“The Consolations of Scholarship” is a music drama for solo soprano and ensemble, invented in the style of a Chinese Yüan drama from the 13th/14th century. Yüan dramas are the earliest extant form of Chinese play and they were written and acted by the native Chinese while their country was under the domination of Kublai Khan’s armies. The plays are simple, robust and cheerful in character but deal with philosophical issues, often satirically. The original performances apparently combined speaking, singing, instrumental interludes and mime. “The Consolations of Scholarship” makes extensive borrowings from two Yüan dramas (The Orphan of Chao by Chi Chun-hsiang and A Strategem of Interlocking Rings-anon-) as well as from other historical sources, including Mencius,
Marco Polo and the Mongolian Legal Code of 1291, translated by Paul
Heng-chao Ch’en. All the information about Yüan dramas comes from Liu Jung-en’s Six Yüan Plays (Penguin Classics 1972).
‘The Consolations of Scholarship’ was written for the Lontano Ensemble, and first performed at Durham University in 1985 by Linda Hirst (soprano) and the Lontano Ensemble, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez, to whom the work is dedicated. It was commissioned by Musicon (Durham University) with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.
The movement titles are:
1. A Traveller in the Desert
2a Imperious Gestures
2b The General’s Aria
3a Last Moves
3b Chao Tun’s Letter Scene
5 Song of the Hermit, under Turtle Mountain
6 The Consolations of Scholarship
7 A Shining Immortal
8 Interpretation Scene
9a The Chase to the Palace
9b The Emperor’s Decree
The virtuous government official Chao Tun is implicated in a plot against the Emperor by the ambitious and ruthless General K'an. Chao is sent a forged imperial edict to take his own life. Before doing so he tells his wife to leave the city with their newly- born son. The son is brought up by a hermit and twenty years later goes to the capital to read the neglected philosophical classics. Accidentally he stumbles across a text which reveals the truth about his father's death. Learning that K'an is now plotting against the Emperor he extracts revenge by warning the Emperor of the imminent attack. In gratitude the Emperor restores him to his Father's estates.
© Judith Weir
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