The Bridge of Birds

Year: 2021

Instrumentation: viola & cello

Duration: 13 minutes

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Program Notes

Once upon a time, there were seven goddesses who lived in heaven. They were all sisters. One night, they took a trip to the mortal world. They wanted to explore over there since it was difficult to obtain permission from the Empress goddess. They decided to bathe together in a lake which was located near a cowherd’s home. The cowherd’s name is Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎, Pinyin: Niú láng).

They laughed and splashed water around. Because of the sounds, the cowherd woke up from his sleep and decided to check what the commotion was about. Once he stepped out into the open area, he saw all of them…and that was when his eyes laid sight on one of the goddesses — Zhinu (Chinese: 织女, Pinyin: Zhī nü), the Weaver. They fell in love immediately and had two children.

The other sisters became worried because it was illegal for a goddess to marry a mortal man. In fact, they did not want the Goddess of Heaven to find out. But, she ended up finding out, ordering Zhinu to return back to heaven to resume her weaving duties.

Niulang was very sad and upset. What would life be without Zhinu? Seeing this, his ox started to speak and tell him that if Niulang would kill the ox and put on the hide, he will be able to travel to heaven see Zhinu. Crying, the cowherd killed the ox and put on the hide and also carried his two children to find Zhinu.

This made the Goddess of Heaven furious and created a large river to separate them as far as possible. However, the cowherd did not give up. Together with Zhinu’s six other sisters, it took a very long time until the Goddess of Heaven made the decision to allow Niulang to see Zhinu on a single night in the 7th day of July each year. In preparation for this event, magpies form a bridge for them to see each other. Once they reunite, it starts to rain because both lovers and the magpies are sad.

They live on in the night sky. The Weaver Girl is Vega, the Cowherd is Altair, the great river that separates them is the Milky Way.

Composed for Maria Cecilia Berioli and the Umbria Ensemble.

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