For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese
  • Sheila Melvin
  • Jindong Cai
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese.
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"Every chapter is as exciting as it is revealing. The book is thoroughly researched, with a superb bibliography. I am ecstatic; my students will be electrified."

- Clive M. Marks, Chairman, The London College of Music, Trestee, Trinity College of Music and The London Philarmonic Orchestra


About the Author

Sheila Melvin lived in China from 1995 until September of 2000. She now splits her time between the US and China, with bases in Baton Rouge and Beijing.

Sheila Melvin is a regular contributor to The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times. She often writes on music-related subjects, including Western classical music in China, and Chinese opera. In 1998-99, she wrote a series of ten articles for The Wall Street Journal on the Kunju opera “Peony Pavilion,” which was produced by Lincoln Center. Ms. Melvin’s stories on the arts, travel, business, politics, human interest, and economics in China have been carried by a number of publications, including USA Today, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Opera News, The South China Morning Post and Catholic Digest. She is a native of Washington, DC and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Conductor Jindong Cai was born in Beijing, and became his career during the Cultural Revolution. He has first-hand knowledge of many of the movements and events described in Rhapsody. In 1985, he went on to study with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. He graduated from New England Conservatory and he received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.
 
Prof. Cai is also the Director of Orchestral Studies at Stanford University. He has conducted many professional and university orchestras in the United States and China. He has a special interest in the works of Chinese composers. He received the ASCAP award for his support of contemporary music in 1998 and 2002.
 
Ms. Melvin and Mr. Cai are married and have two children.

About the Book

Western classical music has become as Chinese as Peking Opera, and it has woven its way into the hearts and lives of ordinary Chinese people. This lucidly written account traces the biographies of the bold visionaries who...

Western classical music has become as Chinese as Peking Opera, and it has woven its way into the hearts and lives of ordinary Chinese people. This lucidly written account traces the biographies of the bold visionaries who carried out this musical merger.

Rhapsody in Red is a history of classical music in China that revolves around a common theme: how Western classical music entered China, and how it became Chinese.

China’s oldest orchestra was founded in 1879, two years before the Boston Symphony. Since then, classical music has woven its way into the lives of ordinary Chinese people. Millions of Chinese children take piano and violin lessons every week. Yet, despite the importance of classical music in China — and of Chinese classical musicians and composers to the world — next to nothing has been written on this fascinating subject.

The authors capture the events with the voice of an insider and the perspective of a Westerner, presenting new information, original research and insights into a topic that has barely been broached elsewhere.

The only other significant books touching on this field are Pianos and Politics: Middle Class Ambitions and The Struggle Over Western Music by Richard Kurt Kraus (1989), and Barbara Mittler's Dangerous Tunes - The Politics of Chinese Music. Both target the academic market. Pianos focuses narrowly on the political aspects of the Cultural Revolution and subsequent re-opening. Rhapsody in Red is a far better read and benefits from considerably more research with primary source material in China over the past decade; and it covers classical music in general over all the history of East-West interaction.

This book will appeal to a general readership interested in China - the same readers who made "Wild Swans" a bestseller. It will also appeal to all who are interested in the future of classical music. It could easily be used for college courses on modern China, cultural history, and ethnomusicology.


Preface

Classical music today is increasingly the turf of musicians from China. Indeed, so many of the world’s top composers and performers of classical music are Chinese-born and educated that their success has been labeled a “huge...

Classical music today is increasingly the turf of musicians from China. Indeed, so many of the world’s top composers and performers of classical music are Chinese-born and educated that their success has been labeled a “huge phenomenon.” So, too, are many of the rank-and-file orchestra musicians, music school professors, private violin and piano teachers, and students who are classical music’s backbone and future. Although it is less remarked upon, even the production of instruments like pianos, violins, and cellos is ever more a Chinese specialty.

But China is not just an exporter of classical music, musicians, and instruments — it is also a voracious consumer. Classical music has become so deeply embedded in urban China that the performance of a Western opera may draw a bigger audience than that of a Peking opera. Major cities like Shanghai and Beijing have several symphony orchestras that regularly perform works from the standard classical repertoire as well as compositions by Chinese composers. Beijing is now the site of an international music festival that draws top orchestras and soloists from around the world. The piano is immensely popular throughout the country; some estimates suggest as many as 38 million Chinese children are currently learning to play piano.

And yet, China also has its own rich, varied and ancient musical traditions. How and why did Western classical music develop such deep roots? This is a question that we have often asked ourselves — and been asked — and it is this that we set out to answer in writing Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese.

Rhapsody in Red is not a history of classical music in China, except of the incidental sort. Rather, like its musical equivalent, it is a series of linked sections that revolve around a common theme. Our approach is people-centered, rather than academic, with each chapter built around one or two key figures or events. It starts in Shanghai in the early 20th century when the all-foreign Shanghai Municipal Orchestra was building a reputation as “the best orchestra in the Far East.” From Shanghai, it leaps back in time to the turn of the 17th century when the Jesuit Matteo Ricci presented a clavichord to the emperor, a gift that eventually led to a remarkable tradition of Western classical music study and performance in the Forbidden City. It then progresses forward through the tumult and triumphs of the 20th century — the May 4th Movement, World War II, the Communist victory, the establishment of the People’s Republic, the Cultural Revolution, and the re-opening to the outside world that followed it.

Our tale is anchored to several key musicians who devoted their lives to helping classical music take hold and develop. We have chosen this approach because it gives life to a story that until now has remained largely untold. But, it does mean that there are dedicated, talented and important musicians who have gone unnamed or been mentioned only in passing. This is not a reflection of their contributions, but of the demands of building a cogent and compelling narrative. Likewise, because our focus is on classical music in China itself, we have discussed only briefly the Chinese composers and performers who are currently triumphant in concert halls and opera houses around the world — the story of their successes and influence on classical music internationally is, perhaps, the subject for another book.


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Pages 376
Year: 2004
LC Classification: ML366.5M45
Dewey code: 781.6'8'0951
BISAC: MUS006000
BISAC: MUS020000
Paper
ISBN: 978-0-87586-179-1
Price: USD 33.00
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-180-7
Price: USD 45.00
Ebook
ISBN: 978-0-87586-186-9
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