Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto is a programmatic music. Often regard as the Chinese equivalent of “Romeo and Juliet”, the story of the Butterfly Lovers tells the Chinese legend of a pair of young couple, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai (梁山伯与祝英台). The title of the story is thus often abbreviated as “Liang Zhu”.

The music draws on Shaoxing opera tunes. Its three sections recount three episodes characteristic of the story – love, protest and transfiguration.

The story begins when Zhu Yingtai, a beautiful and intelligent young lady, who had successfully convinced her parents to gain permission to disguise as a man to attend classes. It is because, in ancient Chinese tradition, females are not allowed to attend schools.

The first encounter of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, in a boy’s disguise, happened along the journey. They chatted and felt a strong affinity for each other. There, with soil as incense, they took an oath to become sworn brothers.

They spent the next three years happily together, sharing the same room. Zhu Yingtai fell in love with Liang Shanbo gradually. However, Liang Shanbo, a bookworm, failed to discover the feminine characteristics exhibited by his “sworn brother” cum classmate.

One day, Zhu Yingtai received a letter from her father, asking her to return home immediately. By this time, Zhu Yingtai had determined to only marry Liang Shanbo, and she managed to reveal her true identity to Liang Shanbo just before her departure. They were both devoted and passionate about each other and decided they would marry no other. They even made a vow of “till death do us apart”. With that, Liang Shanbo promised to visit her parents after his exam to arrange for their marriage.

Months later, Liang Shanbo visited Zhu Yingtai and they had a merry reunion, only to learn that Zhu Yingtai’s parents had already arranged her to marry a man from a wealthy family. Liang Shanbo was heartbroken with the news and fell ill. While Zhu Yingtai was anxiously protesting against the undesired marriage, Liang Shanbo’s health deteriorates quickly and he was soon critically ill. He soon died.

Devastated with the news, Zhu Yingtai agreed to the arranged marriage on a condition that the wedding procession had to pass by Liang Shanbo’s tomb.

At the tomb, Zhu Yingtai poured out her grieves and despairs to the heaven and begged bitterly for the grave to open up. Suddenly, the tomb opened up and in plunged Zhu Yingtai without any hesitation.

Moments later, out of the tomb flew a pair of butterflies, which were believed to be the transfigurations of the deceased lovers. Their spirits had turned into the pair of beautiful butterflies,  and they are never to be separated again.

~ Re-written by Boon Sin Ler 

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