Wang Xilin’s musical work (I): Symphony No. 5

Wang Xilin (王西麟) is a great Chinese composer.  Here is a wiki link about him. I have found his work striking and thought-provoking. He’s been through a lot of tortures in his life and has made a name in foreign countries. An influential Chinese newspaper calls him “Chinese patient” (article here in Chinese). Beginning from this post, I will present a series of unprofessional reflections on his work.

Symphony No. 5 (youtube) was composed by Wang in 2001. It was written for 22 strings instruments and was dedicated  to the great Chinese author Lu Xun to commemorate the 120th anniversary of his birth and the 65th anniversary of his death.

I can recognize three parts of the symphony. The first was slow and complexly weaved by string instruments. I hear the deep sorrows in the complicated background. The music contains elements of Chinese folk music, especially that from Northwest China. The melody reminds me of my childhood where I lived in a friendly and close-knit neighborhood. Warm feeling in a Chinese way. There are some typhoon-like sounds which are probably symbols of disasters, say, the cultural chaos in China in the 1960s and 1970s. The plain voice of the string instruments lets us imagine the deep conflicts between the hope and the reality.

The second part, a duet, is relatively light. This is like a warrior marching towards some pre-set goal, determined and hopeful. More folk elements appear in this part. I would interpret the on-and-off plain sound of the strings as the inner conflicts of the Chinese people in that special era where Lu Xun lived. The sound gets thicker and thicker, and eventually returns to a similar style as the first part.

The last part is a repercussion of the first. The author presents what seems to me a tribute to Mr. Lu Xun. The plain string sound reappears, with clearer beats. The downward spiral of melody sounds firmer and richer, and finally ends in peace. Unlike the tenseness of the first part, this part is more like finding one’s way in the dark, directionless on the one hand and hopeful on the other.

The ending is a complicated mix of strings. It’s like a sword pointing into the sky, leaving us with a remote memory and a silver lining, just like Mr. Lu Xun leaves us with his fighter’s spirit and sympathy towards all Chinese people.


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