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Ruprecht-Karls-Universitat Heidelberg

The C.C. Liu Collection

Important note:

Single titles of most of the material (print and audio) are available through our monograph OPAC. For an overview of the titles from the C. C. Liu Collection use the series title search.

In case you are interested in the C.C. Liu collection, please contact Barbara Mittler for further information.

By Barbara Mittler

Dr. C. C. Liu works at the Estates Office, University of Hongkong and at Lingnan College Hongkong. He is also Fellow at the Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hongkong, where he has recently founded a "Chinese Music Workshop," designed to enable scholars from China and from abroad to make use of his extensive library of scores and materials all concerned with modern Chinese music. The first part of this essay is meant to introduce Dr. Liu and his collection to scholars of Chinese music. In its second part I will also try to outline some of the ideas Dr. Liu has formed during his years of collecting and research in the field of Chinese music. All statements in this latter part are based on an interview I held with Dr. Liu in Hongkong, October 16, 1991.

The Collection

Assembled during a period of more than two decades, the C. C. Liu collection is probably one of the most extensive collections on modern Chinese music outside Mainland China, it is available at the Sound OPAC. Living in Hongkong, Dr. Liu was able to maximize the intake of his collection: unlike collections in Mainland China or Taiwan, this collection concentrates not on the music of one particular geographic part of China only, but combines materials from Mainland China, from Taiwan and Hongkong. The collection consists of five different types of materials: scores, files (newspaper clippings and articles from magazines), audio- and videotapes of musical events, books and magazines.

There are presently some 750 scores, 300 scores by Mainland composers, 125 scores by composers from Hongkong, and 73 by composers from Taiwan. Also, there are some 200 scores of revolutionary songs and some 35 collections of musical works by Chinese composers from all three areas in addition to 17 scores featuring the music by some representative Japanese composers as well. These scores cover the entire period of westernized Chinese music, with the Mainland Chinese collection ranging from works by the early xuetangge-composers to a full set of the yangbanxi to the latest works Qu Xiaosong. For Taiwan, pioneer-composer Xu Changhui is represented as well as his younger colleagues such as Pan Huanglong. The same applies for Hongkong: Lam Doming and Lam Bunching [Fn. 1] both have their place in this collection. Due to the obvious breadth and variety of this score-collection, one could imagine scholars working in many contrasting fields making use of it: there are opportunities not only for the musicologist trying to trace musical developments in one of the geographic areas of China or attempting a comparison of the three, maybe taking into account similar developments in Japan, but also for the political scientist or the literary scholar who, by analysing the texts of revolutionary songs from different periods, could draw his conclusions on the political, social, and cultural life in Mainland China.

The files bear interesting materials for the sinologist who is interested in the lives of the Chinese composers and in topics related to the politics of Chinese music. There are some 130 files, about 50 of which deal with Mainland Composers, 10 with composers from Taiwan and around 20 with composers from Hongkong. In addition, there are some 50 files on general topics: again, the range of composers covered is fairly broad, although Taiwan falls far short of the other areas in this case and the Mainland files seem to concentrate on composers before the Cultural Revolution, whereas the xinchao-generation receives less attention. As for Hongkong, naturally, the collection is practically complete. As concerns the topical files, they cover topics such as Music and Politics in the People's Republic, Music circles in Taiwan, Hongkong and Mainland China, History of Chinese music, Influence of the West and Western Technique, Traditional Music and Musical Esthetics.

As for the tapes and videos in Dr. Liu's collection, they offer a huge asset to research on the topic of Chinese music: since Dr. Liu has been involved in Chinese musical circles since the 1960s, this tape-collection contains a great many private recordings of pieces never commercially recorded, given to him by the composers themselves. This makes the collection unique. There is quite a good overlap of scores and recordings, although there are also many scores without recordings and vice versa. Since the collection has now been catalogued, it will be possible to increase the ratio of scores with recordings much more easily than before.

