Chou Wen-chung


“…The musical qualities of ts’ao shu [cursive calligraphy] are undeniable …in particular its supreme sense of rhythm, …the fluidity in its movement, …the play between deliberateness and swiftness, and the constant expansion and contraction in the relationship between ink and space. All of these qualities …are what make this uniquely Asian art so representative of all Asian graphic and performing arts. Like the Chinese language, it is at the root of Asian esthetics.”

Excerpts from a letter to Yayoi Uno Everett regarding Chinese calligraphy, 2006

The following is a summary of what I deduced from traditional theory (of Chinese calligraphy) which is particularly and remarkably applicable to musical thinking and structure.

The structural principles of calligraphy such as contrast illustrate contrapuntal principle (counterpoint), correlating stroke components correspond to texture in music, and meter/rhythm is exactly the same as in music.

The basic strokes such as the principal stroke can be equated to principal modal tones — initials and dominants, and connecting strokes to auxiliary modal tones — those connecting principal tones… these principles of connecting strokes are very similar to early renaissance melodic principles, as well as principles for vocal lines in classical Chinese operas such as kun qu.

When an experienced person views calligraphy, he/she can well imagine all the movements that occurred in creating the calligraphy… the creation of calligraphy is a four dimensional process. What appears on paper represents a notation of the art rather than the totality of the artwork, which… is recreated in the mind of the experienced viewer.

To sum it up, I feel that brush calligraphy is so relevant to a composer, because of the involvement of space and time, as well as movement, which is the reason many people believe calligraphy is different from Western painting or drawing. The difference is that in calligraphy, retouching or alteration after the fact is not tolerated. It is an art that requires detailed conception in the mind so that it can be executed instantaneously, instead of starting with a sketch and then gradually building it into a complete oil painting.

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