2012年12月28日 星期五

Handel's Oratorios and the 18C English Thoughts-Part I

Foreword: Messiah, Handel's most influential oratorio, is always the favorite concert program in the recent Christmas time. As I know, Messiah was also performed in the Christmas season this year in Hong Kong.  The following article is about something interested to be found in the achievement of Handel's oratorio. This is the first paper that I wrote while studying in the first year of undergraduate program. Interestingly, my perspective of the writing at that time was quite similar to the current historical research, that is, from the receptive side. As such, the following paper is about the receptive history of Handel's oratorio in his day.


George Frideric Handel, a German composer but with success of his career in England, undoubtedly, was a towering figure of the later baroque period. If Madame de Stael very perceptively remarked that Michelangelo was the “Bible’s painter”, Handel must then be called its composer. The number of his oratorios based on Biblical subjects runs to over thirty, for example, Messiah and Judas Macchabaeus. Their continual performance by people of every kind from the date of their composition to present proves their accessibility[1]. The success of Handel’s oratorios is not only its accessible music, but also the contribution of its librettos. Similar to Mozart accompanied with Ponte, Handel also had a lot of silent supporters, the librettists, such as Charles Jennens, James Miller and Thomas Morell. Although Handel did not write any of the librettos, he involved in editing the librettist’s texts, or principally cutting them. He absolutely recognized the importance of the librettos. The printed libretto-the wordbook-was an indispensable part of attendance at the oratorio. English audience customarily bought copies of the text in the theatre in order to read the words during the performance[2]. Therefore, it is no doubt that the success of the oratorios is largely the contribution of Handel. However, different views of Handel’s success of oratorio is not hard to be found in the major modern study of Handel’s English theatre works. For example, Winton Dean asserts that “in the modern opinion an almost complete failure largely because of its dreadful libretto, was popular in his own day.” He continues, ‘Samson suffers from an excess of diversionary airs…..’ and he states that at least eight of these are better omitted in the modern performance[3]. In order to understand what captured the interest of the original English audience, it is worth to explore how the meanings were conveyed from the librettos of Handel’s oratorio, and especially to recognize the impact on them of the thought of their time and to appreciate the artistic and moral criteria that influence their authors. The religious discourse, the moral teaching and the political ideology provide the entry point.

It is almost impossible to understand the artworks, including the music, completely in 18th century without knowing the thoughts and ideas of the English of the same period. The dominant influences on mid-eighteenth-century English thought were religion and politics. They permeated life and art. The pulpit was the major public–address system. Sermons addressed and influenced every aspect of private and public life, of course, including art. Religious discussion, debates and even critics, were the major element of intellectual life. Religious publications dominated book production, and people believed that God supervised lives and could and would intervene with punishment on a personal or national scale if provoked by wrongdoing[4]. Such 18th Century religious atmosphere nourished many of the Handel’s oratorio librettos.

The 18th Century Anglican teaching stressed good works more than faith. Ethical social benevolence is the road to salvation. It was a time that concept of original sin was neglected, doctrine of redemption by grace was relaxed and humanity’s potential to fulfill the requirements of divine precepts in life was emphasized. Some versions of religion even secularized ethics to the extent of suggesting that men and women did not need God to teach them perfection[5]. At the same time, the English translation of Richard Simon’s Critical History of the Old Testament dramatically undermined English Protestant faith in the integrity, inspiration and authority of Scripture. These scholarly criticisms of the text of Bible laid down the seedbeds of the freethinking deist movement in England[6]. Therefore, the years of the performances of Handel’s oratorios, 1732-1752, were the years of Biblical criticism and religious debate, even the years of the major Anglican rebuttals of deism. Under such chaotic background, the bases of Christianity were threatened. Did the concept of divine revelation was still important? Mercy, miracles and fulfillment of biblical prophecies were the main elements of truth and salvation? It is this extraordinary religious, as well as socio-cultural background that brings us to the understanding of how the circumstance influenced the librettos of the meaning conveyed in Handel’s oratorio.

To be continued.......

David Leung (theorydavid)
2012-12-28 published

[1] H.C. Landon, Handel and his world, Weiden and Nicolson, London, 1984, p133.


[2] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp5-6, p23

[3] Winton Dean, Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios and Masques, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, pp631-7.

[4] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp.8-9


[5] Ruth, p.141.

[6] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp141-142.

