The divine resonance of history is orchestrated into melodies that transcend time – this is what Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra accomplishes in its evocative composition “Homage to the Great Tang Dynasty.” Composed by artistic director D.F. and intricately arranged by Yu Deng, the piece explores the iconic era of the Tang Dynasty, epitomizing it through a symphonic narrative that unveils in waves of melody and rhythm.
The Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD) stands as a pinnacle in Chinese history, representing a golden era of culture and civilization. This illustrious period arose from the ashes of the Sui Dynasty (581 AD – 618 AD). By 617, Li Shimin, sensing the need for change, persuaded his father, Li Yuan, to rally forces in Taiyuan. In just five years, they defeated the myriad rebellions shaking the nation’s foundation. In 626, Li Shimin ascended to the throne as Emperor Taizong of Tang.
Emperor Taizong’s reputation is etched in history as one of the greatest Chinese rulers. He wasn’t just a masterful military strategist but also a prodigious poet, writer, and calligrapher.
Under his leadership, which spanned over 23 years, the Tang Dynasty witnessed a flourishing period of unparalleled peace, power, and prosperity. This golden epoch of Chinese civilization continued for another 130 years, extending from Emperor Taizong’s reign to that of Emperor Xuanzong.
The ensemble unfurls a spirited melody, painting the triumphant return of the Tang army from the battlefield. Overflowing with heroism, the music gradually reveals the silhouette of a vast army on the horizon. As if rising in tribute, layers of soldiers manifest, unfolding one after another. Leading the brave procession is a commander on horseback, hoisting the victory flag, akin to the way trumpets and flutes elevate their notes in a triumphant crescendo.
From the initial chords, the orchestra ignites the audience’s spirits, reviving the meaning of the Tang army’s victorious march that kindled hopes across Shenzhou (a poetic term for China). This narrative is deeply entwined with the historical context of the era: The later years of the Sui Dynasty saw growing internal strife, economic hardship, and widespread rebellions. The sunset of the Sui era left a fractured realm, teeming with factions vying for control over the empire’s fate. Amidst this backdrop of chaos and uncertainty, the victory of the Tang forces symbolized a new dawn of hope and stability for the people of Shenzhou.
Accompanying this tale of courage is the pulsating of drums, mirroring the glorious victories of Emperor Taizong of Tang. The orchestra’s synchrony exemplifies the collective jubilation over the Tang Dynasty’s success – an inevitable historical mark. Together, the instruments announce a new epoch, warmly embraced by all under the visionary leadership of Emperor Taizong.
Majestic Entrances and Royal Reverence
[0:49] A sequence of nine drum strikes evokes the grand opening of nine large doors of Daming Palace – the Tang Dynasty national political center built in the 8th year of Zhenguan during Emperor Taizong’s reign. Each drum beat seems to echo the celebrated Wang Wei’s verse, encapsulating the flourishing milieu of the Tang Dynasty and Daming Palace’s allure: “Heaven’s nine doors reveal the palace and its courtyards; And the coats of many countries bow to the Pearl Crown.” As these grand doors open, a captivating panorama unfolds, with a vast array of soldiers and bustling courtiers paying homage to the Emperor.
[0:55] The music recreates an adoration session at Daming Palace, where both civil and martial mandarins converge, waiting for the Emperor’s appearance at court.
The cellos, contrabass, drums, and trumpets capture the vastness and grandeur of the palace, while the violins resonate with royal dignity, with a dash of delicate nuances rendered by the flutes.
[1:36] This segment, transitioning from the awe-inspiring grandiosity, subtly modulates the narrative into the Emperor’s day-to-day governance. His commitment to instituting policies for enhancing his subjects’ livelihoods and fostering the cultural tapestry of Shenzhou is musically depicted. As memories of this golden era in Chinese history emerge, it’s impossible not to hold Emperor Taizong’s visionary and progressive leadership in esteem. His reign not only propelled the nation’s economic growth but also nurtured its spiritual and cultural ascent, culminating in societal elevation in every aspect.
[1:44] The series of playful chirping notes of flutes, accompanied by the buoyant melody of trumpets and trombones, signify a cultural and economic blossom.
[1:59] A further flourish from the violins emphasizes the remarkable societal upliftment, reflecting the Emperor’s effective policies. Affluence radiated across the land, and Emperor Taizong’s influence was seamlessly woven into every societal fabric, akin to the intertwining motifs in music. The orchestra showcases the nation’s diverse facets, with each instrument taking its turn to shine.
Governing with virtue at his core, the music here resonates with harmonious, rhythmic, and adept melodies, mirroring his principle of moral excellence in leadership. This ethos yields a depiction of a peaceful, contented nation that also exists in this tranquil melody.
It’s worth reiterating that the Tang Dynasty wasn’t merely a golden age of social and economic evolution but also a period of military consolidation.
With the western territory stretching to modern-day Kazakhstan and Emperor Taizong’s inherent valor and strategic insight, he showcased his prowess as both statesman and warrior. Yet, instead of employing military might to subjugate minority ethnic groups or deter potential invaders, he chose a path of virtue. His reign was a paragon of benevolence, driving the nation to cultural heights and fostering societal harmony. His esteemed reputation as a virtuous monarch resonated far and wide, much like the echo of trumpets spreading acclaim across distant lands.
[2:57] A resonant gong unveils a new theme, transporting us to distant lands. [3:17] As the pipas and erhus take center stage with melodies reminiscent of far-off regions along the ancient Silk Road, we find ourselves amidst foreign emissaries offering tribute.
