Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The First Emperor

The opera" The first emperor"'s plot evolves around one thing- "the national anthem" of Qin, the first united dynasty of China. In this post, I would like to focus solely on "Qinqiang", an ancient Chinese musical style, which is used in the opera along with western style liberatti.

Qinqiang, is the representative folk Chinese opera of the northwest Province of Shaanxi, China. The area was called "Qin" thousands of years ago. The word "Qinqiang" itself means "the tune of Qin". The genre uses an percussion object called" Bangzi", which resembles a woodblock as an accompanying instruments. Qinqiang stories tell about mostly, wars, resistance against invaders and suppression. They are often really straightforward, humorous, and sincere.

It has a living value, because it's not thoroughly analyzable in its forms, which admit of the utmost variation both structurally and tonally, in spite of all the rules that are laid down. Most importantly, the individuality is respected. It seems to me that, though the Tan Dun as the composer, know the rules governing the combinations of neumes, the organic basis of each theme, the relations of movements between themes, the order, number and relative importance of themes and meters and the larger and smaller divisions of the music, in actually composition, he is guided much more by a subconscious knowing ledge of all these principles.
The place of rules in their effect upon Tan's melodic composition, may be compared with that of the rules of harmony and counterpoint in western music. In each case it is necessary to relegate the rules to the subconscious in actual composition.

Some critics stated that "there's not a single memorable song"; the songs seemed random, almost unharmonized to them. I disagree. I think Tan really understands the freedom of Qinqiang music(or ancient Chinese music in general). The presence of harmonic unrest and repose lies in many of his compositions in this opera, with a large number of both primary and secondary neumes maybe substituted one for the other, while the flow of the melody, even where not strictly following the the neume forms, contains a contour of rising, falling and level lines that agree with the original idea of the combination of movement units. It is also evident that his limitless choice of tones and "positions" of movements in applying a tonal superstructure to neumes, and use of all types of scales.

The songs in the opera reflect Chinese ideas in art principles: "Perfect music first shapes itself accordig to a human standard; then it follow the lines of the divine, then it proceeds in harmony with the five virtues; then it passes into spontaneity." (translated from "Zhuangzi", a Chinese Classic literature Manuscript".

From the time of the great philosopher Confucius(551-479 BC, 300 hundred years before Qin Dynasty ), music took a new extension and was considered one of the Six Fundamental Factors in Education(respect, music, sportsmanship, charioteering, literature and mathematics). This place of honor for Music had a great influence in China for many centuries. Confucius, who lived at a period of warring states, felt that it was only through music that one could find peace and unity. This was the"supreme harmony" he had in his mind. There should be harmony at home, harmony between families, and harmony between the emperor and the people.

Music was also indissolubly bound up with the morality of the people. In the Western world, music was also an essential part of Greek education. Solon held that music would give the Athenian youth moral sturdiness and an ordered mind. When a country is troubled, , the music of it is disturbed and tormented. When a country is decadent, its music is sad and anxious. Plato actually gave the same opinion as Confucius that music affected considerably the constitution of the State.

Well, I wonder if the Chinese music nowadays reflect the state and position of China, as described in Confucius' theories.I suppose the present and future of Chinese music lies entirely in the hands of Chinese. In this age when time and space are no longer obstacles to a freer communication of ideas and intermingling of cultures, and when everything is being revalued, the best points of one culture should be appreciated and absorbed by another. Among Chinese musicians today, there are conservatives and liberals. There are those who want to retain ancient Chinese in its purest form, considering Western music a menace, and there are those who consider that Western music is the only thing, because they are dissatisfied with a music that has not developed beyond the stage of pure melody into beauties and complexities of harmony and counterpoint. And of course, there are those, like Tan, who aim at choosing the middle path of maintaining the best and incorporating the new, which I think, is a point of view that will supersede the others.

Chinese music, as known, tend to be composed purely of melody, rhythm and form,without any harmony or counterpoint. The nearest approach to counterpoint is the blending together of two versions of the same melody resembling, in a way "Florid descant" of western music, a form used mainly between the 12th and 16th centuries, which was later gradually displaced by counterpoint as the development of music advanced. For this reason,, Western music with its superior development along harmonic, contrapuntal and orchestral lines, with definite sciences in these directions, is exerting a marked influence in chinese music scene. Take myself for example, I learned to play piano and jazz drums since I was a child, and it wasn't until I went to college that I picked up "Guqin"(a chinese zither like musical instrument.)It was because nearly all the schools in china teach only western music. Another reason is perhaps that the
existence of any art or conscious system of musical composition among the Chinese has either been denied or wholly unrecognized during modern political and literary movements in China, such as the"culture revolution".

I am hoping that, one day, there may be a national Chinese school of music, in the sense that school means a distinctive syle of expression. It will exclude all those who, over-weighted with a Western musical education, are almost completely unable to express themselves in any but a purely western idiom and style. Those who have little, or no practical acquaintance with Chinese instruments miss some of the most characteristic expressions of style in Chinese music and are hasty and unwise in advocating a wholesale adoption of western musical instruments in spite of several points of superiority in the latter. I believe, as Vaughan Williams once said," Any school of National Music must be fashioned on the basis of the raw material of its own national song."

No comments:

Post a Comment