A Butterfly's Dream


Compulsory work for the Final session of the International Contest Queen Elisabeth of Belgium (Piano-2016).


The work is inspired by the ‘Butterfly’s Dream’ scene in the Zhuangzi, a book of Chinese philosophy that takes its title from the name of its author, Zhuang Zhou (Chuang-tse), who wrote in the 4th century BC. The book’s learned author wondered about the reality of the world, following a dream that he was unsure whether to interpret as a dream or as reality:


‘One time, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a fluttering butterfly, happy with his lot and unaware that he was Zhou himself. Suddenly, the poet awoke and realised that he was Zhou. With his mind between two worlds, he didn’t know whether he was Zhou dreaming that he was a butterfly, or the butterfly dreaming that he was Zhou.’

The music, then, examines this thought, with wingbeats signalled by quivering strings – recalling an earlier composition, Frissons d’aile – with explicit references to Chinese music as well as a rhythm provided by a piano that is at once tender and capricious. Far from being a mere competition piece, this work aims to focus on the roles of emotion and expressiveness in the music of our time.

The piece has a triple dedication: to the memory of Count Jean-Pierre de Launoit, for his magnificent commitment to this competition, which has been a regular part of my experience of music ever since my adolescence; to the memory of my friend Luc Brewaeys, whose death coincided with the composition of the last section of the work, which is marked by that tragedy; and, finally, to Zhang YongYin, recently the soloist in my Crossing Edges for erhu and orchestra, whose discussions with me led to the emergence of these butterflies, merrily roaming across seas and continents.

piano and orchestra