Ying Wang/Gesine Schröder

The Sinicization of Riemann’s Concept of Harmony via Soviet Music Theories

The transfer of European music theories to the East has been a subject of music theoretical research in a few cases that concern the reception in Russia. But we only have basic information about the situation in China.

Hugo Riemann’s concepts of harmony served as the basis of a textbook by Igor Sposobin and three other authors that has been published during Stalin’s era in the Soviet Union. In fact, this book was a mixture: it included ideas from other Central European and Russian thinkers such as Louis & Thuille, Javorskij and Katuar. It was the starting point for a cultural initiative, to which the Soviet Union involved nearly all other socialistic brother states after the World War II. Sposobin’s treatise survived its historical provenance. Even today the treatise is widespread and commonly used, among other places, in mainland China.
This paper explores the differences between the Russian version of Sposobin’s textbook and the version, translated into Chinese and adapted to Chinese purposes. On its way to the East the main characteristics of Riemann’s concept became more and more lost. This concerns the idea of duality of major and minor modes, the expression of this idea via the designation of third related chords and the image of the sixth, added as a dissonance to a subdominant chord. On the other hand new adaptations of Sposobin’s concept not only allow a widespread practical usage in China by analysing the so-called common practice literature, but proved to be sometimes even applicable to the music of new Chinese composers, most of whom were trained in Sposobin’s method.