2012年10月26日 星期五

聯合音樂院 – 回憶與懷念



聯合音樂院 回憶與懷念





承蒙王院長月前從加拿大來電,要我這個理論作曲科畢業生為聯合音樂院三十五週年譜首新曲,順道撰文一篇,笑談風流 事,懷古唱今,以慰思念之情,確是倖甚,倖甚。











反觀今天不少音樂學生,雖有良好的資源配套,卻對學習不求甚解,功課只是草草了事。他們只望快快畢業,拿個學位。從不望扎好基礎,以裝備自已在做學問的功夫上,更上層樓。最理想的還是 一個所謂 “A” 級,好自我炫耀一番。這種缺乏堅毅忍耐去克服困難,對音樂學習毫無熱忱的態度,以及那些自欺欺人的行徑,實在令我更懷念往昔在聯合學習的日子。













David Leung (theorydavid)
2012-10-26 published

2012年10月14日 星期日

Unofficial Histories: Musical Quotation and Collective Memory in Hong Kong

Foreword: I haven't written something new in the recent months. Of course, this is not really good. But, as having mentioned in previous essays, I have explored different topics in artmusic during my Post Graduate years. I am delighted to publish these articles in my personal blog, hoping to share my findings with all friends. This time, I would like to discuss a topic about Hong Kong Contemporary live composers' music.

Unofficial Histories: Musical Quotation and

Collective Memory in Hong Kong


     What people within a society reorganize as their shared common legacy can be termed collective memory. According to the sociologist who coined this term, Maurice Halbwachs, “there exists a collective memory and social frameworks for memory; it is to the degree that our individual thought places itself in these frameworks and participates in this memory that it is capable of the act of recollection.” Despite its alleged autonomous status, music can serve as a powerful platform for the operations of memory within the temporal dimension of our experience, both in our everyday life and, albeit in a different form, in the ritualized context of the concert hall experience. In the following discussion, I wish to look at how musical borrowing in a self-contained instrumental piece can be interpreted in terms of the relationship between individual and collective memories.

While musicologists such as Larry Starr or Peter Burkholder merely regard musical borrowing as an intertextual element to convey various meanings or compositional device to create stylistic diversity, I wish to argue that a musical quotation can function as a representation of one’s act of recall. Thus viewed, musical quotation is no longer an isolated abstract realm which is a merely thematic, harmonic or rhythmic deviation from the overall texture of a piece, it rather evokes the totality of the sonic world of a specific time, place and event, operating in every dimension of personal and collective memory. Be it a tune, a rhythmic pattern or a specific sonority, a reference to a style or genre, a quotation is a tangible link between the sonic and cultural reality of the past and those of the present, as well as a metaphor for identity formation. In the following, then, I shall examine the function of musical borrowing in two contemporary Chinese compositions to illustrate my argument. These are Symphony 1997: Heaven, Earth, Mankind by Tan Dun in 1997 and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Tung Lai Shing in 2000. 


Tan Dun, a Chinese-American composer with hardly any connection, personal or otherwise, to Hong Kong, was commissioned to write a piece by the Association for Celebration of Reunification of Hong Kong with China to celebrate the reunification on July 1, 1997.  Attempting to borrow a sonic image to represent Hong Kong’s indigenous culture, Tan’s compositional choice was to incorporate a pre-recorded musical performance of Cantonese operatic singing at Temple Street into the sixth movement of his symphony.


The street performance heard in the recording is a duet named Xiao Yao [The Death of the Princess] (香夭), which is sung in the last scene of the well-known Cantonese opera, Di Nu Hua [Princess Cheung Ping] (帝女花).  Both the duet and the opera have been popular with Hong Kong locals for years. Tan’s intention to insert the original recording into this symphony without any editing or manipulation is obvious. Most audiences, in fact, are capable of linking this recorded sonic material with an image of “Chineseness,” or “Hong Kongeseness.”  The insertion of such a collected sound on Tan’s part may be a function of his desire to represent spatial and temporal distance and the reshaping and cementing of one’s identity as one recalls that experience. 


This kind of folk borrowing has been a patriotic and political cliché in the music of Mainland China in the early 20th century. Like them, Tan makes use of a collective sonic image to emphasize the celebratory tone of a work which was, after all, composed at the request of rulers. A political reading applies to the other striking quotation in this piece. As you may recall, at the end of movement 5, the choir sings the textless parodic fragment of “Ode to Joy,” appearing to speak to the audience about the emancipation of Hong Kong from its British colonial sovereignty. Then, a strikingly primordial sound of Bianzhong (編鐘) is heard, enticing listeners to anticipate a journey back to the unknown distant past.  Unexpectedly, however, it is the recording sound of Temple Street, acting as a mirror, as it were, that allows one to experience one’s “self” within the local cultural context.  While the bass plays a drone in the background at the opening of the movement, familiar traditional percussive sounds lead the entry of the street singer’s reciting voice. This intrusion into the texture of piece of sounds and music from a real life setting is meant to open up a new aesthetical dimension so that all audiences, irrespective of background, may feel, perceive and recall the ordinary experiences of daily life.  


