“I should have my own personality”: Identity negotiation in Tan Xiaolin's art songs

Arturo Irisarri Izquierdo*, Hon-Lun Yang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Art song, one of the sonic agencies of China’s quest for modernity, was entangled with imperialism, colonialism and nationhood. As a nationalistic response to Western powers’ colonial expansion, composers turned to foreign models for cultural rejuvenation and reaffirmation. The genre’s development has thus been marked by contradictory forces, traditional versus contemporary, nationalistic versus cosmopolitan and Chinese versus Western. While Tan Xiaolin’s (1911–1948) art songs were not sheltered from these opposing forces, his works stood at the forefront of the Chinese musical avant-garde. Having studied in the United States from 1939 to 1946, Tan was the first composer to introduce non-triadic harmony to the genre by utilizing the harmonic theory of Paul Hindemith, with whom he studied from 1942 to 1946. This chapter examines techniques and musical features of Tan’s songs, namely text setting, tone-painting, referential piano figuration and his unusual harmonic language. On this basis, the chapter argues that Chinese art song should be interpreted intertextually as well as cross-culturally to fully appreciate its bi-cultural significations as Western as well as Chinese, and cosmopolitan as well as nationalistic.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Art Song in East Asia and Australia, 1900 to 1950
EditorsAlison McQueen Tokita, Joys H. Y. Cheung
Place of PublicationNew York ; London
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781003313151
ISBN (Print)9781032321622, 9781032321660
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2023

Publication series

NameSOAS Studies in Music

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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