Mae­stro weaved his magic to con­vey spirit of novel

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TREND - By CHEN NAN Artis­tic Life.

Wang Lip­ing talks as if it had just hap­pened yes­ter­day.

At 76 he can still re­call vividly the day he was cho­sen to be the com­poser of the tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of the Dream of the Red Cham­ber, one of the four mas­ter­piece of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture writ­ten by the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) au­thor Cao Xue­qin.

It was 1980, and in a small ho­tel room in Bei­jing a panel of a dozen peo­ple asked Wang asked for his views on the novel and on the main char­ac­ters, such as Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu. The ques­tion­ers in­cluded Wang Fulin, the direc­tor of a planned 36-episode TV adap­ta­tion of the novel.

“You can’t please ev­ery­one, so just be up­front and hon­est,” Wang says he told him­self be­fore fac­ing the in­ter­view­ers.

When he had read the novel as a teenager it had not quite been his cup of tea, he says.

“The story is told slowly. I found it te­dious at the start be­cause there’s no drama. How­ever, the more I read on, the more I liked it. It’s a tragedy but it’s full of beau­ti­ful sad­ness.”

If he was cho­sen to com­pose the mu­sic for the TV se­ries he would use “emo­tion­ally and beau­ti­fully tragic rhythms”, he told those gath­ered that day.

By that time, Wang Lip­ing, who was born in Changchun, Jilin prov­ince, and ob­tained a de­gree in com­po­si­tion from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in Bei­jing in 1965, had com­posed for some pop­u­lar movies, in­clud­ing Shaolin Tem­ple, the de­but film of Jet Li, the Chi­nese mar­tial arts movie star, which was directed by Chang Hsinyen in 1982.

“Writ­ing the film score for Dream of the Red Cham­ber had long been my dream. When I read the novel I imag­ined writ­ing mu­sic for each of the main char­ac­ters.”

So when he was told he had been se­lected to write the score for the TV se­ries he was thrilled, he says.

He told Wang Fulin that he wanted to com­pose the mu­sic in­de­pen­dently be­cause “the emo­tion needed to be co­he­sive and pri­vate”, Wang Lip­ing says. He also went out of his way not to read the script be­cause he wanted to en­vi­sion his own ver- sion of the story.

“Un­like other el­e­ments of the TV se­ries such as cos­tumes, scripts and set­tings that can be sourced from the novel, mu­sic didn’t ex­ist at all,” Wang Lip­ing says of the chal­lenges he faced. “I just read the novel over and over again, and I came up with the tempo that the writer Cao Xue­qin set.”

It took him four and a half years to fin­ish the 13 orig­i­nal mu­sic pieces for the TV adap­ta­tion of Dream of the Red Cham­ber.

When the 36-episode se­ries pre­miered in 1987 on Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion, all the mu­si­cal pieces, in­clud­ing Wang Ning Mei and Zang Hua Yin, be­came in­stantly pop­u­lar.

Stars­ing Mu­sic Group, a record com­pany in Guangzhou, re­cently re­leased a vinyl ver­sion of the sound­track of the TV se­ries as part of its Vinyl Re­vival project, which aims to pro­mote a come­back of vinyl.

Wang Lip­ing says he suf­fered many a sleep­less night and man- aged to por­tray the char­ac­ters with his mu­sic ev­ery sin­gle day.

“With each song fin­ished, I would in­vite the direc­tor, those who are ex­perts on the novel and oth­ers from the pro­duc­tion team to my home to listen to the song I played on my pi­ano.”

Apart from writ­ing the score, the other big chal­lenge for him was to find the right singer to in­ter­pret the songs.

“I didn’t want to have pro­fes­sion­als or well-known singers be­cause they have their own styles. I was look­ing for some­one who would match the par­tic­u­lar role in the TV se­ries.”

He then dis­cov­ered Chen Li, an am­a­teur singer, an as­sem­bly line worker in a car fac­tory in Changchun.

Chen, who was in­tro­duced to Wang Lip­ing through a friend in Changchun, had learned Pek­ing Opera, and her voice was “clean and pure”, he says.

“I taught her how to sing the songs word by word. She learned very quickly and was highly flex­i­ble and adapt­able. She was like a lit­tle girl walk­ing into the gar­den in the Dream of the Red Cham­ber. Her singing is full of cu­rios­ity. She rec­og­nized the tragedy of char­ac­ters in the novel, and she sang with ab­so­lute em­pa­thy.”

Over the past 30 years many singers have per­formed the songs from the TV se­ries, but for many afi­ciona­dos of fine mu­sic the orig­i­nal ver­sions of the songs are hard to beat.

“For me, com­pos­ing for Dream of the Red Cham­ber turned out to be a life­long honor, even if it did not come with­out hard­ships,” Wang Lip­ing says. ”Ev­ery­body’s hard work paid off, and even though 30 years have passed since the TV se­ries was first shown, peo­ple still talk about it and say how they love the mu­sic. For them it con­veys the spirit of Cao’s novel.”


Com­poser Wang Lip­ing spent four and a half years to fin­ish the 13 orig­i­nal mu­sic pieces for the TV drama.

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