In fact, Tan is an old hand at playing chicanery of collective memory by using quotations to “popularize” his music for both the Chinese and non-Chinese audiences. Tan only affords a souvenir-like memory as manufactured by the tourist industry, however, functioning as much a tourist attraction as a symbol of ordinary life of Hong Kong. The recorded excerpt works on one’s memory rather like a postcard or a souvenir. Just as souvenirs can induce pleasure and allow collectors to relive a certain experience by associating the surviving object to a particular place, period or event, a sound recording too can be used in a similar fashion.  With a similar trick, Tan borrows Mo LiHua [Jasmine Flower] (茉莉花), a popular Chinese folk tune in the second movement. His intention of using Chinese folk material as expressive shorthand of “Chineseness” is clear.


While Tan’s shorthand form of borrowing seems to constitute a confirmation of a shared identity, Tung’s use of collage quotations appears to evoke a sense of “forgetting” of such a shared, indigenous identity.  I now turn to his piece, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.


Tung is a local composer steeped in a distinctly local cultural background.  His choice of quotation are from a less popular Cantonese opera Hai Jiao Hong Lou [Red Chamber at the Corner of the Sea] (海角紅樓) and opening of the prelude of Verdi’s La Traviata.  The title of the piece, as well as the title of its second movement, does suggest a possible connection with Milan Kundera’s novel of the same name. Tung also made a special reference to one of the book’s chapters, “The Angel.”  This movement and the previous one, “When Life Turns Fate,” allude to the tragic life and inescapable fate of the characters in the stories of the operas and the relevant Chinese classical literature The Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢), opening up a larger and wider contemplative space for our perception and imaginative participation.


Unlike Tan’s shorthand form of borrowing, Tung’s several fragmented quotations and stylistic allusions work like a catalyst to affect the listeners’ mood and mode of perception, mediating between one’s own “self” and one’s imagined other “self” through a highly individualized web of sonic images. In fact, Tung’s scattered quotations become more captivating when they interact with the listener’s disjunct memories. Fragmentation makes symbols out of ordinary things and allows quotidian objects and perceptions to acquire new significance. Hence memories are more evocative precisely only when they are fragmentary.  Like relics of past cultures, the shards of memory reveal to listener’s imagined world that is at once partial and plural, functioning as an ironic metaphor of one’s life. 


The opening muted divided strings from La Traviata in the beginning of movement 2 seems to proclaim that from the past to present, life is ironic and is only a circle game of inescapable tragic occurrences.  Several percussive sounds from different parts of the world, again in the form of fragments, continue to agree with the proclamation and confirm it twice.  The third time, however, after the deep reverberated sound of the scratched strings of the piano is played, whose role normally is to introduce the percussion, a traditional Cantonese operatic female voice appears instead. The singer utters two disjointed words, “思凡,” [thinking the secular world].  The listeners, who were drawn to a tragic reality a moment ago, are now asked to shift to a more distant and illusive story world, that of Red Chamber or Hai Jiao Hong Lou (海角紅樓). This is like a dream inside a dream.  By incorporating a genre that does not traditionally belong to the concert hall into a Western orchestral work, Tung rebuffs the accustomed complacency that is in fact the product of a cultural hypocrisy.  The collision of eastern and western idioms, as well as the low-brow (Cantonese opera) and the high-brow (Western opera), results in a sense of tragic foreboding, evoking all the inconsistencies and contradictions that is part of the everyday ironic life of Hong Kong. 


This irony is emphasized by multifarious collage of sonorities in both movements. Tung’s diverse tapestry of sounds produces a crisscross of imagined sonic maps.  The shakuhachi-like flutes, Tibetan singing bowls, African bongos, South America marimba, Chinese bass drums, and many other Western orchestral brass, strings and percussions are entangled in an ironic kaleidoscopic chaos, appearing to reflect a sonic image of multicultural styles of postmodern Hong Kong. Buried in this chaos, the indigenous, local culture seems to have disappeared or to have been forgotten. Not only does this multicultural irony mock at the intangibility and inconceivability of daily life, but it also reflects the ambivalence of accepting any permanent identity on the part of the Hong Kong locals. 

In conclusion, the presence of quotations in a self-contained piece not only expands the scope of musical materials used but also expands the scope of what composers can do with these materials as well as the scope of how listeners enter a new level of appreciation of the same materials. While Tan borrows materials in the form of expressive shorthand to let it function as a metaphor of an identity already formed, Tung uses collage quotations and allusions in an ironic and diverse ways to refute the idea that such an identity is there in the first place.

David Leung (theorydavid)
2012-10-13 (published)

2012年9月11日 星期二

The Eroica in Beethoven's Eroica

Foreword:  I have been teaching Beethoven's Eroica for these few weeks. So I would like to share an article about this unusal symphony. In addition, this writing may be a good reference for the students to learn how to express musical sound in words.

