Chi-Lin, the Chinese unicorn, also known as the “dragon horse”, is one of the four spiritual creatures in Chinese mythology (the others are the dragon, the phoenix and the tortoise). It is supposed to combine the body of the musk deer with the tail of an ox, the forehead of a wolf, and the hoofs of a horse. Eighteen feet high and covered with scales like a fish, its skin is of five colors--red, blue, white, black, with yellow under the belly. In short, it has a monstrous appearance albeit it symbolizes benevolence and rectitude. The male is called Chi (represented here by the string orchestra), and the female Lin (represented by the piccolo). Except for the single horn which protrudes from the forehead of the male unicorn, the appearance of the two genders is otherwise identical. It is said that Chinese unicorns last appeared in the halcyon days of the Emperor Yao (the famous legendary Emperor of China’s Golden Age in the third millennium BC), but so degenerate has mankind since become, that they have never thereafter shown themselves.
The second movement Flute Moon is based on the melody of an art song by the literati poet and composer Jiang Kui (1155-1235?) of the Sung Dynasty:
Jiang Kui lived in a period when half of China (north of the Yangtze River) was occupied by foreign invaders--first the Jin people, also known as the Nüzhen, ancestors of Manchurian, who eventually in 1616 established China’s last dynasty, the Qing; later the Mongols, who in 1279 took over the entire China and founded the Yuan Dynasty. I was particularly attracted by the poet’s subtle metaphorical expressions. In this poem, the poet reminiscences and laments China’s prosperity before the invasions under the moonlight--the witness.
This work is dedicated to Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony Orchestra.