I play it and they

listen. I ask if it's good and they all nod their

heads. I ask if they understand, they all say no.

But they love to hear Yueju! Of course, the violin

is very special and beautiful. So, this influenced

our thinking "How could we use folk music with the

violin? How could we nationalize the violin?"

He Zhanhao studied Western technique by day and

listened to local opera at night. Thinking to raise

the level of Chinese music and bring Western and

Chinese music together, he and several classmates

began to adapt folk music to violin. They then went

to factories and villages to play them and see how

they were received. The welcome they received from

their audiences encouraged them to write more, as did

the support they got from fellow classmates and such

professors as Ding Shande, who supervised their work.

"Sometimes we tried lots of different things," He

Zhanhao continued. "Of course, inside we felt so

young and not ready for this, but the leaders

encouraged us. They told us, you all think Beethoven

and Mozart are very great, but remember much of their

music came from folk music, too."

Mr. He and Mr. Chen finally completed The Butterfly

Lovers in 1959. The music they composed was unique in

the way the violin uses the singing technique of

yueju, which involves much portamento and different

vibrato. They also adapted many other instrumental

techniques from Chinese instruments and applied them

to violin. Originally, they changed the ending of

the story, when the two star-crossed lovers die and

then turn into butterflies and fly off together,

because they thought it was silly and superstitious,

but their professors told them they were wrong to do

this, since it was a romantic legend that came from

the people. In May, The Butterfly Lovers was

performed for the public in Shanghai's Lyceum


"And then suddenly everyone liked it" recalled Mr.

He. "The people welcomed it. People's Daily wrote

an article called, "Our Own Symphonic Music" on May


Of course, not everyone liked it as some considered

its way of harmonizing Chinese melodies to be too

simple and sentimental while some leftists decried the

use of the "feudal" legend as inspiration.

Nonetheless, audiences did love it, and the piece has

stood the test of time. It is now a standard in the

repertoire of Chinese orchestras and has also been

performed by many orchestras around the world.

THIS IS LATER, IN 1964: (The context is a Central

Philharmonic effort to popularize symphonic music

partly as a means of saving itself. Mr. Li is Li Delun the conductor.)

This road show was well-received by audiences and

seemed certain to help ensure the orchestras

survival, except for one unfortunate incident. The

single piece of symphonic music which was known and

loved by nearly all the peasants and workers for whom

they performed was The Butterfly Lovers. But, by 1964

the piece that had just five years earlier been

praised as China's "own symphonic music" was

already black-listed right alongside the music of

Tchaikovsky and Debussy because it was viewed as a

love story for rich people. However, since none of

this black-listing was official, audiences did not

know about it and the Central Philharmonic was not

allowed to say anything. This meant that when the

crowds shouted to hear The Butterfly Lovers, the

orchestra could neither play it nor explain why.

Usually Mr. Li was able to distract the audience in

some way or another, but on one occasion the peasants

were so determined to hear the piece that they grew

angry and began throwing rocks, forcing the musicians

to flee for safety. When word of the incident got to

higher level officials, it was not the rock-throwers

who got in trouble, but Mr. Li and the orchestra. To

make amends for making the peasants unhappy, they were

forced to go back and apologize even though they

still couldn't play The Butterfly Lovers, and still

couldn't say why.

E-mail received by Clinton Nieweg from Sheila Melvin 30 June 2004.

{The e-mail continues if anyone needs to know more about He Zhanhao, who is now living in poverty in China as no royalties are paid on the work.}

Replies (11)

March 30, 2005 at 08:56 AM · Hey thank you for posting that! I've only just heard of this concerto, it is one which I may be looking to learn in the next year or so. COuld you tell me in terms of technique, what is an equivalent concerto? Or are the techniques so different that it doesn't really compare? I was interested to see the article said a different type of vibrato was called for...I would imagine this will be quite hard for someone with no background in Chinese music....

April 8, 2005 at 03:43 AM · Clint, thank you for this information. There was already discussion of the concerto before, and since that time I wanted to know more about this music and composer(now I know about two composers). Do you know some source where I could find this concerto (music or CD, doesn't matter)?

April 8, 2005 at 04:11 AM · not different type of vibrato, but different type of slides

April 11, 2005 at 02:15 AM · He/Chen - Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto Research

For those who have had trouble finding the sheet music to this work, research has come up with these references as of April 2005.

1.The Violin/Piano reduction is for sale

2.The Full conductor score is for sale

3.The orchestra parts are only on rental from the publisher.

Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhanhao (a.k.a. Ho Zhanhao) and Chen Gang (a.k.a. Chen Kung [Kang]). [1959] dur 27'

(Chinese Title= Liang Zhu Xiao Ti Qin Xie Zou Qu) [ also listed as Liang Shan-Bo and Zhu Ying-Tai]

The instrumentation is: 2-2-2-2 - 4-2-3-0 - timp, 3 perc(Gu Ban,Cym,Tam-tam), hp, piano, strings, solo Violin (The percussion includes a part for Gu Ban; two Chinese wooden clappers which can be substituted by playing on woodblocks)


From: Klaus Heymann

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

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

E-Mail: Klaus.Heymann@Naxos.Com

[CEO Naxos Records]


From emusicQuest (Music in Print) These are older listings.

