The General Schemed
Li Bao’s lament, ‘Fighting South of the Ramparts,’ was probably written in 751, a year of significant military defeats for the Tang Dynasty, which was approaching both its cultural and political peak and soon to face the rebellion of An Lushan. Li Bao, always iconoclastic, was sometimes more concerned with the fullness of his wine bottle rather than politics, but in poems like ‘Fighting South of the Ramparts’ his engagement with the concerns of the day come through clearly; the air of an empire at its zenith abounds, with the possibility of coming decline beginning to creep in at the corners of the rhetoric. One delight of reading a ‘classical’ literature (Greco-Roman, Chinese, Babylonian, what have you) is the delight in finding the shared interests and concerns of an individual remote to oneself in space and time; perhaps the sense of tragic is that much sharper when those shared concerns are of the futility of death and disaffection with a political and cultural regime. In the work, the
spatial arrangement of the instruments is intended to amplify the shifting affiliations and alliances among the instruments partnerships and
sharings which hold a promise of coordination and true friendship, but which cannot in the end be sustained. The title of the work is taken
from the closing passage of the poem, translated here by Arthur Waley:
“Captains and soldiers are smeared on the bushes and grass;
The general schemed in vain,
Know, therefore that
the sword is as accursed thing
which a wise man uses only if he must.”
The score is marked in tempori belli.
The work was premiered by counter)induction on 13 June, 2008 in New York NY.