Beethoven’s Eroica


“It represents not only one of the most incredible achievements in the history of symphony, but also the most important step on the progression of the whole western music history,” Paul Henry Lang, the renowned musicologist and critic, once stated it when he commented on Beethoven symphony no. 3, Eroica (1803).  Although Eroica was written more than two hundred years ago, its impact on today’s listeners remains tremendous. 


It has already been widely known about Beethoven’s admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte and he dedicated this symphony for him.  But after Napoleon’s self-coronation as the French Emperor, Beethoven gave up the idea.  In fact, this legend has nothing related to the magnificent power of Eroica.  Compared to the stormy impact Eroica brought to the audience of different times and nations, the political turbulence caused by Napoleon was but a slight summer breeze.  In no more than a few decades did Europe recover from Napoleon’s devastation.  Eroica, on the contrary, had changed the entire concept of symphony and effectively brought the genre to a new stage.


Before Eroica was premiered to his main patron Prince Lobkowitz in 1804, Beethoven had built up his fame as a composer-performer by writing several instrumental pieces, including at least two symphonies, three piano concertos, in the classical style of Haydn.  If Beethoven were merely satisfied with these achievements and continued working in a similar style, he might still had his name appeared in history with those contemporaries, such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel or Lugwig Sphor, but he certainly would not have become a revolutionary hero standing uniquely in the history of music. 


Beethoven’s revolutionary spirit has already been unleashed in the slow movements of both the piano sonata no. 13, Pathetique and Piano Concerto no. 3.  But it is still difficult to envisage the later development of Beethoven’s musical style from these movements.  Doubtless Eroica has a particular attribute that no previous works of his possess.   From the first note to the last, the music seems to narrate the life of a dramatic hero struggling from a tragic opening to a triumphant ending.  In fact, this narrative character enhanced by pure instrumental music is pioneering.  Neither Mozart’s mature symphonies nor those of Haydn can exert such expressive power.  In Beethoven’s hands, the classical ideal of balance of emotions and intellects is no longer maintained.  The fact that Beethoven boldly gave up the classicism of Haydn and Mozart proved to be far-reaching.  Eroica becomes the first symphonic work stepping into the terrain of Romanticism.


In the outer appearance, Beethoven basically maintains the principles of what his predecessors did to classical symphony for Eroica.  For example, it is a symphony of four movements, which is a typical classical style developed by Joseph Haydn.  Also, Beethoven uses different keys to express various contrasting moods in all movements and let the home key returned after modulations, in order to keep unity.  However, Beethoven makes a great change in the design of structure.  This change not only makes an unavoidable expansion of the length, but also destroys the classical balance between movements, and replaces it with the unceasing dramatic impulses.  Both the length and complexity of the first movement has gone beyond all past instrumental works.  The first theme appears only in a brief glimpse in the opening few bars, and thus, tonal unity has been broken just after the first ten seconds.  Not until the music reaching the coda can a comparably stable theme be heard.  This completeness makes the ending theme looks like an opening theme, as if it should have appeared in the exposition.  In retrospect, Beethoven seems to have raised a thirteen-minute whirling storm over the first movement. 


Beethoven’s revolutionary “storm” commences by two Eb tonic chords calling in tutti.  The “heroic” theme, which is based on the arpeggiation of this Eb triad,  then follows.  Putting tonic materials in the very beginning of a movement are the most direct and effective ways to establish the stability of a work.  But it is only a fleeting stability because of the sudden intrusion of a C# note.  According to the principle of harmony, this dissonant C# must be resolved.  This unpleasant intrusion disappears shortly afterwards by resolving to another unstable dominant seventh chord.  Music is said to go back to its stable “home” again.  But this “home” only reflects a temporary placidity.  A terrible storm is forthcoming.


To our modern ears, the chromatic C# note is only a piece of black cloud in the sky.  Twentieth century music has been notorious for consisting the ‘black cloud’ notes of what the principles of classical harmony regard as “wrong.”  To understand the disturbance caused by this C#, we need only to recall the audience of the late eighteenth-century Vienna.  


Just before the private premiere of Eroica to Prince Lobkowitz, the revolutionary spirit has already pervaded the entire Continent.  The success of American Revolution in 1776 and French Revolution in 1789 brought a chain of impacts to the socio-political structure of Europe.  One of the results was the rise of the social status of bourgeoisie and layman.  But this rise simultaneously denotes the fall of the aristocracy.  Doubtless the late 18th century is a time for the blossom of humanity and equity, but it is also a time for the growth of anxiety and frustration.  When the princes and nobles listened to symphonic works, they have already accustomed to the so-called Haydnian elegance and nobility for years.  This fading classical style was still a highly revered beauty.  The aristocratic Viennese did not need anything brutal to raise their anxieties, or to increase their worries.  Thus, when Beethoven “Eroica” stood before them in the concert, this inflected C# was seen as a loss of social balance, or even a symbol of brutal invasion.


