Chang’E and the Elixir of Immortality (mixed orchestra version) (2022) · 15 min

for mixed orchestra (seven Chinese instruments and Western symphony orchestra)

dizi, 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, sheng, clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, suona, 3 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, yangqin, 2 harps, pipa, zhongruan (doubling daruan), guzheng, timpani, percussion (4 players), strings

Original version for Chinese Orchestra commissioned by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra

Program Note

Chang’E and the Elixir of Immortality was composed from October through December 2019, commissioned by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. This work comes upon the success of De Ritis’s Percussion Concerto featuring Chinese Percussion and Western Orchestra in April 2018, titled The Legend of Cowherd and Weaver Girl; and comes 15 years after De Ritis’s first work for Chinese orchestra, his concerto for pipa, Ping-Pong (2004), written for the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, featuring pipa virtuoso, Min Xiao-Fen.

Like much Chinese traditional folklore, there are several versions; this composition is modeled after the following interpretation of the story of Chang’E, the Chinese goddess of the moon; her story is celebrated as part of the annual Mid-Autumn Festival. 

Chang’E and the Elixir of Immortality begins with the earth barren and oppressed under the heat of ten suns, depicted by soft and slow moving sound clusters in the highest registers of the bowed strings. The human suffering continues until we hear a theme of hope in the solo guzheng, soon followed by rhythmic and masculine gestures by the plucked strings representing HouYi. Soon, our hero begins shooting down nine of the ten suns with his mighty bow and arrows, a series of nine massive glissandi in the bowed strings followed by percussion crashes. The people cherish HouYi as their hero with a fanfare led by the suona (a double-reed woodwind) and brass — and soon after HouYi meets and falls in love with Chang’E, depicted with a slow dance of courtship featuring dizi (Chinese flute), two harps, and daruan (a large plucked string instrument). Yunluo (pitched cloud gongs) signify the arrival of the Goddess who offers HouYi the Elixir of Immortality for his heroism. Romantic and regal music soon yields to the double-crossing Peng Meng, HouYi’s jealous apprentice, who learns of and seeks the Elixir of Immortality for himself. He confronts Chang’E and demands the elixir from her — and in a fleeting moment, she drinks the elixir herself rather than hand it over to Peng Meng. The powerful elixir soon takes its effect as the music transforms from magic, to reflections of hope and love, and finally to a long ascending passage that reaches higher and higher pitches — Chang’E rising to the moon, where she will live forever. When HouYi returns from the hunt, he learns of Chang’E’s fate, and is overcome with grief and sadness – he sees Chang’E’s shadow in the moon. The composition concludes with a brief postlude harkening back to the musical gestures of hope embodied by HouYi and his heroism, and Chang’E rising to the moon — and one can envision HouYi setting out fruits as offerings to Chang’E as an expression of his eternal love.


Chang’E and the Elixir of Immortality was recorded on March 16, 2022 at Mechanics Hall (Worcester, MA) by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose, featuring Guo Yazhi, suona; Sun Wei, guzheng; Tsujui Chin, sheng; Cheng Jin Koh, yangqin; Guo Ran, zhongruan/daruan; Xu Yuyuan, dizi; Zhou Yi, pipa. Release is anticipated for early 2023 on BMOP/sound.

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