Happy Rain on a Spring Night (2004) by Chen Yi
for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Commissioned in 2002 by Music From Copland House, my mixed ensemble piece Happy Rain on a Spring Night is written for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. It was premiered in 2004 in New York. The musical inspiration came from an ancient Chinese poem with the same title, written by Du Fu (712-770) in the Tang Dynasty:

Happy rain comes in time, when spring is in its prime.
With night breeze it must fall, and quietly moisten all.
Clouds darken wild roads, light brightens a little boat.
Saturated at dawn, with flowers blooming the town.
    [English translation by Chen Yi from the original Chinese]

This poem can be understood symbolically: just as welcome rain nurtures and swells budding seeds into blossoms, society is constantly pushing forward to a new future. As the poem unfolds line by line, the music of this piece reflects each line's meaning, both in scene and in expression, in a similar progressive process. Although the tempo is set at ♩ = 60-70 throughout, and the piece is to be played vividly while never slowing down, the tension builds from a quiet background in the beginning, to a sustained climax towards the end. The musical image in measures 1-41 represents the first half of the poem. Here, the woodwind instruments respond to the muted fast moving notes while metallic string sounds and high piano gestures decorate the texture.

In measures 42-87, the music represents the third line of the poem, where it's so dark that a little light in the boat is shimmering on the lake. In this section, the breathy key slaps on the flute create a mysterious atmosphere as it has a dialog with the other instruments. While being echoed by the string harmonics, the cello's glissandi recites the poem in the tone of Mandarin.

Measures 88-161 are a toccata. It starts with the piano and builds to a big shape to reach the climax in measure 116. This keeps the scene vivid as the piece moves to the coda (m. 162 to the end), which stands on the energetic peak at the end of the piece.

This piece is constructed with two large parts according to the principle of the Golden Section: m. 1-115, and m. 116-192+4 (since the second section is faster). The primary Golden Section occurs at the beginning of the loud and energetic climax of the piece. The smaller divisions within each section are also based upon Golden Section proportions, and textures, too, change according to this proportional arrangement.

— C. Y.    

[from program for March 16, 2015 concert]