 But even greater anxieties were bought to those Viennese laymen.  Just a few days before Eroica’s first public performance in the concert hall (1805), Vienna was occupied by Napoleon’s army.  The nobles fled the city.  The audiences in the concert were the ones threatened by military invasion.  Thus it is not hard to understand why they easily link the music of the first movement to a sonic description of a battlefield, where they can think of general, soldiers, horse rearing, sabre shining or column of men streaming through the mountain.  The awed sounds of war, being fused with the stirring music, were hovering among listeners.   This inflected C#, therefore, was certainly seen as a symbol of brutal invasion.


Instead of the unstable C# note in the heroic theme, the other stormy feature embedded in Eroica is the scalic running passages.  These passages can always arouse listeners a feeling of spirited forward motions.  It is essential for an overwhelming musical storm.  Although Beethoven begins his heroic theme with triple time, he makes use of syncopation and shift of dynamics to enhance a sense of two-beat march rhythm after the short opening.  In addition, using the fragmented heroic theme as the main developing cell is another important source for generating motions.  The turbulent storm first starts blowing in the low strings by the heroic theme.  The high strings then answer.  Every time when repeating, the theme is raised a tone until it reaches the climax.  Only the first four notes of the main theme can survive after the climax, and are taken gradually by the woodwinds and brasses.  This is not a moment for rest, but the anticipation for another flow.  Shortly afterwards, the four-note heroic fragment reoccurs with increasing frequency, arresting every listener in a moment of high tension.  


Another example of Beethoven’s whirling storm happens in the second movement, the Funeral March.  After two-third of the music, the opening theme returns softly in the first violin, hovering along the high register without any support.  The whole orchestra then roars with an Ab.  The brass at the same time repeats the C, then the F over the agitated string triplet-tremolo.  The music now is like a whirling storm, seeming to engulf everything without any intention to stop.  What the orchestra playing is no longer the Mozartian slow movement of elegant singing, but a hysteric growl of extreme pain that goes beyond any listener’s imagination.  Never has such thing happened in previous symphonies.  Never such thing has happened in the previous symphonies.  Furthermore, Beethoven seems to let his hero added with a little tragic, dark color.  He fragments the funeral theme and let it dissolves in the quietness at the end of this movement, symbolizing the death and getting buried of the hero.  Is this tragic hero Beethoven himself or other?  Perhaps, no one knows the answer, even Beethoven himself.


The replacement of minuet and trio with scherzo in the third movement also reflects Beethoven’s another innovative character.  In order to maintain the stormy motion of this movement, Beethoven gives up his predecessors’ favorite, the courtly dance of minuet and trio.  The music is no more “lofty” enough to please the Viennese upper classes, or to extend their vanishing noble dreams.  It is reformed to a spirited and energetic chapter, seeming to mock at the hypocrisy of the Viennese upper class.  In fact, the use of a scherzo to replace the Minuet and Trio in the third movement of a symphony becomes one of the major characteristics of Beethoven’s symphonies.


If Beethoven were asked why he made such bold reformation, he might have answered like this: “Why not!”  A storm is still a storm.  There is no reason why the finale of Eroica is not a storm.  If the finale of Haydn and Mozart’s symphony is only the dessert, without any question, Beethoven’s finale will be the main course, or in the other words, the most powerful part of the storm.  Usually, the classical symphony focuses on the first two movements in which all important ideas are displayed.  The classical finale, thus, will be lighter and more relax in mood.  But Eroica is absolutely different.  The overwhelming power of the revolutionary storm can be easily felt in this triumphant ending.  Beethoven must have known that a light and vivid finale could not counterbalance the gigantic and complex preceding movements.  Therefore, Beethoven not only uses the duple meter, a March design for this spirited movement, but he also increases the complexity of the music and makes the length two times longer than the usual classical finale. 


Furthermore, the structure of this movement does not follow any classical model.  Sometimes, the music flows in form of a variation suite.  But in another time, it freely appears as a fugato.  The heroic theme propels forward like a fierce storm, seeming to use one man’s strength to break all bondages of the old social hierarchy and set all the people of any class free to a land of liberty, equity, and fraternity.  This is why Sir George Grove has commented: “The title of Eroica is about a portrait of Napoleon, but it is Beethoven who paints his own protrait on it.” 


 In short, from no. 1 to no. 9 (Choral Symphony), Beethoven’s symphonies can always enter into a new terrain that no one has discovered.  In fact, Eroica was Beethoven’s most favorite symphony throughout his life.   But not many Viennese contemporary listeners showed the same appreciation.  Some critics fiercely attacked it by saying that it is the most difficult symphony to understand.  They criticized that Beethoven could not control many parts of the music, letting them flowing illogically.  If Beethoven cut off some unmanageable parts, the music could be more bright, fluent, and understandable.   As such, the Viennese mass seems being unready to accept Beethoven’s revolutionary storm.

