Tone Poem Tuesday

 Another fascinating work today by a composer whose work I’d never heard before: Zhu Jian’er, a Chinese composer who lived from 1922 to 2017. Judging by this piece, I need to hear a lot more of his work. A particular subgenre of classical music that I tend to love a great deal is the intersection of Western and Asian music, when Asian composers write music that blends compositional techniques, thematic material, tonalities, and instruments from both “worlds”. There’s something about the skilled and convincing synthesis of disparate artistic traditions that always excites me.

(This kind of approach to making art, in any form, can easily go awry if the non-native tradition isn’t treated fully and equally with respect as a tradition of its own; this is, I suspect, a part of where what we now call “cultural appropriation” starts. But I digress….)

This work is a four-movement suite called Fisherman’s Ballade Suite No. 1, and it deftly blends the pentatonic sound of Chinese folk music with the kinds of orchestral color that typify French Impressionism. The work sounds almost Ravelian at times, and is thus deeply evocative of a land of seas and rivers. I don’t know if the work quotes a specific folk song, a particular ballad that might be sung by the fisherman of the Yellow or Yangtze Rivers as they cast their nets, but it’s not hard to hear that kind of thing in the piece. In truth, I haven’t been able to find much specific information about this work’s background at all, but that’s not always a bad thing: it forces us to come to a work entirely on its own terms.

Here is Fisherman’s Ballade Suite No. 1 by Zhu Jian’er.

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