Composer: Chen, Gang & He, Zhan Hao

Edition: BUTTERFLY LOVERS, THE, FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA [28'] ! timp, 3 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 [?? cfn]HONG KONG perf mat rent [This may be a mistake in the entry. There may not be a version for Piano solo with orchestra cfn]

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


snip from a web site;

Looking for the Score? If you are a resident in Singapore - hurry to 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. This may be tricky to find and I am equally helpless here. I suggest you approach a very large bookstore that carry Chinese Books and therefore have dealings with Chinese Publishers or go to your local Music Score Reseller for help.

Good Luck. - Yeuk Fan

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


From Johnson Strings a USA dealer http://www.johnson-inst.com/catalog/index.htm

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.]

Butterfly Lovers Concerto; Chen/He [Violin/Piano] (the publication notes are in Chinese) $14.00 The violin part and the piano part are both computer engraved.

“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

The score is printed.


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

snip> 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.



The story of Liangshan Bo and Zhu Yingtai (Butterfly Lovers) is based upon a historical legend known to every Chinese.



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. [Does any one have the music of the revision?]

Recordings; One site gives the information that there is 30 recordings of the Concerto.

http://www.naxos.com.hk/page.asp?code=8.225972HDCD Takako Nishizaki ,James Judd, New Zealand Symphony.


http://www.naxos.com/cat/225940.htm Lu Si-qing, Violin, Chen Xie-yang, Conductor,Shanhai Symphony Orchestra


http://www.musicalonline.com/lu/sample_rec.htm 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.


http://www.oxid.ru/eng/song.php?id=3765&song=Butterfly%20Lovers%20Violin%20Concerto%20-%20Act%20I An Mp3 of a recording by Vanessa Mae- Violin


http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000002SMT/ref=ase_fast-musicasin-20/002-2604238-2881603?v=glance&s=music Vanessa Mae- Violin


http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000009OMB/ref=pd_sxp_elt_l1/002-2604238-2881603 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.


http://www.svay.org/Artist-bios/Yu-Lina/Yu-Lina-bio.htm 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.


http://www.chinasprout.com/store/MCC004.html Sheng Zhongguo- Violin



References to 2 recordings

“The concerto was composed by Gang, Chen & Tan Hao He [sic. Zhanhao, He] in 1958. [sic - should read 1959]


See Amazon.com - search Butterfly Lovers Concerto for recordings available.



[?? Violin ] (information in Chinese)



A piano sound bite of the Butterfly Choral



a community form with posts about the Concerto.



a discussion board that includes posts about the Concerto.


Some references give 1958 other 1959 for the premiere, but 1959 is the correct date per Sheila Melvin, an expert on Chinese music. See page 210-211, 324 of

Rhapsody in Red - How Western Classical Music Became Chinese

By Sheila Melvin and Jindong Cai -

Algora Publishing NY 2004

ISBN: 0-87586-179-2 (softcover)


Available is a Full score published in China with a copyright date of 1979, a computer printed Large size full score printed in the US and a Violin/piano reduction printed in China with only the program notes in English.

The Full score from China has the following English on the title page; Liang Shan-Bo and Zhu Ying-Tai; violin concerto with orchestra (score); Ho Zhan Hao, Chen Kang.

I have proofed these 3 publications against one another and find only minor differences in the engravings.

There is no evidence of “a revision" in these sources. The Naxos rental parts have minor differences when compared to the piano edition and the printed full score.

For those who wish to play the concerto with orchestra, information only about the rental of the orchestra parts in the US is available by replying to this post.

May 14, 2005 at 04:46 PM · Copyright? What if I play it with piano and post the MP3 file on internet, do I infringe any copyright?

May 14, 2005 at 04:57 PM · I think so, Linus. I think Copyright also protect the music against any kind of arrangement within the period of copyright time. Let's say if you want to make an arrangement of a Richard Strauss piece, you cannot perform/sell/whatever your arrangement, because it is still within the 70 years of Strauss' death, at least here in Europe, unless you have an agreement with the publisher.

March 4, 2006 at 09:10 PM · I have emailed HMH Publishing pertaining to the rental of Butterfly Lovers but have not heard back as of yet. Does anyone know how to contact their rental department? Any help would be great, I need to get the parts for a performance of it.

March 5, 2006 at 12:38 AM · Might be better to call them to get that going.

March 8, 2006 at 09:11 PM · Both of these contacts have returned my e-mail request the same day:

Amanda Lai

Naxos Digital Services Limited

Level 11, Cyberport 1,

100 Cyberport Road,

Hong Kong

Tel: +852 2993-5649

Fax:+852 2989-9181

Email: Amanda.Lai@naxos.com


Edith Lei, Managing Director

Telephone: (852) 2760-7818

Fax: (852) 2989-9181

Email: Edith.Lei@Naxos.com

While the full orchestra edition is for rental the concerto reduction is for sale.

That instrumentation is:

Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Piano, 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Bass

with Solo Violin.

Score and parts are available for sale at US $200.00 (postage not included).

With Naxos/HNH International controlling the copyright I agree with Kenny that it would not be wise to post an MP3 file unless you have a good lawyer and the money to fight a copyright violation case.

October 6, 2007 at 08:35 PM · I just found the sheetmusic to this concerto on this website for $20:


Enjoy! :)

October 7, 2007 at 09:29 PM · For people who are interested in playing some simple and elegant Chinese music, Chinese violin solos by Jonathan Stock has some nice tunes and also provides advice on style. He is an academic who has travelled to China to research the subject.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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