        However, whether the 18th century Viennese aristocratic listeners disliked this symphony, the old epoch has passed.  Eroica was just like a short gleam from dawn after a long deep night, anticipating a splendid coming of a new and dazzling era.

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012-09-10 (published)

2012年8月31日 星期五

Receptive History of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique


This short article is transferred from Mark Evan Bonds' discussion on Berlioz's ground breaking work. Hope you can enjoy reading it. I have a few editings dropped on it.


Berlioz – Receptive History of Symphonie Fantastique


All three of Berlioz’s symphonies are programmatic to varying degrees. The first of them, Symphonie fantastique of 1830, as already mentioned, is based on a detailed program of Berlioz’s own invention. Inspired by the composer’s infatuation with an actress named Harriet Smithson, the program relates the increasing emotional turmoil of a young musician as he realizes the woman he loves is spurning him. The emotional trajectory of the symphony is thus almost the reverse of Beethoven’s Ninth. Beethoven’s symphony moves from a turbulent first movement to a joyous finale; the Symphonie fantastique, in contrasts, moves from a joyous first movement, which evokes of the young musician’s first infatuation, to a dark finale, labeled “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” which evokes the image of the musician’s beloved dancing demonically at his funeral. The sound of the Dies irae, (“Day of Wrath”) from the well-known plainchant Mass for the Dead within the finale serves as a dark counterpoint to Beethoven’s theme for the vocal setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in the finale of the Ninth. Instead of a vision of heaven, we are given a vision of hell and the triumph of evil.


Not everyone found Berlioz’s program for his Symphonie fantastique helpful. Robert Schumann, in an otherwise favorable review of the work, argued that the movement titles alone would have been sufficient, and that “word of mouth would have served to hand down the more circumstantial account, which would certainly arouse interest because of the personality of the composer, who lived through the vents of the symphony himself.” German listeners in particular, Schumann argued, disliked having their thoughts “so rudely directed,” all the more so given their “delicacy of feeling and aversion to personal revelation” But Berlioz, Schumann rationalized, “was writing primarily for his French compatriots, who are not greatly impressed by refinements of modesty. I can imagine them, leaflet in hand, reading and applauding their countryman who has depicted it all so well; the music by itself does not interest them.”


Berlioz’s handling of the orchestra was also unusually forward looking for 1830. At the beginning of the Symphonie fantastique, for example, he calls for the high winds to play pp, then ppp, and then to decrescendo, presumably to an inaudible level. And in the fourth movement, the “March to the Scaffold”, he introduces a brass sound never before heard in the concert hall: massive, forceful, and rhythmically charged. Berlioz also peppers his scores with instructions of a hitherto unknown specificity. In the Symphonie fantastique, for example, he marked exactly what kind of stick head – wood, leather, or felt – percussionists should use in any given passage. Previously this kind of choice would have been up to the individual performer.

The Symphonie fantastique is also notable for its realism: Berlioz avoids prettifying ugly or grotesque themes, representing them instead with what were for the time, harsh-sounding musical devices. The last movement, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” for example, opens with an extended diminished seventh chord, a dissonance that may seem rather tame (even clichéd) today, but that would have sounded jarring at the time, conjuring for listeners a world of dark spirits. In measure 11, Berlioz briefly dispenses almost completely with triadic harmony in his effort to conjure the chaos and depravity of the imagined gathering of witches. The strings play a series of fourths of a guitar, the only instrument Berlioz himself ever mastered. The moment is fleeing, but it signals the beginning of an assault on what had been the foundation of Western harmony for at least two centuries. The return of the idée fixe, the theme associated with the beloved, in measure 40 on the Eb clarinet is also fittingly grotesque. The beloved, according to the program, has lost her noble and shy character and assumed the form of a witch.

David Leung (Leung Sir, theorydavid)

2012-08-30 published

2012年7月11日 星期三

也談不可能: 執著

前言: 年前寫了一首新詩,去回應蕭才子的一首詩。其詩乃寄意合唱團灌錄合唱歌時所成就的不可能的事。事由合唱團成員實乃一群業餘過業餘的烏合之眾,但卻完成了整輯 CD 之合唱歌曲的錄音工作。其詩題為談不可能。吾遂以也談不可能:執著 為題,回詩一首,以答謝好友。

也談不可能: 執著



















David Leung (theorydavid)
2012-07-10   (published)

2012年4月23日 星期一

A History of Musical Borrowing in Chinese Music


教學忙碌,也意味到沒有太多時間寫文章。不過,本人也有不少 "存貨",是以前寫下的有份量的文章,現在也拿出來共諸同好。


A History of Musical Borrowing in Chinese Music

The influence of Western music in modern Chinese music can be traced to the late 19th century.  This time is also regarded as the period of the ‘germinating’ of Modern Chinese music.  The traditional Ching’s examination and education system[1] were abolished.[2]  The establishment of ‘learning centers’ and addition of the subject music in the lesson had the effect of introducing Western music into Chinese society.  European Brass instruments and music were used in the military bands.  The school songs and military music were popular for troops and students.  This ‘new’ music[3], later, became the foundation for the development of modern Chinese music.[4]