Furthermore, Dr. Liu's library holds an astonishing number of books, almost all in Chinese, on topics related to Chinese music. This library seems to be daily growing due to his personal contacts to composers, musicians and musicologists in Mainland China, Hongkong, Taiwan and the United States. He owns a lot of very valuable materials from Mainland China, which are normally impossible to get, one example being the Zhongguo jinxiandai yinyueshi yankao ziliao, internal teaching materials used at the Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Furthermore, there are quite a number of unpublished M.A. theses on topics related to Chinese Music in his collection.

As for magazines, Dr. Liu's collection includes all the important music journals from Mainland China (Yinyue chuangzuo, Yinyue yanjiu, Yinyue yishu, Zhongguo Yinyuexue, Zhongyang yinyue xueyuan xuebao etc.) as well as a number of journals on revolutionary (and other) song-production (Gequ, Lingnan yinyue, Shanghai yinyue etc.). The few existing musical journals from Taiwan and Hongkong, only very rarely referring to modern topics, be they Western or Chinese, are also, to a lesser extent, to be found in his library (Lianhe yinyue, Yinyue shenghuo etc)

Scholars of Chinese music are now invited to make use of this collection, which has been set up and catalogued as the "Chinese Music Workshop" at the Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hongkong and, in copy, at the Institute of Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University, Germany. The Heidelberg branch-collection is constantly stocked up and now contains a full set of videos of the Yangbanxi as well as the most recent compositions by yang composers of growing world fame such as Tan Dun and Qu Xiaosong.

The collector: Dr. C. C. Liu

Born in Shanghai in 1935, Dr. Liu was born into a period of turmoil due to the Japanese-Chinese war. Since his father worked for the Maritime Customs his family did a lot of traveling along the coastal line of China. One of his first memories is his family's stay in Tianjin in 1945. As the Japanese were leaving hastily, "throwing out everything," his elder brother apparently started to collect the records they had left and the children listened to them on an old Grammophone, this being their first contact with Western music such as the Fifth symphony by Beethoven or the Unfinished Symphony by Schubert. Apparently, his brother had a particular liking for songs and practiced his tenor voice when on holiday from school in Beijing.

In 1948 the family moved to Hongkong where Liu enrolled in middle-school and started to learn how to play the piano. Even though at that time concert life was still very quiet in Hongkong, amateur-based, with concerts taking part in school-halls [Fn. 2], Liu devoured everything to do with classical music. Not only did he read the May Fourth novels as his classmates would, but also fictional works on the lives of composers such as Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe. He started collecting and reading the scores of his favourite composers and organised record appreciation evenings as well as gatherings to paint the portraits of famous composers with his friends. When the Hongkong Sacred Institute was founded in the beginning of the 50s, he enrolled as one of the first students and here received his first formal musical education. Lin Shengshih, a well-known Hongkong composer, became one of his teachers. In 1962 and 1963, Liu took part in the Examinations of the London Royal and Trinity Schools of Music, receiving a licentiate and diploma in Music theory, including the aspects of orchestration, analysis, harmony and history. In preparation for these exams, he took private lessons from Louise Coe, from the Rochester School of Music, and from other visiting British scholars. Someone devoted to music in those days had great difficulty to find adequate teachers in Hongkong.

In the late 1960s Liu started to work for the BBC, doing a translation-editing-job which brought him to think in much broader cultural and political contexts. It was during this time that he first collected Chinese musical materials, his interest for everything Chinese being sparked off by the BBC job. Hence, in 1968, he enrolled at London University for the course in Chinese Studies, gradutating with a B.A. in 1972. He was offered an administrating job at the University of Hongkong in 1973. Therefore, he returned to Hongkong instead of staying on at London for a PhD. His academic interests were strong, however, and hence, between 1977 and 1979, he studied for an M.A. at the University of Hongkong. Since there is no music department, he decided to devote his studies to zaju, an early form of music-theatre originating from the Yuan-dynasty. His PhD., too, written in the years of 1979 to 1982, is devoted to this topic, with special attention to the zaju on the novel Shuihuzhuan.

