Feature: An Oriental Excursion
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Western music's relationship with the music and culture of Japan and China has over the years evolved from incomprehension and (not necessarily malicious) mockery to an informed appreciation which has brought with it some fascinating points of interaction between the two traditions. Here are a few examples from each of these perspectives. Play now
Lehar: Das Land des Lachelns
Rarely performed at present, Lehar's 1929 opera tells the story of an ill-fated lover affair between a Chinese nobleman and the daughter of a Viennese aristocrat. While being very much of its time, the work sensitively alludes to the eternal cultural barriers which so often impede personal relationships.
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Based on a true story, the tale of the Japanese geisha abandoned by her American husband was in many ways a pointed warning about the ill-fated nature of such unions. Despite its bleak subject matter, this is without doubt Puccini's most successful opera, both artistically and in terms of its popularity.
Gilbert and Sullivan: The Mikado
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, this popular operetta from the 1880s was a typical product of the period, mixing the British fascination with exotic cultures with an almost complete ignorance of their reality. This farcical tale has no particular relationship to its Japanese setting and is essentially harmless fun.
John Adams: China Gates
This delicate, modern, minimalist piano miniature is actually not a reference to a fine piece of Chinese civil engineering. Rather, the 'gates' in question are an allusion to an electronic device which shuts off a signal, which the composer felt was analogous to the abrupt transitions in this piece.
Ravel: The Empress of the Pagodas
This could have gone horribly wrong, but in fact this depiction of an exotic noblewoman bathing in Ravel's fairytale Mother Goose Suite of 1910 is a respectful pastiche of gamelan music and other regional influences.
Akira Miyoshi: Noesis
Teizo Matsamura: Piano Concerto No.2
Toru Takemitsu: Hika
Finally, here are an orchestral piece, a concerto and a short piece for violin and piano by three of Japan's most respected 20th century composers, each of whom has developed the compositional techniques of the European tradition in vivid and exciting ways.
Lionel Hampton Orchestra: China Stomp (Chinatown)
It's interesting to compare the experiences of African-American and Chinese-American citizens. Chinatown is perhaps analogous to Harlem, but this is essentially a good-time jazz standard with few traces of exotica.
WORLD MUSIC CHOICE
Yu Peng: The Song of Heart
Western parochialism is perhaps alive and well, given that we file the musical traditions of entire cultures under 'World Music'. However, it's perhaps the most approachable methodology and it does at least direct us to fine modern Chinese compositions like this particularly beautiful example.