Western emissaries paid homage to the magnificence of the Emperor, and their hearts filled with admiration for the expansive beauty of Shenzhou. A continuous procession of envoys, horses, and camels wind their way along the Silk Road, converging at Chang’an – the illustrious capital of the Tang Dynasty. This vivid scenario reflects a characteristic trait of the Tang Dynasty—the era marked a unique openness and hospitality rarely seen in imperial China. Nations from afar sent diplomats and scholars eager to delve into the depths of Chinese culture. The Tang Dynasty warmly embraced these economic and religious exchanges, creating a fertile ground for cross-cultural encounters and fostering a spirit of inclusivity and enlightenment.
This segment of the musical journey is suffused with anticipation, reverence, and eagerness to meet the Emperor of the Great Tang. Let’s imagine the tireless journey of these emissaries. To set foot in Shenzhou, they had to spend countless days traveling. Day after night in the vast desert still could not deter them from their mission to reach the gates of Chang’an. Such was the allure of Emperor Taizong’s illustrious reign and the vibrant tapestry of Shenzhou.
[4:17] The sound of drums, gong, and trumpets opens the door to Chang’an, signaling a rich and exciting cultural exchange. The listeners are now akin to emissaries, beholding the prosperous and bustling scene in Chang’an: the teeming streets, the bustling trade, ornate decor, and a vivid tableau of activity. The orchestral melody seems to alleviate the fatigue of the long journey, drawing the emissaries, much like the audience, into the cultural whirlpool of this thriving land.
[5:08] The melodies from far-off regions return while trumpets echo a hearty welcome, ushering emissaries into the majestic Daming Palace. [5:22] The rhythm now vibrates with a bustling energy, with tambourines amplifying a sense of grand tributes presented to the Emperor. The confluence of royal court etiquette and foreign dignitaries creates a solemn procession, each entering with joy from the Emperor’s generous hospitality.
[5:37] The orchestra transitions into a rhythm of suspense and anticipation. Each drumbeat stirs a flutter, mirroring the anxious excitement brewing within the emissaries. The pressing questions linger: Who is this Emperor? How will he present himself? The escalating tension, underscored by the urgent strings of violins and cellos, crescendos until the Emperor appears.
As the Emperor enters, the melody transforms, easing into a soothing cadence at [5:57]. The atmosphere lightens, radiating satisfaction and jubilation through the royal halls. The visage and demeanor of the Emperor fulfill the emissaries’ hopes as well as the audience’s expectations, and they feel rewarded for the efforts and toils of their long journey to behold the esteemed monarch.
[6:04] The orchestra now resonates with a tune embodying the Emperor’s wisdom and composed temperament, fostering a sense of reverence and assurance among the emissaries and the audience alike. This harmonious transition also sets the stage for the next theme, as the melody starts to delve into the Emperor’s profound impact on the spiritual tapestry of society.
Celestial Harmonies and Spiritual Resonance
[6:20] The enchanting, lofty cadence of the harp evokes the serene harmonies of the heavens.
[6:44] Ethereal strikes on the xylophone resonate like divine chimes, intertwining with the ancient sacred melodies often reserved for ceremonies paying homage to the divine.
[7:06] The melodious drift of flutes infuses the air with a sense of harmony, peace, and tranquility, embodying a society cherishing virtue and integrity.
The music flows soothingly, calming the spirit of the listener. It’s as if a gentle breeze sweeps across the orchestra, akin to the serene, cool weather ideal for solemn ceremonies. People bow respectfully to their superiors, reflecting an era of reverence for the divine and enlightenment. Simultaneously, the Emperor’s virtuous leadership fostered an atmosphere of spiritual upliftment within society.
Under his governance, the trio of paramount religions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism—blossomed significantly. For instance, the imperial civil-service examinations were restructured to emphasize Confucian teachings;
The grandeur with which monk Xuanzang was received in 645, after his monumental journey to secure sacred Buddhist scriptures from ancient India, underscores the era’s profound respect for Buddhism. He wasn’t merely welcomed as a monk but celebrated as a hero of spiritual discovery. Emperor Tang Taizong himself led this grand procession, receiving Xuanzang at the Zhuque Bridge, a gesture that showcased the harmonious blend of rulership and spirituality;
Furthermore, the Tang emperors, bearing the surname Li, also revered Lao-Tzu (or Laozi, the founder of Taoism) as their illustrious ancestor.
Through these vignettes, the orchestra paints a rich tapestry of spiritual reverence and religious harmony under the enlightened rule of Emperor Taizong of Tang, embodied in gentle rhythms and divine tunes.
A Timeless Homage
[7:41] As the symphony reaches its zenith, a tidal wave of emotion sweeps across the ensemble. The grand theme from the onset resonates anew, echoing across the annals of time. The finale reconnects with the introduction, crafting an unending loop that captures the composer’s wish for the grandeur of the Tang Dynasty to inspire future generations eternally. The repetition not only revisits but also amplifies, heralding a bright, more open epoch that endures through the ages.
When moral and spiritual tenets are upheld, as showcased during Emperor Taizong’s reign, the rewards of peace, serenity, and fulfillment shape a harmonious cadence as the composition’s finale.
And as the concluding notes rise, they seem to reach skyward, soaring evermore, as if to boldly proclaim the splendor of the Great Tang Dynasty. These notes resonate boundlessly, culminating in an open-ended crescendo akin to a hopeful pledge for what lies ahead.
For those eager to immerse themselves in the world of Shen Yun, their compositions, including this gem, can be streamed online via Shen Yun Creations (Shen Yun Zuo Pin).
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)