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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Contemporary kunqu composition Jones, Juliane


Kunqu is an operatic singing style that developed in the town of Kunshan near Suzhou, China in the sixteenth century. Kunqu is currently experiencing a revival in China, but only five professional musicians are actively composing, continuing the tradition of creating kunqu melodies with qupai (preexisting tune structures) for the singing of literary lyrics. This dissertation investigates current practices of kunqu composition with an ethnographic approach that employs a variety of research techniques including: translations of historical and contemporary compositional treatises, participant-observation in composition lessons, formal and informal interviews, as well as analysis of musical scores, sound recordings, and live performances. I theorize kunqu composition as a process of composers’ translating personal and intellectual knowledge of historical Chinese and Western music as well as collective knowledge of the key branches of kunqu theory into performable and audible musical works (introduction). To explain the genre’s musical vocabulary, I describe traditional and contemporary features such as: relationships between linguistic and musical tones, musical modes, qupai, rhythm and meter schemes, and use of musical instruments. I then describe the process of composing an aria from qupai according to contemporary practice (chapter 2). To contextualize kunqu composition, I trace the history of the genre (chapter 3). Then I analyze how two contemporary kunqu composers engage in methods of kunqu composition in their own creative and theoretical ways (chapters 4 and 5). Finally, I explore a musical dialogue between Western and Chinese musical cultures through examining Tan Dun’s version of the kun opera The Peony Pavilion performed at the Metropolitan Museum in 2012 (chapter 6).

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada