The integration of Chinese opera traditions into new musical compositions : thesis submitted to the the New Zealand School of Music in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Music in Composition
Almost fifty years ago Chinese composer Chou Wen-chung proposed a musical “re-merger”
of East and West. For many Chinese composers of today a sense of historical continuity
and an awareness of inherited musical traditions are important contributor to cultural
identity, and a basis on which to build the future. The generation that emerged after the
Cultural Revolution found new freedoms, and has become, at the beginning of the twentyfirst
century, a significant presence on the international musical stage, as the paradigm
shifts away from being European-centered, to a culture belonging to the “global village”.
As with many other Chinese composers of my generation, the creation of new
compositions is both a personal expression and a manifestation of cultural roots.
Techniques of “integration” and “translation” of musical elements derived from traditional
Chinese music and music-theatre are a part of my musical practice. The use of traditional
Chinese instruments, often in combination with Western instruments, is a no longer a
The written exegesis examines some of the characteristic elements of xìqǜ (戏 曲) (the
generic term for all provincial Chinese operas), including dǎ (打) (percussion - an enlarged
interpretation of dǎ, as found in chuānjù gāoqiāng (川剧高腔) Sichuan gāoqiān opera),
bǎnqiāng (板 腔) (The musical style that characterizes Chinese xìqǚ), and niànbái (念 白)
(recitation and dialogue), as well as the kuàibǎnshū (快板书) (storytelling with percussion)
of qǚyì (曲 艺) (a term to use to include all folk genres), and shāngē (山 歌) (mountain
song). The techniques employed in integrating and translating these elements into original
compositions are then analyzed.
In the second volume of the thesis the scores of five compositions are presented, four of
the five works are set in Chinese, exploring the dramatic aspects of language, and may be
considered music-theatre, one being an opera scene intended for stage production.