Nancy Yunhwa Rao: Shi, Propensity of Things, Landscape and Musical Gesture in Contemporary Chinese Composition
This paper examines musical gesture that reflects a unique Chinese concept, shi, i.e., disposition or circumstance, power or potential. In discussing Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, scholars of Western music theory such as Robert Hatten have described musical gesture as “energetic shaping of sound through time,” with a focus on the way it conveys affective motion, emotion, and continuities of shape and force. Shi in Chinese music can be described in similar ways. Yet it is at the same time different in the dynamism produced and the tension that animates various elements to create a single gesture. Especially, I contend that in Chinese music such as that for guqin, the aesthetics are defined by the potential, the energy, and shi that generate musical gestures.
This paper will show how exploration of such “propensity of things” in Chinese music aesthetics can offer the expressive interpretation of significant musical gestures shared in many contemporary Chinese compositions. Two types of gestures will be the focus of this study: 1) the musical gestures derived from Chinese percussion music and how they work together to produce an expressive dynamic process, and 2) the musical gestures derived from the art of landscape painting and calligraphy.