Chou Wen-chung

Windswept Peaks (1990)

Windswept Peaks (May 1989 - June 1990, a consortium commission by the Aeolian Chamber Players) is conceived as a double duo for violin/cello and clarinet/piano. The four parts progress in pairs and are evolved from the same pitch source. Technically, six double modes, each with different ascending and descending orders, transform themselves continually into each other. Four of these are stated simultaneously on all four instruments at any given time. These modes consist of interlocking pitches and reflective intervals. They are, however, defined further by time, register, timbre and loudness, all of which join to shape the progression of each of the parts. The progression of vertical relations is in turn the result of the linear progressions interacting with each other.

Calligraphy by Chou.These structural principles are based on the philosophy of I Ching, the Book of Change. The linear progressions, however, are guided by the concepts of shufa, or the art of calligraphy, according to which pressure, direction, continuity, speed, and viscosity must all be coordinated to propel the flow of ink with desired contour, density and texture. Despite these influences, there is no intention to make the music “appear” to be “Oriental” or “Chinese.”

The Chinese term for Windswept Peaks, Shan Tao, is an esthetic expression that is widely used in literature, visual arts, and music — particularly the music for qin, the zither, which greatly influences my musical thoughts. Shan means mountain; tao means “powerful waves.” The cross currents of these waves of sound over mountain peaks can be esthetically captured by the calligrapher’s brush with as little artificiality as a single limpid stroke. Therefore, again, there is no attempt for Windswept Peaks to “sound” programmatic or descriptive. Instead, as in calligraphy, the goal is to internalize momentous events and emotions into a distilled artistic expression through coordinated flow of the four parts.

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Windswept Peaks is dedicated to the spirit of the Chinese intellectuals, traditionally known as wenren, meaning literally “men of the arts.” For thousands of years, they have been the true leaders of society, giving character to the Chinese civilization and serving as the conscience of the people. Above all, they have given us some of the finest poetry, painting, and music. Frequently suppressed and persecuted, they stand tall among the mightiest peaks in the history of humanity. The image of windswept peaks suggests the unadorned beauty of inner strength, as symbolized by the gnarled pines and craggy rocks. This stark imagery began to permeate my musical thinking when the tragic event of June 4, 1989 at Tiananmen Square took place, soon after I started composing this piece.

Instrumentation