Festival Overture (1958)
Symphony No. 1 (1986)
A native of the Jing district of Anhui, Zhu Jianer was born in Tianjin and brought up in Shanghai, teaching himself musicas a schoolboy. In 1940 he began to write songs, incidental music and music forwind instruments, turning in 1949 to the composition of film scores. In 1955 hewent to the Soviet Union, where he was able to take an advanced course incomposition at the Moscow Conservatory, completing his studies in 1960, when hereturned to China, working successively at the Shanghai Film Studio and theShanghai Opera, Since 1975 he has served as resident composer to the ShanghaiSymphony Orchestra, concurrently holding a position as a professor ofcomposition at the Shanghai Conservatory.
Zhu has endeavoured in his work to combine organically Western techniquesof composition with Chinese musical thinking, idioms and style, continuouslydeveloping and broadening the referential aspect of his music and forming anindividual musical language, He occupies a leading position in music in China,with important works that include five symphonies, a symphonic cantata HeroicPoems, music for piano, chamber music, compositions for Chinese instrumentsand other music, His Symphonic Fantasia won a distinguished award in theAII-China Symphonic Composition Appraisal in 1981 and his Symphony No, 4
won the Grand Prize in the Queen Marie Jose Composition Competition inSwitzerland in 1990, In 1991 he was awarded the prize for Outstanding Contributionto Art and Literature, the highest prize in the gift of the Shanghai municipalgovernment.
Many of Zhu Jianer's works, in particular his symphonies, were first performedand won awards at the Shanghai Spring Music Festivals, They have also been performedin various countries, including the former Soviet Union, Japan, Germany,Sweden, Romania, the United States of America and the Philippines and have beenwell received in international musical circles.
Zhu's Festival Overture was completed in 1958 and first performedthe following year by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, directed by A. Belovusov. Althoughthe work is in traditional sonata form, it has a distinctive Chinese style. Themelody of the introduction is typical of Chinese suona music and runsthrough the whole piece. The principal theme is jubilant, lively and characteristicof Chinese gong and drum rhythm. The secondary theme, graceful, lyrical andpermeated with the flavour of Shanxi, extols happy life. In the central development the livelyprincipal theme is treated symphonically and shows a certain versatility.
Sometimes it appears resolute and forceful and sometimes grandiose andpowerful. In the coda, with a slackening of speed, it becomes magnificent andbrilliant, like the fireworks on a carnival festival night, symbolizing an evenmore glorious future.
The Symphony No.1 is epic, philosophical and dramatic inconception. It was completed in 1986, after a nine year period of gestation.
The symphony reminds the audience of the disastrous Cultural Revolution, whichcame to an end ten years before the "work was finished, and profoundlyreflects the doubt, surprise, agony and resentment of the people during thatperiod and the struggle between the true and the false, good and evil, the beautifuland the ugly. As the composer points out, the symphony is not a narrative ofhistorical events but looks back at events philosophically from a historicalpoint of view. The abstract punctuation marks used as titles for the fourmovements, which are internally related, reflect the psychological reaction ofthe people.
The theme of the introduction of the first movement is very important,the motive force of the whole creation and the direct source of the fugal themeof the fourth movement. The principal theme of the first movement is meditativeand only in the finale is it completely recapitulated, with the two outer movementsechoing each other. The two inner movements are separate episodes, the first ofthem a scherzo, a satirical cartoon, while the third movement, marked Lento,is one of wordless sorrow. The symphony seems influenced to some extent by themusical qualities and idioms of Shostakovich, with similarities in content andother features. Although serial and various polyphonic techniques are used, theapplication is distinctive, with a combination of traditional techniques andChinese musical language. The symphony was first performed at the TwelfthShanghai Spring Music Festival in May 1986 and won the first composition prizeon that occasion.