Cheong, Wai Ling / Ding Hong. 2018. “Sposobin Remains: A Soviet Harmony Textbook’s Twisted Fate in China.” Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie 15/2, 45–77.
eingereicht / submitted: 23/01/2018
angenommen / accepted: 05/05/2018
veröffentlicht (Onlineausgabe) / first published (online edition): 18/12/2018
zuletzt geändert / last updated: 18/12/2018

Sposobin Remains

A Soviet Harmony Textbook’s Twisted Fate in China[1]

Wai Ling Cheong, Ding Hong

In 1937–38, Igor V. Sposobin and three co-authors at the Moscow Conservatory published Uchebnik garmonii [Harmony Textbook]. This was the first officially approved harmony textbook in the USSR, which came to be adopted as “the basic textbook for courses on harmony in the music schools of the Soviet Union” (Vladimir Protopopov, 1960). Characterized by its promulgation of the “scientifically based” theory of harmonic functions, this book was destined to be read by many more musicians in a foreign land. In 1955–56, Boris A. Arapov decreed at meetings held at the Central Conservatory of Music in China that the problem posed by the ethnicization of harmony should be solved by combining musical elements that are considered ethnically distinct with functional harmony. Wu Zuqiang, who had studied at the Moscow Conservatory in the 1950s before he headed the Central Conservatory in the 1980s, published a chapter from Uchebnik garmonii already in 1955. The first Chinese translation of the whole book by Zhu Shimin was then published in 1957–58. The book soon attained canonic status in China and has been used in virtually all Chinese music institutions up to the present day. It is listed in the entrance examination syllabi of selected conservatories and reputable music theorists have published model answers to the exercises it contains. This article investigates how the Chinese reception of Uchebnik garmonii diverges from the sources that had inspired Sposobin and his colleagues to compose it in the first place, and throws light on the far-reaching impacts and ramifications of Uchebnik garmonii in China.

1937–38 publizierte Igor V. Sposobin gemeinsam mit drei Ko-Autoren Uchebnik garmonii [Lehrbuch der Harmonik] am Moskauer Konservatorium. Diese erste offiziell anerkannte Harmonielehre der UdSSR wurde zum “grundlegenden Lehrbuch für Harmonielehrekurse an Musikausbildungsstätten der Sowjetunion” (Vladimir Protopopov, 1960). Charakterisiert durch seine Verbreitung einer als “wissenschaftlich fundiert” erachteten Funktionstheorie, sollte das Buch noch von vielen weiteren Musiker*innen in einem anderen Land gelesen werden: Boris A. Arapov erklärte 1955–56 bei einer Konferenz am Zentralkonservatorium Beijing, dass das Problem einer “Ethnisierung” von Harmonik gelöst werden solle, indem musikalische Elemente, die als ethnisch different aufgefasst werden, mit Funktionsharmonik kombiniert werden. Wu Zuqiang, der in den 1950er Jahren am Moskauer Konservatorium studierte und in den 1980er Jahren dann Präsident des Beijinger Zentralkonservatoriums wurde, legte bereits 1955 die Übersetzung eines Kapitels aus Uchebnik garmonii vor, worauf 1957–58 dann die erste vollständige Übersetzung von Zhu Shimin folgte. Das Lehrbuch erhielt rasch einen kanonischen Status in China und ist in nahezu allen Musikinstitutionen des Landes bis zum heutigen Tag in Verwendung. Es ist in den Anforderungen zur Zulassungsprüfung und den Lehrplänen einiger Konservatorien angeführt, und angesehene Musiktheoretiker haben Modelllösungen zu den Übungen des Buchs veröffentlicht. Dieser Beitrag untersucht wie die chinesische Rezeption von Uchebnik garmonii sich von den Quellen entfernte, die Sposobin und seine Kollegen ursprünglich motiviert hatten, das Buch zu verfassen. Dadurch wird deutlich, welche weitreichenden und unvorhersehbaren Auswirkungen Uchebnik garmonii in China mit sich brachte.

Schlagworte/Keywords: China; Harmonielehre; harmony; Igor V. Sposobin; pentatonicism; Pentatonik; reception history; Rezeptionsgeschichte; Soviet music theory; Sowjetische Musiktheorie

In the 1930s, the so-called “brigade of theorists,” Iosif Dubovsky, Sergei V. Yevseev, Igor V. Sposobin, and Vladimir V. Sokolov, co-authored Uchebnik garmonii [Harmony Textbook]. It was first published in the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1937–38, and soon became one of the most widely used harmony textbooks throughout the communist world. It won official approval from the Soviet authorities at the outset, and it remains in use in Russia to this day. In the late 1950s Uchebnik garmonii was translated into Chinese and published in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The history of its reception in the PRC closely resembles that in the USSR, with later editions and reprints proliferating in both countries. But just what mission, if any, this harmony textbook (henceforth “The Book” or “Sposobin’s harmony textbook”[2]) was meant to fulfill when it was introduced to China, and why it was considered well-suited to that mission, have remained open questions until now.

