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Gods on the Magpie Bridge

Instrumentation: 8-part unaccompanied mixed chorus (S.S.A.A.T.T.B.B. div.)

Duration: ca. 6'45"

Lyricist: Guan Qin(秦觀)

Language: Mandarin Chinese

Other Version(s): For 8-part unaccompanied female chorus (S.S.S.S.A.A.A.A.)

Remark: The piece was firstly composed for 12-part mixed chorus, but the mixed choir version is never completed. However, it is surely possible to arrange upon request. Please contact composer if you are interested for performance.

Score Preview: PDF

Text in Original Language:






Programme Notes:

Fine wisps of cloud sport their craft,

shooting stars bear word of the lovers’ pain,

and now far off in the River of Stars

they are making the crossing unseen.

To meet just once in fall’s metal wind

and in the jade white dew

turns out to be better by far

than the countless meetings of mortals.

Their tender feelings seem like water,

this sweet moment is as in dream—

how can they bear to turn their heads

to the path leading back over Magpie Bridge?

But so long as both of them love

and so long as their love lasts on,

it does not need to be done

every night and every morning at dawn.


Translated by Stephen Owen


Gods on the Magpie Bridge is an a cappella choral piece for 12-part/8-part mixed chorus. It is based on the Song poem by Guan Qin. The story of Oxherd and the Weaver and their meeting on the Seventh Eve, crossing a bridge of magpies, was a favourite theme of poets over the ages. The poet gave the theme a memorable twist, by the famous quote, “But so long as both of them love and so long as their love lasts on, it does not need to be done every night and every morning at dawn.”

Regarding the setting of the text, the economy of words in Chinese places a main obstacle for any attempt of the musical setting to re-capture the boundless mood hidden beneath. To make possible this adequation between the duration of the music and the emotional scope of the words, melismas are set to match the normal utterance of the text with the music. As a result, music is composed as a sound world which aims to suggest rather than to state, to sketch rather to paint.

To embellish the time and space implicit in the words, the piece expresses frustrated longing and the brevity of the lovers’ meeting through the use of micropolyphony, diatonic cluster, pantonal harmonic language and contemporary choral techniques (imitating winds and water). Ultimately, the piece attempts to bring the audience into the scene of galaxy as depicted in the poem.

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