       The years1919-1937, from the May-Fourth Movement to the Sino-Japanese War, was a foundation period for Chinese modern music.  Many Chinese music composers came back to China after having studied overseas.  Huang Tzu and Shio Yiu Mei are two examples.  In addition, many music educational institutions and organizations were set up during this period, such as, the Gor Li Yin Yue Zhuan Ke Xue Xiao [Stadt Hochschule fur Musik] (1927) in Shanghai and Beijing Yin Yue Yan Xi Suo [Beijing University Music Studying Center] (1922-1927).[5]  Under these favorable conditions, many new compositions that used Western compositional techniques were created, although many of the works were only art songs and solo instrumental music.  However, some of these compositions already show certain nationalistic elements that are unique when compared to their European counterpart.  Apart from the use of pentatonic or modal scales to signify the Chinese character, some of the compositions employed borrowed materials; for example, the chorus for males, Fo Qu, Mu Lian Jiu Mu, by Wang Zhi, re-arranged from Quin Xu, Sze Fan, and the art song, Jiao Wo Ru He Bu Xiang Ta, by Zhao Yuan Ren, borrowed from the vocal style and melodic gesture of traditional Beijing operatic tune.  Another composer, Lai Kam Fai used many regional folk tunes, narrative songs and regional operatic tunes in his own art songs.

The Sino-Japanese war, 1937 to 1945, was a difficult period for Chinese music development.  During this period, many Chinese compositions were based on anti-Japanese themes.  Many songs and choruses were written.  The Yellow River Cantata, by Xia Xing Hei, is one of the most important musical works of this period.  The borrowing of Xian Xi folk tunes in this music is obvious.  This borrowing reflects the patriotism of the composer and the promotion of such thoughts in listeners. 

The 1950’s were a new era, during which Socialism was established in China and the development of musical culture was unprecedented in its scope.  Musical talent was gathered together from the entire country.  A steady stream of musical performing companies and theatres arose.  There was an ever-growing interest in establishing institutions for music education and the development of community musical life flourished.  Composers were motivated towards cultivating a wider territory in musical composition.  Many of the new compositions were in Western musical genres, but, at the same time, achievements were made in the rediscovery, collation, and adaptation of folk and ancient music.[6] However, the adaptation of folk elements in new compositions and the exploration of the ways to integrate both theWestern and Chinese musical language was not a new thing.  Chinese composers, from the early 20th century onward, put their greatest efforts in this direction.  Ding Shande’s Variation on Chinese Folk-themes for piano solo (1945) can be regarded as the first variation, using Western compositional technique, to deal with Chinese traditional music[7].  This example showed that a combination of different musical languages and cultures, Western and the Eastern were possible.  As time passed, in order to fulfill the ever increasing academic and educative needs related to musical activities, Chinese composers developed a unique national idiom of their own through the adaptation of Western musical language within a Chinese musical context.  Borrowing music from folk and traditional sources to compose a new piece because a common and feasible composing practice in this period of ‘regeneration’.

In July 1956, the first National Music Festival was presented.  This major event was meant to encourage new composition and new Chinese music.  However, not all musical materials in the composition were new, since some of the major works performed in this festival used national and folk elements.  From short piano solos to large symphonic works, the re-arrangement of folk songs seemed favored by composers.  Chen Peixun’s solo piano work, Thunder in Time of Drought[8], Yao Mu’s Mongolian Suite[9] and Deboxifu’s Asi’er[10] for orchestra were typical examples.  To other composers, re-working the existing (folk) materials and incorporating these borrowed materials in one’s own musical language to form a new piece was another way of composing music.  Other examples are Li weicai’s Chinese folksong suite and Wang Shu’s Four Folksongs from Eastern Mongolia for orchestra.  Of course, we cannot forget the well-known violin concerto, the Butterfly Lovers, by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang.  The remarkable lyrical theme in this work is derived from the traditional tune of a regional opera,Yue Ju, the Liang Shan Bo Yu Zhu Ying Tai.[11] 

This period of time, from the year 1950-1965, before the Cultural Revolution, was an important period in the development of modern Chinese music.  The prodigious output of Chinese compositions in this period[12] and the successful integration of Western musical culture with Chinese musical culture brought about a new level of development in Chinese Music. 

