Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Lau, Frederick. “When a Great Nation Emerges: Chinese Music in the World.” In China and the West: Music, Representation, and Reception, ed. Hon-Lun Yang and Michael Saffle, 265-82. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017.

The convenient label of East-West fusion in describing the recent rise of Chinese-inspired new works by Chinese-born American composers like Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, and Ge Ganru demands reinterpretation. There is no fundamental connection between one’s ethnicity and one’s music; the borrowing of Chinese tunes, timbres or other musical devices merely reflects a matter of compositional choice and aesthetic preference instead of one’s own ethnicity. The composers’ reliance on Chinese materials to evoke a specific form of “Chinese” accent recalls the eighteenth-century artistic practice of chinoiserie, but the nature and perception of current hybrid compositions have totally transformed. Musical encounters between the East and West traces back to the Baroque era when Couperin composed his famous keyboard work “Les Chinois,” but it reveals Europeans’ false impressions of Chinese music. It was not until the turn of the twentieth century when the adoption of European musical tradition took root as a practice in China. According to Western evolutionary conception of music, Chinese music’s monophonic and heterophonic styles are inferior to the complexities of European music, and this attitude persisted into the nineteenth century, when Europeans started visiting China more frequently. The relationship between music and ethnicity is an artificial construct, as these composers employ various extramusical signifying techniques to forge a connection between sound and ideas. They self-consciously make references to China, Chinese ideology and philosophy through their program notes and descriptive titles, evoking a sense of “sonic Chineseness.” Bright Sheng’s Nanking! Nanking! resembles Béla Bartók synthesis procedure whereby he alludes to folk song without direct quotation. A close look at this work reveals that the only instrument that represents China is the pipa, a Chinese instrument.

Works: Bright Sheng: Nanking! Nanking! (277-78).

Sources: Anonymous: Ambush from All Sides (278), The Tyrant Removes His Armor (278).

Index Classifications: 1900s, 2000s

Contributed by: Jingyi Zhang

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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