Chou Wen-Chung


Riding the Wind

Year 1964
Duration 7 minutes

The title for this work came from a quotation by Lieh Tzu, the Taoist philosopher, who once wrote:

I am borne east and west
like a dry leaf torn from a tree.
I do not know whether
the wind is riding on me or I the wind.

This state of sublimation describes the attainment of purification of the mind that is present at the moment of performing the art of brush calligraphy: a seemingly spontaneous but controlled flow of ink on paper in a fluid interplay of movement and energy, of density and texture.

As in air current or calligraphy, Riding the Wind is entirely based on the integration of all the physical phenomena in sound generation: timbre, register, duration, intensity, articulation and termination. All of these interact with, or permeate one another, linearly, spatially, in sonority and in speed to generate structure, form and expression.

It is one of the earliest works based on my concept of pien (variable) modes, evolved out of my commitment to integrate musical concepts and practices from around the world and in history, and to sustain the central Chinese principle that all arts media share the same aesthetics in transforming feelings into philosophical thoughts.

In this work I have tried to convey, through sound, the same emotional qualities of Chinese landscape painting and to achieve this with the same economy of means: the maximum expressiveness of a minimum calligraphical brushwork. The characteristic succession of transparent intervals used in Chinese music are freely embroidered with opulent dissonances to serve as the palette for the composer to paint in orchestral sonority, timbre, texture and dynamics. Thus, the changing mood and the emotional content of the work are projected by means of a tonal brushwork that splashes over the entire orchestral spectrum. In this, as well as all my other works to date, I am influenced by the same philosophy that governs every Chinese artist, whether a poet or painter, namely, the affinity to nature in conception, the allusiveness in expression, and the terseness in realization.

Riding the Wind is unique among my works, being the purest, most abstract and transparent application of the pien modes theory. It was composed in 1964, commissioned by the American Wind Symphony Orchestra.

By Chou Wen-chung


  • 2 Piccolos
  • 4 Flutes
  • 4 Oboes
  • 1 E-flat Clarinet
  • 3 B-flat Clarinets (3rd doubling 2nd E-flat Clarinet)
  • 1 Bass Clarinet (doubling 4th B-flat Clarinet)
  • 4 Bassoons
  • 1 Contra Bassoon
  • 4 Horns
  • 4 Trumpets in C
  • 4 Trombones (1st, 2nd-Tenor Trombones, 3rd, 4th-Bass Trombones)
  • 1 Tuba
  • Piano

Percussion, six players

  • Marimba; Xylophone; 3 Temple Bells (tulip bells) — high, medium, low; Snare Drum; Field Drum
  • Vibraphone; Triangle; 3 Anvils (iron pipes) — high, medium and low
  • 3 Wood Blocks — high, medium, low; 3 Temple Blocks — high, medium, low; also uses 3 Anvils of Player 2
  • 2 Bongos; 2 Timbales; Timpani
  • 3 Tom-toms — high, medium, low; 2 Bass Drums — medium, low
  • 2 Suspended Cymbals — medium, low; 2 Gongs — medium, low

Related Compositions

  • Pien

    Ensemble for Winds, Piano and Percussion, 1966

Site Credits

Spiralis Music Trust

Design — Concentric, Development — Igicom

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