chapter  2
20 Pages

Early Compositional Development

Chou’s earliest attempt to incorporate Chinese elements within the framework of Western composition is demonstrated by the quotation of Chinese pentatonic melodies. Through the use of pre-existing material, he was able to convey an “oriental” flavor in his music. One example is the set of arrangements of traditional Chinese melodies, Three Folk Songs for flute and harp (1950). In Example 2.1, the famous tune Fengyang huagu (“Flower drum song of Fengyang”) appears in the flute and is accompanied by the harp with sonorities constructed from pitches of the pentatonic scale D-E-F–A-B. In Landscapes for orchestra (1949) and the Suite for harp and wind quintet (1951), the musical borrowing is much freer, involving fragments with unconventional modulations.2 In the works of the late 1950s, pentatonicism appears in different guises, ranging from transcriptions of ancient Chinese compositions for Western ensembles to newly composed pentatonic themes. Only two works after 1960 feature pentatonic scales. Yü Ko (1965), like The Willows Are New (1957), is an arrangement of an ancient qin composition for Western instruments. Beijing in the Mist (1986), on the other hand, is a “functional” piece written for the occasion of a dance performance.