The choice of this topic, he emphasises, was not based on any real interest in traditional Chinese Music; he had always felt much more attracted to Western, European music, Germanic music in particular, even though he enjoys listening to Chinese traditional music, especially Peking Opera and Kunqu, a Ming-form developed from zaju [Fn. 3]. During these years, he collected scores, his attention focussed at first on the anti-Japanese songs, then vocal works in general. Later, Xian Xinghai, Nie Er and others become known to him through their music. Asked to speak about his attitude to Revolutionary Songs which make up a greater part of the collection he answered:"I don't know, why I collected so many, I just grabbed everything. One can study political developments from them." Obviously, the editor of mingbao monthly, Dong Qiao, knew of his collection and, at the end of the 70s invited Liu to write about the music during the reign of Mao Zidong ( the 1930s to the Cultural Revolution) in a special edition of journal, concerned with Mao Zedong Shidai.

It is due to this invitation and during the ensuing work on his article, that he realized that his knowledge and the collection was still too sceleton and that he would need some support to work seriously on improving this: Therefore, he registered with the Centre of Asian Studies (Research department of H.K.U.) in 1981. The 1983 publication of Wang Yuhe's Zhongguo jinxiandai yinyueshi caused him to feel an even stronger sense of obligation to work on this subject: He felt that someone had to offset this history, because it seemed too biased to him. He felt that living in Hongkong, he might be in an especially privileged position to deal with all of China. Asked, why he decided to collect materials on all three areas of China, Dr. Liu responded that he believes in an All-China:" Wo shi da zhonghua minzhu zhuyizhe." In his opinion, with Hongkong being successfull economically but not culturally, the mainland being biased politically in addition to being monoculturell and monolingual and with Taiwan training mainly musicians but no musicologists, the combination of the three might provide a balanced base for research on and a fair view on all three parts also creating the possibility to encourage each others' particular strengths and weaknesses.

His difficulties in collecting materials started now, that he was more seriously concerned to get them. Even after the inauguration of the Open door policy in the 1980s, it was difficult for him to photocopy materials at the Zhongguo yinyue yanjiusuo in Beijing.

Therefore, in 1985, he organized a first seminar on the topic of Chinese music, in order to attract the attention of the Chinese authorities: Seven speakers were invited, most of them from Taiwan or Hongkong.

Apparently, the publication Dr. Liu initiated after the seminar, managed to attract the attention of Mainland Scholars as well. Therefore, a speaker from the mainland participated in the second conference, held in 1986: Composer-educator Ding Shande.

The next seminar, in 1988, showed an even greater range of participants, the same holding true for the 1990 conference: Musicians, composers and musicologists from Mainland China, Hongkong, Taiwan and the United States as well as Korea met to discuss and review the history of Chinese music drawn out during the first three conferences which cover the period from the first military music to influence China to the end of the Cultural Revolution.

The conferences and the regular publications of papers presented at the conferences under the edition of Liu helped to increase his prestige within Chinese musical circles and now enabled him to receive all the materials he needed.

However, he sees one difficulty with the monographs: although the papers in the monographs try to give a comprehensive and scholarly account of the development of new music in China during its differing stages: from the Military bands to School songs to the May Fourth Movement, from Music Education in the 30s to the first generation of composers to the Yangbanxi; nevertheless, the quality of the articles is not very homogenous. This is due to the fact that very few of the participants have had a formal training in musicology due to the educational structure in the different areas of China.

