Chou Wen-Chung

Scroll
i

Early Days in China

1923

Born July 28 in Yantai, China (historically known as Chefoo).

1924

Family moves to Qingdao, former German colony on the coast of Shandong.

1927

Family moves to Shanghai; bedridden with nephritis for one year.

1929

Family moves to Wuhan in Central China.

Begins violin studies and learns to play erhu, mandolin, and harmonium.

1932

Family moves to Nanjing, seat of Nationalist government.

1934

Enters Jingling Middle School, missionary school in Nanjing. Studies English.

1937

Japanese invade China. December 13 occupy Nanjing; six-week Nanjing Massacre.

Family moves to Shanghai International Concession; father Chou Zhong-jie transferred to Chongqing, war capital of the Nationalist government.

1938

Chou Wen-chung and older brothers contract typhoid from biological warfare; brother Wen-ho dies.

Chou Wen-chung bedridden for one year.

After recovery, enrolls part-time at Shanghai Music School; studies violin with Xu Weiling.

1941

Bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Graduates from high school and begins studies in architecture at St. John’s University, Shanghai.

1942

Chou Wen-chung flees Shanghai with a group of young people, trekking across China for months to find safety in non-occupied territory.

Assigned by government to study engineering at Guangxi University in Guilin where he receives military training.

1944

Flees to Chongqing to escape Japanese occupation of Guilin.

Continues studies in civil engineering at National Chongqing University.

Studies violin with Wang Renyi, conductor of National Orchestra in Chongqing.

1945

Graduates from National Chongqing University with B.S. in Engineering.

Japanese surrender August 15th, ending of World War II; beginning of civil war in China.

Travels home to Shanghai through war-torn China.

ii

Life in the United States

1946

Accepts full scholarship in architecture from Yale University.

Regrets decision and rescinds scholarship shortly after arriving at Yale.

Enrolls in New England Conservatory and studies composition with Nicholas Slonimsky.

1949

China’s civil war ends with victory by Communist forces.

Mao Zedong announces the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.

Chiang Kai-shek moves Nationalist capital to Taiwan, named as Republic of China. U.S. and People’s Republic of China end diplomatic relations.

Moves to New York City.

Meets Edgard Varèse and becomes his student and assistant.

iii

Career as International Composer

1949

Writes his first piece, Landscapes. Premieres in 1953 by San Francisco Symphony, Leopold Stokowski, conductor.

1950

Completes Three Folk Songs. Premieres in 1952 by Lucile Lawrence, harp, Thomas Piacenza Benton, flute.

Completes Two Chinese Folk Songs, transcribed by Lucile Lawrence. Published by C.F. Peters.

1951

Completes Suite for Harp and Wind Quintet. Premieres in 1952 by Metropolitan Wind Quintet, Marietta Bitter, harp.

1952

Completes Seven Poems of Tang Dynasty. Premieres by the International Society for Contemporary Music, John Clark, conductor.

Begins graduate studies at Columbia University under Otto Luening and Paul Henry Lang.

1953

Completes All in the Spring Wind. Premieres in 1961 by Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney, conductor.

Receives Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to conduct research on ancient Chinese music.

1954

Completes M.A. at Columbia University.

1955

Completes And the Fallen Petals. Premieres by Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney, conductor.

1956

Completes In the Mode of Shang. Premieres in 1957 at the New York at Composers’ Forum, Carlos Surinach, conductor.

1957

Panelist at 6th National Conference of UNESCO, San Francisco.

Completes Two Miniatures from Tang Dynasty. Premieres that same year by Sarah Lawrence College Orchestra, Meyer Kupferman, conductor.

Completes The Willows Are New. Premieres in 1958 by Don Shapiro, piano. Recording (CRI) performed by Yi-an Chang, 1972.

1958

Naturalized as American Citizen.

Spends one academic year at University of Illinois, Urbana as Research Associate.

Completes To a Wayfarer, (orchestral version of Willows Are New) which premieres by the Contemporary Music Society, Leopold Stokowski, conductor.

Completes Soliloquy of a Bhiksuni, and premieres by University of Illinois Wind Ensemble, Richard Tolley, trumpet; Robert Gray, conductor.

1959

Completes Poems of White Stone (mixed chorus and chamber ensemble), written for Merce Cunningham Dance Company and performed at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, John Garvey conductor.

1961

Spends one year as a lecturer at Brooklyn College.

Completes Metaphors. Premieres in 1961 by the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, Robert Boudreau, conductor.

1962

Marries concert pianist Chang Yi-an.

1963

Receives Music Award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters.

Completes Cursive. Premieres in 1964 by Harvey Sollberger, flute; Charles Wuorinen, piano.

iv

Contributions as Educator

1964

Begins teaching career at Columbia University.

Completes Riding the Wind. Premieres that same year by American Symphony Orchestra, Robert Austin Boudreau, conductor.

