Finding a voice—a closer look at Chinese choral music development in the early twentieth century through Chao Yuan-Ren, Huang Zi, and Xian Xing-Hai
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when young Chinese scholars looked to Western nations for answers in hope of revitalizing a nation that once dominated the East, musicians and poets embarked on a journey of establishing a new Chinese style of music. Three sets of composer/poet collaborations and three different ways of infusing Western culture with Chinese culture laid the foundation for Chinese choral music today. Chao Yuan-Ren was a brilliant linguist and music lover who thought that to simply implant Western music onto Chinese text would suffice–his HaiYun, set to a poem of the equally brilliant poet Xu Zhi-Mo serves as a good example. Huang Zi believed in Confucius’ teachings that all new things must grow out of tradition. He and the lyricist Wei Huang-Zhang extended a literary tradition started in the Tang dynasty and produced Song of Everlasting Sorrow, which illustrates this philosophy quite well. Yet, for the underprivileged people who also loved music, folk songs provided a fertile ground as seen in the works of Xian Xing-Hai. During the second Sino-Japanese War, the poet Guang Wei-Ran and Xian worked hand-in-hand, producing the Yellow River Cantata that contains folksong-like melodies and many folk-music elements. Chinese choral music today is unavoidably connected to these three pieces. This document traces the early history of Chinese choral music through these three pieces and explains their influences on Chinese choral music today.