A lack of education and formal training in the field of musicology go hand in hand with the lack of sources and research material to be used for research in the field of Chinese avantgarde-music. To the question of what kinds of material he himself used for his research on Chinese music, Dr. Liu replied that he had to rely on journals and newspaper clippings mainly, since there are very few books published on the topic of modern Chinese Music: As for Taiwan, he used materials released by the Taiwan government (Wenhua jianshe weiyuanhui), and the P.R.C. branch of the Asian Composers' League. There are only very few, badly written Taiwanese music-journals (e.g. yinyue wenzi), according to Liu, hardly ever paying attention to the output in modern art-music, but rather concentrating on European music. As far as minzu yinyue is concerned, however, Taiwan has a great wealth of publications and materials, often edited by musicologist-composer Xu Changhui. As far as Hongkong is concerned, the situation is very similar. This is also symptomatic for the lack of formal musicological training offered in these two areas. Zhou Fanfu's articles in yinyue shenghuo can be considered important contributions to musicological research, in general, however, this journal provides composers'(often Western) biographies rather than musicological analyses. As for Mainland China, a couple of very scholarly and reliable journals are on the market, the most important of them probably being Yinyue yanjiu, Zhongguo yinyuexue, Zhongyang yinyue xueyuan xuebao, Yinyue chuangzuo and Zhongguo yinyue.

As far as political organisations of importance for the scholar of Chinese music are concerned, it is the Cultural Planning Council, Music Division of the Executive Yuan, the PRC Composers' League as well as the Zhonghua minzu yinyue jijinghui for Taiwan; in Hongkong, important organs are the recreational and cultural branch of the Hongkong government which, however, are mostly only responsible for the allocation of funds, not for decisions on cultural policy. Concerning these questions, a laissez-faire- attitude can be observed in Hongkong generally. Furthermore, there is the Urban Council, the Performing Arts Council [Fn. 4], the Academy of Performing Arts, and the Hongkong Composers'Guild. As for Mainland China, one has to deal with the Yishuju of the Cultural Ministry. Dr. Liu's own research has lead him to believe that modern music is not music for the masses in any of the areas of China: as for the Mainland, he reckons that peasants are largely interested in local opera and traditional music. The audience for avantgarde-music, however, is a small group of intellectuals. Furthermore, he adds, that, due to the political situation in the People's Republic, a lot of modern compositions are appreciated more readily and openly by foreigners than by Chinese. In Hongkong, as far as the acceptance of avantgarde music is concerned, the situation is similar to the Mainland. Concerts presenting the works of young Hongkong composers are seldom popular. The Hongkong average concert-goer is more interested in Classical music, especially the music of the 19th century or else in Chinese traditional music. In Taiwan, audience structure again is very similar to the other areas.

Although not necessarily accepted by the masses [Fn. 5], Liu acknowledges, that Mainland Chinese music, especially the music written during the xinchao-movement, shows the strongest marks of Chinese flavour when compared with the musical output from Taiwan and especially Hongkong. This is, according to Liu, partly due to Conservatory Education in the People's Republic, which requires every student to memorize 500 Folksongs and probably also to the monocultural atmosphere prevalent in Chinese Universities.

Very different the situation in Hongkong: the international atmosphere on the one hand and the almost complete lack of training [Fn. 6] on Chinese values and music on the other are the background for the music created there: according to Liu it is not Chinese Chinese music, rather, it is music in the international style now en vogue in the West. As a whole, the Taiwan infrastructure for music education seems to be better than in Hongkong [Fn. 7]. Again, like in Mainland China, the students of musicology are faced with their own tradition: each instrumental major has to learn how to play at least on Chinese instrument as well [Fn. 8]. Also, there are field trips to the mountains each year, where the students have to do some ethnomusicological research. The fact that the new music by Taiwanese composers is second to Mainland music in its exposition of Chinese flavour seems to prove the positive [Fn. 9] effect of these educational measures. The musical education being very different in focus, it might be interesting to compare the muscial output of the tree parts in chronological order. In the 1950s. Taiwan and Hongkong did not have modern Westernized music as yet, whereas in the PRC, vocal , patriotic and revolutionary songs flourished. At the end of the 50s we see an enormous output in symphonic works all composed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PRC. These pioneer works in symphonic form, however, are clearly political products, and with their very noisy, pompeous instrumentation show that they are the of apprentices rather than masters.

