Chou Wen-chung

Soliloquy of a Bhiksuni (1958)

Soliloquy of a Bhiksuni, composed in 1958, is based upon a scene from a sixteenth-century Chinese drama. In the darkness of a Buddhist temple hall, a bhiksuni (Buddhist nun) worships before images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, her posture belying her thoughts:

I am only sixteen
In the early spring of Life
Yet I am thrust through
The Gate of Emptiness
Hearing only the sound of
Temple bells and ritual pipes
Striking stone chimes
Endlessly endlessly
Ringing bells
Blowing the shell trumpet
Beating drums
Trying vainly to communicate
With the Land of the Dead.

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The thematic motives of this soliloquy are woven over the range of the muted trumpet and embroidered, in the brass and percussion ensemble, with sonorities that are the magnified reflexes of the brushstroke-like movements of the theme. The restrained emotion is projected and amplified by means of the same principle that marks the art of Chinese calligraphy, wherein the controlled flow of ink — through the interaction of rhythm and density, the modulation of line and texture — creates a continuum of motion and tension in spatial equilibrium.

Instrumentation

Percussion

    • 2 Timpani
    • Tenor Drum (or Field Drum senza snare)
    • Bass Drum (also used by 3rd player)
    • Triangle (with very light beater)
    • Tambourine (laid flat, with fingers)
    • Snare Drum
    • Suspended Cymbal (also used by 3rd player)
    • Suspended Cymbal (also used by 2nd player)
    • Gong
    • Bass Drum (also used by 1st player)