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Chinese Gardens

first performance on 13/07/1998
author of text

Chinese Gardens is a setting of poems by Vikram Seth which were inspired by visits to four of the famous Ming Dynasty gardens in the Chinese city of Suzhou.

Unlike Vikram, I have never been to mainland China, but during a visit to Vancouver in 1991 I was introduced to that city’s remarkable Chinese garden. Completed in 1986, it was constructed by a team of over 50 artisans from China in authentic Ming Dynasty style, taking four of the original Souzhou gardens as models. By an astonishing coincidence, the four gardens chosen were exactly the same four that appear in the poems. I immediately fell in love with this magical place and spent several hours in the garden sketching musical ideas, but mostly just absorbing its exquisite calm and refined beauty. It was some years before I got around to completing the songs, but the memory of that afternoon remained fresh and inspiring, thus explaining my dedication of this work “to the Dr Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden, Vancouver”.

The first song, The tarrying garden, introduces us to some of the main features of a classical Chinese garden: the covered walks, courtyards, rocks and pools, the poetic inscriptions on whitewashed walls and the characteristic zig-zag paths offering no long vistas, but constantly changing views and impressions. We are also instructed in how to enjoy our visit to the garden: “Meander, tarry, amble, pause, admire”. The second song is a nocturne evoking the atmosphere of the exquisite Master-of-Nets garden on a moonlit night. The third song records the somewhat whimsical observations of a visitor to the Garden of the Gentle waves pavilion. The final song remembers Mr Wang, the self-styled Humble administrator, who (somewhat mysteriously, considering his official income) managed to create one of Suzhou’s most famous treasures. The cycle ends with a gentle walk around this, “the loveliest of all gardens”.

The original version of Chinese Gardens was commissioned by the Chester Music Festival and first performed by Claire Bradshaw (mezzo-soprano) and Craig Ogden (guitar) at the Town Hall, Chester, 13 July 1998. The revised version for tenor and guitar was made for Mark Padmore and Morgan Szymanski.

from notes by Alec Roth © 2008


Roth: Songs in time of war
Studio Master: SIGCD124Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: The tarrying garden  Here are no vistas
Track 15 on SIGCD124 [3'03] Download only
Movement 2: The master-of-nets garden  Magnolia petals fall, pale, fragrant, brown
Track 16 on SIGCD124 [3'00] Download only
Movement 3: The gentle waves pavilion  A pool as green as pea-soup
Track 17 on SIGCD124 [2'29] Download only
Movement 4: The humble administrator's garden  A plump gold carp nudges a lily pad
Track 18 on SIGCD124 [3'12] Download only

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