As for the 1960s and 70s, there were first developments both in Taiwan and Hongkong: as for Taiwan, the return of Xu Changhui from Paris in 1959 sparked off the interest in modern Chinese music. Hence, a number of groups of composers formed in the 1960s, encouraging each other and exchanging information on their works. Taiwan's composing style is quite varied due to the fact, that the Taiwanese composers tended to leave Taiwan for an educational period in Europe, favourite places being Austria, Germany and France. It is this great variety in educational background and hence also in compositional technique that differentiates Taiwan and Hongkong composers during this period: most of the latter studied in either the United States or Canada rather than in Europe. In many other respects, however there are many similarities to be found for the two areas: the 60s were a point of departure for Hongkong new music,too. Again, the return of a pioneer composer, Lam Doming in this case, marked the beginning of this era. However, his producing job at the radio kept him busy for some time. Therefore, a real avantgarde-music-circle only formed in the 1970s. The Hongkong Chinese Orchestra also was founded during this time and Liu holds that this was crucial in the development of new music, for this orchestra was to commission many works by modern composers in the years to come. As for the PRC, the 1960s and 70s were a period of high political reglementation and little cultural output due to this [Fn. 10]. The 1980s, notwithstanding, have shown a very favourable direction in Chinese musical development in the PRC, a real upsurge of compositional talent. It was soon to be termed the xinchao-movement. The 1989 Tiananmen Massacre has caused a lot of intellectuals, including many composers, to leave China for Europe or preferably the States or else to stay on longer if they were already studying abroad. This mass-emigration is a serious problem in Liu's view. He fears that if these composers don't come back it might eventually bring their creativity to an end: "they have to go back, to feel and to smell China," he argues. Like many a Chinese musicologist, Liu emphasizes the national characteristics of Chinese music. He is convinced that a really good composer needs an indentity, a cultural base to draw back on. One has to write from one's inner self. This inner self in turn might or should be one's country. Asked about the role of Zhou Wenzhong in this context, who appears in his works as steeped in Chinese philosophy and culture and yet who left China when in his tweens never to return, Liu argues that he, too, eventually stopped writing, "ran out of steam" [Fn. 12]. Probably, he reckons, the difficulty of preserving a Chinese flavour is even greater for the new generation: their cultural identity was formed during the years of the Cultural Revolution, and is hence a cultural non-identity, their culture being Chinese Communism12. An interesting movement parallel to xinchao in the Mainland is the xungen-movement in Taiwan. The idea behind this movement is to search for lost roots, the roots of Chinese or more particularly Fujian Culture. Suddenly in the 1980s, Taiwan composers became very eager to go to Mainland. Dissatisfied with their own little island, they were searching the vast resources of the mainland for findings that could link them up with their past. It is only after the Tiananmen Massacre, that xungen was followed by a period of profound disillusionment. Taiwanese music, however, still tries to be Chinese, without any sense of real embitterment and total rejection of mainland traditions.

