A Cultural Analysis of Chen Yi's Si Ji (Four Seasons) For Orchestra

Timothy Stulman, Bowling Green State University

Abstract

Chen Yi, a prominent composer of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, has been the subject of considerable musical study; however, her orchestral piece, Si Ji (Four Seasons) for Orchestra, has yet to be inspected with a great deal of scrutiny. The aim of this study is to provide a musical and cultural analysis of Si Ji (Four Seasons) for Orchestra, comparing the composition to the traditional Chinese concept (si ji) after which the piece is named. Si ji is a cyclical form used as an analogy in many of the schools of thought throughout Chinese history. According to traditional Daoist philosophy, the seasons are the result of the interaction between yin and yang, polar opposites that provoke each other into a continuous cycle of motion. Si Ji (Four Seasons) for Orchestra relies on these polar opposites not only for the overall structure of the piece, but also to control the flow of intensity from one section of the composition to the next.

In the analytical section of this document, I compare flow of energy in the traditional cycle to flow of intensity in Chen Yi's Si Ji (Four Seasons) for Orchestra. To measure musical intensity, I created a graph in which the x-axis represents time as measured in beats, and the y-axis contains the name of every staff used in the score. On each beat and for every sounding instrument, I inputted the given dynamic as a numeric value. After inputting these values, all lines were summed for a total intensity measurement for that given beat. I used this data to create charts, allowing one to easily see the flow of intensity over the course of a section, season, or the composition as a whole.

The final data shows that Chen Yi remained remarkably true to the philosophical concept. In most instances, the flow of musical intensity in Si Ji (Four Seasons) for Orchestra closely mirrors the flow of energy in the traditional cycle. Chen Yi successfully reaches back to her cultural heritage while using twenty-first century compositional techniques to create a truly cross-cultural masterpiece.