The Dramatic Use of the Flute in Bright Sheng's Melodies of a Flute and Flute Moon



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Bright Sheng (b. 1955), a Chinese-born American composer, has brought his traditional heritage to his adopted home by grafting a variety of Chinese art forms onto the language of modern Western music. Sheng creates a synthetic style that incorporates Chinese traditional materials, including folkloric traditions, legends, and poetry by employing Western musical genres and instruments. His cross-cultural approach, with its sense of balance between East and West, has garnered the attention of audiences and critics both at home and internationally.

This study explores Sheng’s eclectic procedures with case studies of two of his representative cultural fusion works—Flute Moon (1999) and Melodies of a Flute (2012). It focuses on two aspects of his synthetic approach. First, the essay will discuss how Sheng evokes timbres and textures that are recognizably Chinese, but executed through the exclusive use of Western instruments. Of particular importance is the imitation of the sound of Chinese flute (dizi) by using members of the Western flute family and applying a variety of colors, timbres, and playing techniques. Second, the study examines how Sheng takes inspiration from the classic lyrical poetry of the Song dynasty (songci) and Chinese mythology. I provide an interpretation of poetic images and symbolism from these elements in the context of the poem’s culture and history to afford performers a deeper understanding of Sheng’s compositional style and performing practice.



Bright Sheng, Flute (instrument)