In Hongkong, the 1980s were a period of technical polishing and perfecting: Hongkong composers are not, in general, interested that much, says Dr. Liu, in Chinese flavour but rather in the usage of interesting technique and special effects in their compositions [Fn. 13]. That's why he asks " What do they want to say through their compositions?" It has become apparent in the last paragraphs that the development of Chinese music has been heavily influenced by contact with the West [Fn. 14]. The question posing itself is whether or not this influence had a positive effect on modern Chinese music. Asked on the conflict between assimilation of Western trends and preservation of the national heritage Dr. Liu responded that he considers the adaption of Western trends in China to have been rather functional at first: "If you have a war, you need a military band, to teach music in school, one needs school songs." Since these traditions did not exist in China before the Opium Wars but seemed to be part of the strong, even almighty Western nations, they were adapted, taken over, without much thought. "Without the Opium Wars we might have been able to gradually merge western and Chinese musical style. But the Wars meant a sudden and ruthless awakening. All the problems were so urgent and there was no time to do things in one's own pace." Liu hence considers the adaptation of Western music and instruments in Chinese schools, churches and militarybands as an act of panic: noone thought of using Chinese folksongs, Shange in the schools, a music completely different from China's tradition was produced by simple borrowing from the West. Therefore, Liu concludes, it is no wonder that these so-called xuetangge did not brim with originality. The "composers" used foreign harmony or even foreign melodies to which a Chinese text was added. Surely, these songs were successful political tools but their success was not based on their musical value.

First attempts at a merging of east and west rather than pure borrowing of Western traditions were made during the May Fourth Era. Huangzi returned from Yale and Xiao Youmei from Germany. Both of them, although borrowing Western technique and harmony, at least made attempts to incorporate some Chinese elements in their music, be it in the form of pentatonic scales or the citation of folkmelodies only. Huangzi's schoolsongs are mostly very European-sounding, German Lieder type of melodies, with very simple chords. In his Changhenge, the first Chinese choral cantata, one song sounds quite "Chinese", because of its use of the pentatonic scale . Nevertheless, Liu feels that even if these people did know a lot about their own Chinese musical tradition, this has no reflection, does not become apparent in their music [Fn. 16]. Zhao Yuanren can probably be considered one of the worthier musicians and songwriters in this period, who did not simply put music to political slogans as many others did16. Rather, he is known for his varied accompaniment in a Schubertian vein. Turning to early symphonic music, borrowing is still quite prevalent: Liu also remarks that there was no thorough training for writing symphonic works and even someone like Xian Xinghai who had had the opportunity to study in France [Fn. 17] only had a very poor grasp of orchestration techniques [Fn. 18] There was no tradition of symphonic writing in China and, in Liu's words "You cannot ask Palestrina to write a Symphony either."

Despite all possible excuses, Liu still criticizes works such as the Long March symphony by Ding Shande who was simply not up to the task of writing a symphony. The exaggerated use of brass instruments and the sheer volume in this piece are meant to show the heroic quality of the Long March but sadly fail to do so. Maybe a well-versed orchestrator would have done a better job, but as it stands "honghonglielie, danshi kongkongdongdong", a comment by He Luding, describes accurately the peculiar qualities of such a piece. Other works, however, such as the Symphonic Poem Huanghe de gushi by Shi Yongkang are quite interesting and show some features of assimilation between east and west: The melody and ornamentations of the flute-line remind the listener immediately of the melodic freedom of a Chinese dizi. Furthermore, the homophonous writing in the orchestra, sometimes changed for heterophonic passages, is clearly based on Chinese traditional composition techniques.

With the Yangbanxi [Fn. 19], assimilation is taken one step further: Here, Western instruments are used to fill in a Chinese form. The debt to Peking opera is heavy, all main instruments are Chinese, whereas the Western orchestra mainly fulfills the accompaniment without drastically changing the nature of the piece. It is questionable, still, whether Liang Minyue's statement that the rejection of the Yangbanxi after the Cultural Revolution was a loss for the development in Chinese Opera, because he saw in them a first positive attempt at integration of both Western and Chinese elements holds true [Fn. 20]. The orchestration does at times sound thick, unnatural and artificial. Liu holds that when one listens to the lyrical parts often orchestrated with Chinese instruments, one does not feel the need for the huge orchestra. Surely, the xinchao experimentations in the 1980s with different combinations of Western and Chinese instruments are much more subtle and sophisticated than those early attempts at assimilation between east and west, a true merging of two very dissimilar traditions. Liu argues that the interesting and fitting combination of certain instruments can only come through experimentation and compares the Chinese phenomenon with developments in European music where also ensembles have been changed and newly formed over time [Fn. 21]. These inspired combinations and the interesting compositions open up new directions; they make possible a Chinese national style. The use of Chinese instruments plays a crucial role in this process. That is why, for the scholar of modern Chinese music it is essential, to be well-versed in traditional Chinese music. Musicologists should know the tradition in order to fully understand the minzu fenge in many of the avantgarde pieces. No matter whether the composers really know that much about Chinese music, the musicologist has to be able to recognize what allusions to techniques or instruments the composer might subconsciously have worked into his music.

