Tim Benjamin

composer, writer, storyteller

The Four Dragons: A Chinese Tale


The Four Dragons: A Chinese Tale has the subtitle “Or how the rivers came to be”. The piece retells a traditional Chinese story depicting the origin of the four great rivers of China. The story is told in five parts, read by a narrator (in either Mandarin or English), before each of the five movements of the work.

The piece was commissioned in 2004 by Ying Cai, Guest Principal Trumpet with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Asian Liaison Officer with the RSAMD.

According to the legend, four dragons are responsible for the origin of the four great rivers of China: the Heilongjian in the far north, the Huanghe (Yellow River) in central China, the Changjiang (Yangtze, or Long River) further south, and the Zhujiang (Pearl) in the very far south. The music paints an abstracted picture of the story as told by the narrators, with several symbolic ingredients returning time and again through the piece. At a deeper level, the music plays on many aspects of Chinese numerology, including magic squares of numbers, and the portents associated with the number 8.

Once upon a time, there were no rivers and lakes on Earth,
but only the Eastern Sea,
in which lived four dragons:
the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon, and the Pearl Dragon.
On day the four dragons flew from the sea into the sky.
They soared and dived, playing at hide-and-seek in the clouds.


17 minutes


4 trumpets, horn, 4 trombones, tuba, percussion (2 players), narrator


Ying Cai

First performance

25th January 2006, at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Rhydian Griffiths played the solo trumpet part, and narration was in Mandarin and English


Request a score / parts

If you would like to see a score and/or require a set of parts for this music, please contact me.