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Xi-Lin Wang (1937-); CHN

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Xi-Lin Wang

Wang Xi-Lin was born in Kaifeng, in the Henan Province of China in 1937, into the family of a poor former official, though his childhood was spent in the Pingliang a small town in the Gansu Province. His interest in music began as a child, to the extent that he sought out training in organ and Western notation at a Christian missionary school in Pingliang. At the age of 12, he left home to join a Communist army art troupe, wherein he taught himself music theory, the Chinese huqin fiddle, accordion, brass instruments, and the techniques of instrumentation and arranging. His first real exposure to Western art music, however, only occurred in 1955, when he began studying conducting at a music school run by the PLA Central Committee. He subsequently studied theory and piano at a teachers college in Shanghai, and then at the Shanghai Conservatory - where he studied composition with Liu Zhuang, Ding Shande, and Qu Wei, as well as counterpoint, analysis, and Western music history.

While still a student, Wang composed his String Quartet No.1 (1961) as well as the first movement of his Symphony No.1 (1962), the success of which led to his appointment as composer-in-residence at the Central Radio Symphony Orchestra - for which he wrote a few orchestral works, including the famous Yunnan Tone Poem. However, by late-1963, political changes in China - the first ultra-leftist rumblings prior to the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao Zedong - led to a crackdown on Western music, especially that written in the 20th century. As part of the wider suspicion of modern art, the music of Debussy and other Impressionist, for example, was attacked by the critic Yao Wenyuan in 1963; the following year, Wang himself gave a two-hour public speech refuting such anti-art policies, and suffered the consequences as a result: he was stripped of his position with the Central Radio Symphony Orchestra and was banished to Shanxi Province, the region of his family ancestry, until 1977. From 1964 to 1971, Wang was first forced to work as "coolie" or laborer for the Yanbei Prefecture Art Troupe in the city of Datong (as well as sent to a mental asylum for 6 months), and then became a prisoner during the height of the Cultural Revolution (he was occasionally beaten so fiercely, that he lost a tooth as well as around 20% of his hearing); from 1971 to 1977, his lot improved somewhat, as he was allowed to conduct and become a "reformed drama" composer for the Southeast Shanxi Song and Dance Ensemble in Changzhi, a remote city in the province.

Wang's provincial isolation and labor had some advantages, however - namely, giving him greater contact with common people, and with local folk music, which had subsequent influence on his music. Further, his suffering proved an important source of inspiration, provided an outlet for his emotions, and fostered considerable growth for him as a composer.

Upon his return to Beijing after the Cultural Revolution, he was "restored" as a composer, and aligned with the Beijing Song and Dance Ensemble. Greater public recognition came with his Yunnan Tone Poem (1981), which received the Prize of Excellence at the 1st All-China Symphonic Work Competition - the highest prize given by the Chinese government; in 1986, the same work was performed in Ankara, Turkey, and it has since become among the most successful Chinese musical works both at home and abroad - indeed, the finale, "Torch Festival", has been performed in over 40 cities within 20 countries, and is one of the most popular of all Chinese orchestral works. Other awards include First Prize of Artistic Songs for his art song "Spring Rain", and an award for his 3 Symphonic Frescoes: 'Legend at Sea' - featured here at the Classical Archives.

Not surprisingly given his exile during the 1970s, it was only in the 1980s that Wang gained knowledge of the more recent trends of Western composers, and through self-study was able to synthesize the techniques of such composers as Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Penderecki, Schnitke, and Lutoslawski - whose scores were naturally difficult to find. These new influences thus converged with two other major sources of Wang's musical language and aesthetic: the music of Soviet Russian composers, especially Shostakovich (to whom Wang dedicated his 2 Symphonic Poems, Op.22 - featured here at the Classical Archives), and the folk music of China, especially the local dramas of the Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. Together these influences allowed Wang to form a truly unique musical voice. His use of such techniques as tone clusters has since opened new vistas for Chinese composers, and he has certainly become a leading voice in contemporary Chinese music circles.

Although Wang has written music in various genres - chamber, vocal, music for more than 40 films and TV programs, etc, it is symphonic music that seems most strongly tied to his identity as a composer and musical figure. In his orchestral works (6 symphonies, 2 symphonic suites, 2 symphonic cantatas, 3 symphonic overtures, a violin concerto, etc.), he perhaps most effectively conveys his historical mission and philosophical inspirations as an artist, as well as his keen awareness of the melancholy and tragedy that come with struggle and isolation. Though not performed with great frequency (indeed, some large-scale works, such as his Symphony No.5, have never been performed), his works have received considerable attention and praise, both in China and abroad. He has given three major concerts of his music in China - in 1991, with the premier of his Symphony No.3, hailed as a major accomplishment in the history of Chinese music; in 1999, which saw the full premier of his Symphony No.1, written 37 years earlier; and in 2005, during which his Symphony No.4 was performed (originally this concert had been scheduled for December 2000, but was canceled by the Chinese government following a lecture by Wang, in which he attacked communism and called for its abolishment) - all three works are featured here at the Classical Archives. In addition, his works have been performed in the US (including his lecture series of 8 music schools, including Yale University, as an affiliate of the John D. Rockefeller Award), Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and France (at the Paris World Fair of 1983). Among current projects, Wang's Symphony No.6 is being composed for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, espressing the spirit of the games. In all, Wang Xi-Lin is a key musical figure in China today, and we are delighted and proud to feature his music here at the Classical Archives.


"Wang Xi-Lin wrote his Clarinet Quartet, Op.41 this year. The impulses [of the work] seem to be derived somewhat from Bartok, though they are transformed into the composer's own personal voice."

Koelner Kultur (Germany)

"I would like to highly recommend Mr. Wang Xi-Lin's Symphony No.4. This a great symphonic work based on music of the European avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s. Because Chinese composers were isolated for many decades, I think that such a serious award as the Grawemeyer Music Award should honor a composer who has preserved his own individual language against the general trend in music in his country."

Krzysztof Penderecki

Xi-Lin Wang

Xi-Lin Wang Xi-Lin was born in Kaifeng, in the Henan Province of China in 1937, into the family of a poor... More
Below are works by X.Wang that every music lover should explore:
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