1965

Edgard Varèse dies in New York. Chou Wen-chung becomes music executor.

Completes Yü Ko, and premieres that year by Group for Contemporary Music, Harvey Sollberger, conductor.

1966

Keynote speaker at UNESCO International Music Symposium, Manila.

Completes Pien. Premieres in 1967 by Group for Contemporary Music, Harvey Sollberger, conductor.

1967

Birth of son Luyen Chou.

1969

Completes Yün. Premieres in 1969 at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, Donald Nitz, conductor.

Named Chairman of Composition Department at Columbia University until retirement and Chairman of Music Division of School of the Arts until 1989.

Designs first graduate course on “Chinese Music.”

1970

Becomes President of Composers Recording Inc. (CRI) for five years.

1971

Birth of son Sumin Chou.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy begins between the U. S. and China

v

Decades Devoted to Cultural Exchange

1972

Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong sign Shanghai Communique in Beijing.

Chou Wen-chung makes first trip back to China since departure 26 years earlier.

1973

Takes on administrative leadership roles in School of the Arts, Columbia University.

1977

Travels to China to propose program of arts exchange between U.S. and China.

1978

Officially establishes Center for US-China Arts Exchange, October 1. Becomes Director.

1979

January 1: Normalization of Diplomatic Relations between China and the U.S.

Center organizes Isaac Stern’s trip to China and production of film, “From Mao to Mozart.”

Continues ongoing program of international cultural exchange for 40 years.

1982

Elected Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

1984

Establishes Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music.

Center launches 10-year Arts Education Program, research led by Howard Gardner of Project Zero, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

vi

Creative Renaissance

1986

Completes Beijing in the Mist, which premieres that same year at the National Dance Institute’s children’s dance performance “China Dig” at Felt Forum, Lee Norris, conductor.

Luciano Pavarotti travels to China, sponsored by Center for US-China Arts Exchange.

1989

Completes Echoes from the Gorge (percussion quartet) which premieres that same year by New Music Consort.

1990

Completes Windswept Peaks, which premieres that same year by Aeolian Chamber Players, Bowdoin Music Festival, Lewis Kaplan, artistic director.

Center for US-China Arts Exchange co-organizes Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo with Leonard
Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and London Symphony Orchestra.

1991

Retires from 27-year teaching career at Columbia University.

Receives the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Award of the Asian Cultural Council.

1992

Completes Concerto for Violincello and Orchestra. Premieres in 1993 by American Composers Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies, conductor, Janos Starker, cello.

Center begins multi-year project in Yunnan Province aimed at the preservation and development of cultural traditions of indigenous ethnic groups.

1996

Completes String Quartet No. 1 “Clouds,” which premieres that same year by Brentano String Quartet.

1999

Center organizes Leadership Conference on Conservancy and Development in Kunming; drafts the Yunnan Initiative policy statement.

2000

Center begins the Weishan Heritage Valley project in Yunnan Province.

2001

Chou Wen-chung receives Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture.

2003

Chou Wen-chung Music Festival held in Taiwan.

Music archives of Edgard Varèse and Chou transferred to Switzerland to the Paul Sacher Foundation Archive and Research Center for the Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Completes String Quartet No.2 “Streams”. Premieres in 2004 by Brentano String Quartet.

2004

Named Honorary Professor of Composition by the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

2005

Receives Robert M. Stevenson Prize from the Society of Ethnomusicology.

2007

Completes Twilight Colors and premieres that same year by Boston Musica Viva, Richard Pittman, conductor.

2008

Completes Eternal Pine I, (for traditional Korean instruments). Premieres by Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea (CMEK) at International Composers Series, Kumho Art Hall, Seoul.

2009

Completes Ode to Eternal Pine, (for western instruments) and premieres that same year by New York New Music Ensemble, James Baker, conductor, at Merkin Hall.

Creates spatialized orchestration of Varèse’s Étude pour Espace for Varèse 360° in the Holland Festival, Amsterdam.

2010

Completes Eternal Pine II (for gayageum and changgu) and premieres that same year by CMEK at Sejong Chamber Hall, Seoul.

2012

Completes Eternal Pine III, “Sizhu Eternal Pine” (for traditional Chinese instruments) and premieres that same year by Taipei Chinese Orchestra, Chang Yin-fang, conductor.

2013

Completes Eternal Pine IV (for Chinese trio: pipa, di and luogu) and premieres that same year in Taipei.

2015

Release of New World Records recording of Chou Wen-chung: Eternal Pine.

2016

Yi-an Chou passes away in New York, April 12.

2018

Official opening of Chou Wen-chung Music Research Center at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music, Guangzhou, China.

Site Credits

Administration
Spiralis Music Trust

Website
Design — Concentric, Development — Igicom

Photography
Kimberly M. Wang, Eardog Productions, the Spiralis Music Trust and public domain.