In order to open up to the developments in traditional music in his own series of conferences, Dr. Liu has now invited Wu Ganbo to hold a conference on the modern use and modernization of Chinese instruments in 1992 [Fn. 22]. In this way he wishes to let the two approaches: Western technique with Eastern Flavour and Chinese instrumentarium in Western tradition to meet and exchange. Liu feels that in many ways the "Chinese-first-approach" might be the more promising: Although Liu Tianhua had assimilated a great many violin techniques in his playing of the Erhu, his compositions were completely Chinese in flavour. Composers coming from the other direction borrowed much more extensively and then had to try to make their completely westernized music sound a little Chinese. Dr. Liu feels that China started from the wrong basis: She could and should have started to use Chinese songs in schools and conservatories from the very beginning. Now it seems to be too late: the borrowing is too strong which means that a lot of Chinese new music is as little Chinese as Mozart's Turkish March is Turkish.

It had been Tcherepnin's idea to teach to the Chinese modern compositional technique only and not the classical technique in order to smoothen the way of their adaptation. Dr. Liu does not think, that this is a useful concept since a great many avantgarde-techniques find their roots in conventional techniques even if it is simply the rejection of them. Tcherepnin's argument that if the composers immediately learn the modern technique, they do not have to fight two struggles, one against the conventions and the second against the Western qualities of the system is not valid in Liu's opinion. To him, the problem for composers does not primarily lie in the application of conventional or contemporary technique but rather in the application of a Chinese flavour. The example of Jiang Wenye, a student of Tcherepnin's, is to prove this point: although he writes beautiful colouristic music in the style of Debussy and sometimes also in a more aggressive Shostakovian vain, the degree of "Chineseness" in his music is admittedly small, at least, if one does not take the titles of his works in account.

When one talks of Chineseness, a Chinese or an Asian flavour, one is reminded of Xu Changhui`s statement at the 1990 conference that it might be fruitful to consider Chinese music in the context of other Asian music-traditions rather than in constant comparison with the West. Dr. Liu, however, thinks that since the Yangbanxi, for example, are not influenced by Indian or any other Asian but rather by Western music, there is no need to study Asian music: physical distance is not necessarily the important factor in the question of diffusion.

One important aspect in his future research work will be the esthetics of Chinese music. Liu is intrigued by the question why so many Chinese do appreciate the kind of "bu san bu si de yin yue" such as the early symphonic works of Ding Shande or Xian Xinghai. He would like to study in more detail individual composers in order to make out where the composers should stand on an evaluating chart. Since a Mainland chart [Fn. 23], based on many other apart from musical criteria is already in existence, he would like to show his contrasting ideas.