From 1966 to1976, all Chinese artists, including composers experienced the extraordinary ‘Ten Years’ Catastrophe’.  Because of the attitude of the ‘Gang of Four’ towards music and culture, musical composition in China stopped.  Although this was a terrible nightmare for all creative activities, thousands of revolutionary songs and the so-called ‘stereo-typed’ opera of this period, such as the Hong Se Niang Zi Jun (Two girls of the red army), often borrowed folk and national elements in order to exaggerate the political purpose of ‘serving the people’ of the communist state.  Musical borrowing used in this period became a tool of the state, similar to the ideas of the ancient Chinese ruling classes.

After the fall of the ‘Gang of Four’ in 1976, compositional activity was liberated and began to flourish.  With the re-opening of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, more and more young talented composers participated in the new wave of musical compositions contributing to the development of modern Chinese music.  To further encourage musical creativity, two ‘Best songs’ awards were launched in 1980.  The winning compositions were of great variety in theme, style and form.  Although the composers were mostly middle-aged, even younger writers of music and lyrics were included.[13]  Re-arrangement of folksongs for solo voice, choir and other instrumental ensembles was common.  The use of traditional or folk elements in a new piece in a similar tonal idiom showing the Chinese or national style was still favored by composers.  This kind of composition affirmed the merits of combining nationalistic music and modern Chinese music, jointing a modern viewpoint with re-creation according to current aesthetic concepts.  As Li huanzhi stated, ‘we regard the enormous quantity of national music treasures as a very valuable cultural legacy,…………..On one hand, we are concerned with preserving

the original format of traditional format of traditional music……………On the other hand, traditional musical compositions, as rearranged or revived by composers, offer us a wide artistic spectrum in which to carry out large-scale creative experiments, transcribing and composing a great variety of musical works.[14]  Therefore, one of the characteristics of ‘modern’ or the ‘new’ Chinese music is that Chinese new compositions are inspired and by national folk and traditional elements.[15] This results in a new style of music that is distinguished from traditional Chinese music and European music.

With a more open attitude to the West and the influence of contemporary Western musical language, a

new challenge for modern Chinese composers has arisen; that is, to integrate borrowed Chinese

musical materials within a contemporary Western musical idiom and still develop a personal musical

language and style without a loss of national character.  As a result, from 1976 onward, many new

compositions used extended borrowing techniques.  This trend brought with it a new way of using

borrowing, one that suited the needs of the composers with regard to personal artistic purpose and

aesthetic.  Thus, the history of Chinese musical borrowing began a new chapter.  In addition, some

Mainland Chinese composers, such as Tan Dun and Chen Yi began their overseas study in the late 80s

and 90s, especially in the United States.  Under this multi-cultural impact, their use of musical

quotation is somewhat different from other composers from Mainland China.  To some extent, it is

very similar to the situation of Hong Kong Chinese composers. But this discussion will be another

topic that I want to share with my readers in the other article.

[1] It is known as Ke Ju. 
[2] Under the Dynasty Ching’s educative system, students learnt from the teacher privately for the examination (Ke Ju).  There were no public schools and music lesson.

[3] Professor Liu Ching Chih stated that the ‘New’ Chinese music is new because this music has no direct relationship with the traditional Chinese Music.  It is not inherited from the past and cannot be found in the history of Chinese music.  The composers, who are mainly trained by European musical tradition, compose all these new music though there may be some traditional or national elements borrowed in the compositions.

[4] Liu, Ching-Chih, Zhong Gor shen yin yu zi luen gou, [The History of the Chinese New Music], vol. 1 (Taipei: All Music Magazine, 1999), 26-38.
[5] Gor Li Yin Yue Zhuan Ke Xue Xiao becomes the National Shanghai Conservatory of Music later and the first principal was Shio Yau mei.  The Beijing Yin Yue Yan Xi Suo was not established as an official department but only treated as an extra-curricular group in the University.
[6] Li, Huan, Zhi, “People’s Republic of China,” in New Music in the Orient, ed. by Harrison, Ryker, (Bure, Netherland: Frits Knuf Publishers, 1991), 210-211.

[7] Lian Ping, “On the Interlock Coordinate of Chinese and West Culture,” in Journal of Xinghai Conservatory of Music 3 (1997), 31.
[8] The main theme is based on a Cantonese traditional tune.
[9] The suite is based on the folksongs from Eastern Mongolia.

[10] The work is based on an Inner Mongolian Folksong.
[11] Lui Chih-jih regarded this work cannot be considered as a work by created because of the largely borrowed materials inside and the composers Chen Gang and He Jianhao only re-arranged this piece.

[12] The composers and their works in this period are listed in the New Music in the Orient by Ryker Harrison in pages 189-198.

[13] The composers and their works from the period of 1976 to 1980 are listed in the New Music in the Orient, by Ryker Harrison, pp. 199-204.

[14] Li, huanzhi, “People’s Republic of China” in Music in the Orient, p 205.

[15] The major compositions which have been arranged from traditional music are listed in the New Music in the Orient by Ryker Harrison for reference, pp. 205-208.

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012-04-23 (published)