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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Synergies between East Asian and Western Classical Musical Aesthetics

  • Author(s): Lin, Pin Hsin
  • Advisor(s): Krouse, Ian
  • et al.

There are two volumes to this dissertation: the first is a monograph, and the second is a musical composition, both of which are described below.

Volume I

For centuries, many if not most, classical composers have been aiming to make style innovations that are distinct from their predecessors, as well as forge their own unique, musical identities. This dissertation is, in part, an analysis of representative works by seven important composers of the past 150 years, from the East and from the West, focusing on how each has successfully synthesized Western and Eastern compositional techniques, textures, timbres, and harmonies to create, for their time, fresh, new sounds. One of my main goals was to understand in depth how exoticism works in music, from both cultural vantage points.

This monograph illuminates how Claude Debussy, Giacomo Puccini, Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Toru Takemitsu, and I-Sang Yun co-mingle Western and Eastern idioms, in each case seeking new musical and expressive meanings, and an expansion of the traditions that they inherited.

At times such efforts are quite superficial and are intended to exploit a sensational, exotic effect. However, in most of the cases I give, the relationship of East and West is deep and profound. Especially in the works by Britten, Takemitsu and Yun, the cultural hybridism is much more subtle with much blurring of boundaries. This arises in part from the fact that most Western composers of the late 19th and early 20th century had, at best, a vague and simplistic knowledge of the music of the East and, quite frankly, no real motivation to explore it in depth. They were generally inclined to tap into well-understood stereotypes that their audiences would have easily understood. This starts to change with Debussy and Mahler, who may be among the first Western composers to explore a more intrinsic, and subtle cultural hybridism between East and West.

Volume II

Rippling Brook is a large scale tone-poem, in part, inspired by Mahler’s symphonic song-cycle, Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”). The central motive that winds through the whole piece is a lovely folk song from the Yunan Province of mainland China called Hstao He Tang Sui (“Rippling Brook”). Mahler borrowed ancient Chinese poems to imbue his score with the perfume of Asian culture, making little effort to make the music sound particularly ‘Chinese.’ However, as we will see there are indeed subtle connections to Chinese musical elements, though hardly of the overt ‘exotic’ sort of ‘chinoiserie’ that we will see in the Puccini and the Stravinsky.

My ‘song of the earth’ is a rippling brook, a metaphorical witness of the evolution of humanity, and its at-times devastating impact upon the earth’s ecology. To illustrate, I added descriptive texts at important junctures in the musical journey, a kind of running exegesis. Through the composing process, I tried to create a style of work that I had not done before. My orchestral sonorities synergize both Western and Eastern harmonies, timbres, techniques, and textures. I hope that in so doing, I have begun to forge a new and distinctive voice for my music that will be a worthy companion to the great works that I have studied herein.

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