Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Mittler, Barbara. “Chinese Music in the 1980s: The Aesthetics of Eclecticism.” In China Avant-Garde: Counter-Currents in Art and Culture, ed. Jochen Noth, Wolfger Pöhlmann, and Kai Reschke, 80-88. Hong Kong, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

The concept of “New Music” in China during the 1980s demands to be reinterpreted, as it is not the musical style itself, but the act of introducing Western classical tradition to China that is new. Chinese composers in the 1980s adopted an eclectic stance in their use of musical borrowing. They often treated Western art music as a supermarket, choosing whatever musical elements suited their taste to combine with Chinese musical idioms, resulting in works that sound like Rachmaninoff, Mozart, or Ligeti. Before the 1980s, such compositional attempts are characterized by pentatonic romanticism, which does not reflect true synthesis of both musico-cultural idioms. The most eclectic Chinese composer is Tan Dun, whose works represent a diverse web of sounds from all over the world. None of the compositions in the 1980s applies the same borrowing approach. This eclectic form of musical borrowing prevents one from identifying the specific sources of borrowing, since the music reflects an integrative approach to influences from both Western and Chinese musical traditions and repertoires. These composers and their works fall under the category of “New Wave Music,” a term coined by Wang Anguo in 1986 in Musicology in China for Chinese composers who had just adopted modern Western compositional techniques into their own musical styles while departing from the romantic pentatonicism dominant until the mid-1970s. Alexander Goehr’s invitation to teach modern compositional techniques in the Central Conservatory in Beijing in 1980 influenced many Chinese composers to adopt a more modern stance in their compositions.

Works: Xiang Min: Piano Quartet (84); Tan Dun: Snow in June (88).

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Jingyi Zhang

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