New Music


New Music
China’s traditional music is played on the pipa, erhu and guqin (see qin). It is based on musical and rhythmic patterns that are transmitted orally; it is a music which does not know the concept of a ‘composer’. The exclusive reign of this type of Chinese music ended around the turn of the last century, with the arrival of foreign missionaries, foreign armies and foreign merchants who brought to nineteenth-century China the musical fare of their own culture. In the wake of this foreign invasion, a new type of ‘Chinese music’ arose. It makes use of violins, organs, pianos and clarinets. It is performed according to strict notation. It is linked with the name of a particular composer. This music was, if anything, both a new type and concept of music to China. But it was soon to be assimilated into the Chinese musical universe to such an extent that a song like ‘Frère Jacques’ would be considered a ‘Chinese folksong’.
China’s New Music appears at the same time as New Music in the West—at the beginning of the twentieth century. Stylistically, however, it comes in very different guise: New Music from China includes works written in many different idioms: classicist, romanticist or modernist. Thus, New Music from China is not called such because it employs techniques also known in New Music in the West, but simply because it uses Western instrumental and compositional techniques which were new to China at the beginning of the twentieth century.
It is politics that has caused the diversity of styles in China’s New Music. European modernism has not fared well in modern China.
Music, like all other artistic products, was supposed to ‘serve the masses’—at least since Mao formulated this dictum in his 1942 Yan’an Talks. Therefore, the sounds of modernism have been suppressed: during the anti-Rightist campaigns, in the Cultural Revolution and also during the Spiritual Pollution Campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s (see socialist spiritual civilization). Chinese politicians prefer the more mellow sounds of pentatonic romanticism, created by many a Chinese composer to the present day.
Kouwenhoven, Frank (1990). ‘Mainland China’s New Music (1): Out of the Desert’. Chime 2: 58–93.
——(1991). ‘Mainland China’s New Music (2): Madly Singing in the Mountains’. Chime 3:42–75.
——(1992). ‘Mainland China’s New Music (3): The Age of Pluralism’. Chime 5:76–134.
Liu, Ching-chih and Wu, Ganbo (eds) (1994). History of New Music in China: The Development of Chinese Music. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong.
Liu, Jingzhi (Liu Ching-chih) (1998). Zhongguo xin yinyue shilun [Essays on China’s New Music], 2 vols. Taipei: Shaowen.
Mittler, Barbara (1997). Dangerous Tunes. The Politics of Chinese Music in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China since 1949. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Utz, Christian (nd). Database of Contemporary Music in Taiwan. Available at http://www.t0.or.at/New Musicutz/Taiwan
BARBARA MITTLER

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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