Chou Wen-Chung


Early Days in China


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


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


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


Family moves to Wuhan in Central China.

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


Family moves to Nanjing, seat of Nationalist government.


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


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.


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.


Bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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


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.


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.


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.


Life in the United States


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.


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.


Career as International Composer


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


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.


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


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.


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.


Completes M.A. at Columbia University.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


Spends one year as a lecturer at Brooklyn College.

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


Marries concert pianist Chang Yi-an.


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

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


Contributions as Educator


Begins teaching career at Columbia University.

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


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.


Keynote speaker at UNESCO International Music Symposium, Manila.

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


Birth of son Luyen Chou.


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” at Columbia University.


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


Birth of son Sumin Chou.

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


Decades Devoted to Cultural Exchange


Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong sign Shanghai Communique in Beijing.

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


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


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


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


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.


Elected Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


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.


Creative Renaissance


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.


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


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.


Retires from 27-year teaching career at Columbia University.

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


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.


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


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


Center begins the Weishan Heritage Valley project in Yunnan Province.


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Awarded honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory, February 27.

Chou Wen-chung passes away at the age of 96 in New York City on October 25, 2019.

Site Credits

Spiralis Music Trust

Design — Concentric, Development — Igicom

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