“Flower of Jasmine, so fair!”

Anton Arensky

Anton Arensky

Anton Arensky (1861-1906) could not be considered a musical rebel by any stretch of the imagination. Perceived to lack a distinctive personal style, Rimsky-Korsakov famously said, “in his youth Arensky did not escape some influence from me; later the influence came from Tchaikovsky. He will quickly be forgotten.” Arensky was never particularly interested in musical folklore or Russian musical identity, but he certainly had a gift for melody. As such the subtle nuances of his piano music have been damningly described as being “too pretty.” In the 1890s Arensky composed a number of character pieces oozing with rich lyricism, but still comes as a surprise that he incorporated the Chinese folk song “Mo Li Hua” (Jasmine Flower) in one particular setting. To be fair, the tune was considered one of the most popular songs in China at the beginning of the 19th century. It subsequently made its way across the world, and Puccini would use it most famously in his opera Turandot of 1926.

Anton Arensky: “Etude sur un theme chinois,” Op. 25 No. 3
Mo Li Hua

An integral musical part of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, “Flower of Jasmine, so fair!” has been hailed a “gift from the Chinese people to the world.” Arensky had always excelled in composing poetic miniatures, and taking Chopin as his model, he provided an iridescent setting of the famous folk tune. He eventually incorporated his “Etude sur un theme chinois,” into a set of “4 Morceaux” Op. 25, and first published it in 1893.

Flower of Jasmine, so fair!
Flower of Jasmine, so fair!
Budding and blooming here and there,
Pure and fragrant all do declare.
Let me pick you with tender care,
Sweetness for all to share.
Jasmine fair, oh Jasmine fair.

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