Third Generation /composers


Third Generation /composers
The Third Generation’ composers refers to those who entered the conservatories in 1978 when universities again began to recruit students after the Cultural Revolution. The best-known names among the ‘Third Generation’ composers are: Qu Xiaosong, Zhou Long, Chen Yi, Zhang Xiaofu, Ye Xiaogang, Chen Qigang, Guo Wenjing, Su Gong and Tan Dun of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing; Ge Ganru, Sheng Zongliang (Bright Sheng) and Xu Shuya of the Shanghai Conservatory; He Xuntian and Jia Daqun of the Sichuan Conservatory of Music; and Tang Jianping of the Shenyang Conservatory.
Their education in these music conservatories consisted of a standa rd Western music curriculum in harmony, counterpoint, form and analysis, and orchestration, as well as many Chinese music courses. However, there was no twentieth-century Western music in the curriculum. This was partly because China’s policy of isolationism from the West in the previous three decades, which kept music professors from becoming expert in this area, and partly because the official ideology had discouraged the study of modernism. The exploration of modern Western music, therefore, was left to the students themselves, generally through studying scores and listening to recordings. This might explain why, aside from cultural and aesthetic reasons, most of the composers have taken an eclectic approach in their assimilation and adoption of the language of modern Western music, instead of adhering to a single system, such as serialism.
The media called the music composed by the Third Generation’ in the 1980s ‘New Wave Music’ (Xinchao yinyue). The music began to attract attention in the early 1980s when Tan Dun’s string quartet won a composition competition in East Germany. Several symposia were held in Beijing to discuss the phenomenon of New Wave Music, which received both praise and criticism. In the second half of the 1980s, Tan Dun, Ye Xiaogang, Qu Xiaosong, Xu Shuya and Guo Wenjing gave a series of highly publicized concerts devoted to their own music in Beijing; this period was the heyday of New Wave Music.
Most New Wave Music compositions are not programmatic, although they usually bear titles that evoke the general mood or feeling of the music. The composers often draw their inspiration from classical Chinese literature and folklore, rather than patriotic or revolutionary themes as the older generation did. In general, their music expresses personal thoughts and feelings instead of conveying political messages. Although many modern Western elements can be found in their music, such as atonality, unorthodox use of harmony, dissonance, tone-clusters, spatial effects and irregular rhythm, everything is filtered through Chinese aesthetics and feelings. The composers use material from regional opera, folksongs and classical Chinese music. One of the most important achievements of the Third Generation’ is their elevation of Chinese instrumental music to a completely new level and the creation of a new repertoire in the genre. Since 1990, many ‘Third Generation’ composers have developed and established careers abroad as well as in China, and their music has evolved in more personal and individual directions.
JIN PING

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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