  1. As for the Romanizations of Cantonese names, I use the Romanizations in practice by the composers.
  2. This is the time when the then non-professional Sino-British orchestra was founded.
  3. Dr.Liu is well aware of the fact that a profound knowledge of the Chinese musical tradition can only help and is probably necessary to a deep understanding of modern Chinese music, and particularly the most recent developments in Chinese music. He has a huge collection of materials on minzu yinyue, but he still feels that his knowledge and interest in Chinese music is inadequate and shallow when compared with that for Western music.
  4. Responsible contactperson would be Wang Gengwu.
  5. Frank Kouwenhoven would surely dispute with this point, compare his article in Chime No. 3 1991 China's new music S.42-75.
  6. The main interest at all Hongkong Music Faculties lies on the European tradition. There is, at the Chinese University of Hongkong, a faculty called Zhongguo Yinyue ziliao guan, concerned with traditional subjects of Chinese music. However, its major emphasis lies on Cantonese Opera and hence it does not provide for the possibility of the thorough study of the Chinese musical tradition.
  7. Dr. Liu does, however, remark on the poor quality of some of the M.A theses on musicological subjects written in Taiwan.
  8. This statement applies for music ecucation at Taiwan Normal University.
  9. It remains questionable whether Chinese music should be appreciated and valued according to its degree of Chineseness, cf.F. Kouwenhoven in: Chime no.3 1991 S.46.
  10. For a different view on the years of the Cultural Revolution cf. F.Kouwenhoven Chime no.3 1991.
  11. There are some new works of his from 1989/90, however, such as Echoes from the Gorge for percussion quartet or Winds wept Peaks for violin, cello, clarinet and piano. Both of these works are to be found in the Collection of the Chime Foundatiuon, Leiden.
  12. For more positive views on the effects of the Cultural Revolution cf. F. Kouwenhoven op.cit.
  13. This point might well be arguable, just mentioning such works as Prayer to the Kitchen God by Lam Doming or the Drunken Poet by Law Wingfai which seem to try to create a relationship with the Chinese cultural heritage.
  14. It is a well-known fact that Chinese music has never been purely indigenous Chinese music and that many of the instruments nowadays used as typical examples of Chinese music had once been imported from other "barbarian" countries. (The name of the Erhu [also huqin] points very directly to its origin: It was an instrument of the hu, the barbarians, imported and modified in China some time during the 9th to 11th centuries)
  15. Compare the discussion on this point by scholars from the mainland, Hongkong and Taiwan in the forthcoming volume of Liu Jingzhi (ed.) Zhongguo xiandai Yinyueshi, Hongkong, December 1991.
  16. Some of the composers Dr. Liu mentions here are Nie Er, Shen Xingong and Xian Xinghai with his well-known song-cycle Huanghe dahechang. This work is a case in point for the difficulty of judging a piece of music like this, because it was able to touch thousands of people despite its poor technique and musical originality.
  17. Of course, one can argue that Xiang Xinghai did not have ideal conditions for study in Paris, since he was always very poor and had to work hard to keep up his cost of living.
  18. That is why many of his more famous works were reorchestrated. It remains to be seen whether the original scores or their reorchetrations are going to be used in the edition of Xian Xinghai's Collected Works to be published by the Xian Xinghai Quanji bianji weiyuanhui.
  19. The Communist Party had early already concentrated on revolutionizing Peking Opera because it was and is influential, appreciated by all strata of society. Therefore, they attempted, in Yan'an days already, to improve the content, to get rid of feudal remnants and unnecessary techniques, to make it easy to stage and thereby use it as a political tool, more powerful than revolutionary songs. But in the years after Liberation people did not go to this modified opera and that is probably one of the reasons why in 1966 it became compulsory.
  20. cf. Liang Minyue Music of the Billion New York 1985.
  21. I think this comparison might be a bit difficult to apply to modern ensembles which do not seem to reconfirm themselves so strongly in that many composers write for them: rather,the "open ensemble" seems to be the "set ensemble" of avantgarde music.
  22. The work of Liu Tianhu and Hua Yanjun is to be considered as well as the question of the "improvement" Chinese instruments which often simply meant, that they were modeled on the instruments and instrument families of the Western orchestra.
  23. The Mainland chart has already mislead European musicologists for whom Chinese music cannot be but the music exported from China: Hence, the West has a completely distorted view of Chinese music. We have been told that the most worthwhile composers in China are Xian Xinghai and Nie Er. 8 9

Last Update: Oct 6, 2009 (KM)
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