Zhao Xiaosheng


Zhao Xiaosheng
b. 1945, Shanghai
Composer
Zhao studied piano at the primary and middle schools of the Shanghai Conservatory. Already during the Cultural Revolution, he was writing adaptations for piano of ‘model revolutionary plays’ (yangbanxi, see Xiqu). Between 1978 and 1981 he studied in the composition department of the Shanghai Conservatory. He continued his studies, particularly of computer music, at Columbia University and Missouri State University from 1981 to 1984.
In his compositions, Zhao attempts to retain Chinese sonorities within contemporary idioms. In Chinese style, he provides titles for all of his compositions. In his first dance suite, Tune of the Earth (Diqu, 1990–1), he includes Chinese instruments and singing in Peking-opera style. His third dance suite, Heavenly Sacrifice (Tianji, 1990–1), features elements from Chinese ritual music. His ballet music, Sun Over the Wasteland (Dahuang de taiyang, 1992), is a collage incorporating pop-bass rhythms, a vocalizing choir and alienated Chinese orchestral playing, which includes pipas sounding like the banjos in American country music. While his numerous piano compositions are primarily studies in virtuosity, those compositions in particular that combine Western and Chinese instruments are full of unique sound effects.
In 1987, Zhao created his own Chinese-style serialism, the so-called Taiji System of Composition (Taiji zuoqufa). It is based on a very complicated symmetrical scale. The notes of this Taiji scale form two six-tone rows with characteristic pentatonic intervals which are exact mirror images of each other. From these rows, tone-groups are selected according to the hexagrams of the ancient Book of Changes (Yijing) which restricts the number of notes to be used at any given time. One of Zhao’s earliest compositions applying this system is Three Poems on Yin and Yang (Yinyang sanque, 1987) for any sixteen performers.
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, 362–4.
Zhao, Xiaosheng (1987). ‘Taiji yuelun’ [On Taiji Music] Yinyue yishu 2:60–74.
——(1990). Taiji zuoqu xitong [The Taiji Composition System]. Guangdong: Guangdongsheng xinhua shudian.
BARBARA MITTLER

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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