chapter  6
6 Pages

The Realization of Re-merger

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of increasing cultural intersection, intellectual stimulation, and artistic independence. These trends of human advancement, combined with a profound knowledge of and practical experiences in diverse cultures, become a powerful catalyst for the ripening of the human mind. Chou Wen-chung is one good example. Growing up in a traditional elite household that upheld the moral and cultural values of his native country, but at the same time respected foreign cultures and encouraged the study of their ideas, Chou abided by these guiding principles in his pursuit of artistic excellence in the New World. Since the beginning of his career, Chou has been aware of his Chinese heritage, the cultural and artistic richness of which has developed over a course of three thousand years. Guided by this heritage and his acquired knowledge of Western art and music, he has written music that serves as examples of a genuine dialog and exchange between the two traditions. In his early published works, Chou projects a sense of “Chinese-ness” in Western instrumental media through pitch material borrowed from pre-existing sources. Although this technique was commonly employed among Chinese composers of the first half of the twentieth century, Chou’s application was unique in his rejection of the superficial grafting of functional tonal harmony onto pentatonic melodies in favor of a heterophonic texture that is organized by structured pitch and modal relationships. As a result of his study with Varèse, whose avantgarde ideas on the nature and structure of musical sound challenged the young composer’s aesthetic position, Chou’s music took a gradual turn. In his works of the 1950s, some of the techniques that are derived from Chinese philosophy and visual arts were eventually integrated into his new system of composition, that of variable modes, which since its first appearance in Metaphors (1960) has been a guiding force in Chou’s musical development.