We address these questions through comparative readings of some of the most esteemed music theorists and researchers in China. Was the selection of The Book as the default harmony textbook intended to provide China with a “weapon” in the fight against its proverbial ideological foes, decadence, formalism, and modernism? Was it considered useful to help channel musical creativity in directions that were thought commensurate with the alleged purity and progressiveness of the new China? Was The Book considered “pure” because it privileges diatonic harmony over chromatic harmony (to say nothing of atonal and twelve-tone harmony)? Was it deemed progressive because of the putative scientific basis of the functional theory it promulgates?

In the USSR, it was Uchebnik garmonii that led to the widespread dissemination of functional harmony among musicians from the late 1930s onward. In the PRC, The Book – the first harmony textbook to have promoted functional harmony in a systematic fashion – played no less of an important role in disseminating this theory. Admittedly, there were references to functional harmony in the 1955 Shiyong heshengxue jiaocheng [A Textbook of Applied Harmony], co-authored by Olga L. Skrebkova and Sergei S. Skrebkov,[3] but only one chapter out of twelve in this book is devoted to harmonic functions and their interrelationships.

Although the reception of Uchebnik garmonii in the PRC paralleled that in the USSR, the fact that the functional theory upheld in The Book had its origins in the “imperial” West was for many years concealed in China. Chinese readers were not informed that functional harmony stemmed from Hugo Riemann and was thus German rather than Soviet in origin.[4] Indeed, Riemann remains a little-known figure in the PRC and is certainly much less familiar than Sposobin and “the brigade,” where harmonic studies are concerned. Over time, layers of meaning were attached to The Book in response to the shifting socio-political situation in China, which made it possible in recent years to uncover some facets of its twisted fate in the PRC as well as holding up a mirror to the changing cultural politics of the state.

1. The Book (1937/38)

1.1. Soviet Context

Dubovsky, Yevseev, Sposobin, and Sokolov, the authors of Uchebnik garmonii, were all students of Georgy Lvovich Catoire (1861–1926) who had been a professor of theory at the Moscow Conservatory since 1917. All four stayed on at the Conservatory as professors of theory in their own right. Known as the “brigade of theorists,” they collaborated initially on a first edition of The Book, published in 1934–35 with the title Prakticheskii kurs garmonii [A Practical Course of Harmony].[5] But very soon they substantially revised it, and it is the second edition that is known today as Uchebnik garmonii.[6] The publication of Prakticheskii kurs garmonii had been preceded in its turn by Catoire’s Teoreticheskii kurs garmonii [A Theoretical Course of Harmony], the two volumes of which were not published until the last three years of his life (1924/26).[7] Catoire took François August Gevaert’s Traité d’harmonie theorique et pratique and Riemann’s theory of functional harmony as important reference points.[8] Given his French descent, his sojourn in Berlin as a university student, and his apprenticeship under Karl Klindworth (1830–1916), Catoire was well equipped to access French and German theory and to make a European-oriented contribution to the development of Soviet music theory.[9] It was on this foundation that Uchebnik garmonii was built.

Of the sixty chapters making up the two volumes of Uchebnik garmonii (see Appendix 2), quite a number are only a few pages long. The topics are very finely divided.[10] Chapters one to twenty-seven (volume I) are about diatonic harmonies. The remaining thirty-three chapters (volume II) are more varied in content, covering such topics as chromatic harmonies, modulations, and, not least, auxiliary tones.[11] The theory of functional harmony is central to The Book. Having introduced the primary triads in chapter one, “the brigade” delineates the harmonic functions of the tonic, subdominant, and dominant triads in chapter two. Yet, it is not until chapter seventeen that readers are introduced to the secondary triads and the so-called complete system of functional harmony – “complete” in the sense that both the primary and secondary triads are engaged.


Example 1: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, “O Volge i Mikule” (100 Russian Folksongs, op. 24/2; example 233 in Sposobin, Uchebnik garmonii, fourth edition, 1956, 104)


Example 2: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Cuckoo” (16 Songs for Children, op. 54/8; example 238 in Sposobin, Uchebnik garmonii, fourth edition, 1956, 106)

Examples 1 and 2 reproduce two short excerpts from chapter seventeen; they illustrate well the complete system of functional harmony. In each case, a diatonic collection is engaged (A major in Ex. 1 and G major in Ex. 2) and all except one chord are complete triads in root position. The three primary triads are labelled T, S, and D, which abbreviate the functional categories of tonic, subdominant, and dominant respectively. Apart from these functional categories, all the other diatonic triads are also given the Roman-numeral denotations of scale-steps. Their chord symbols (SII, DTIII, TSVI, and DVII6) are therefore more complicated than traditional harmonic symbols.[12] The assignment of chord symbols that combine the functional categories of tonic, subdominant, or dominant with the Roman-numeral denotations of scale-steps is evidence that they do not consider functional theory and Stufen theory (i.e. scale-step theory) as strictly distinct.[13]

Russian music assumes high importance in The Book. Excerpts from music composed by twenty-one Russian composers (about half the total number of composers cited in The Book) are cited in more than 140 music examples. Among Russian composers, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov are the most cited, with only Beethoven surpassing them in this regard. Significantly, The Book reserves chapter twenty-seven, which concludes volume I, for the discussion of diatonic modes in Russian music. It is arguably the most important chapter in The Book and is substantially longer than all the other chapters.

In due course, Uchebnik garmonii came to be adopted as “the basic textbook for courses on harmony in the music schools of the Soviet Union.”[14] Just how widespread its influence really was emerges clearly from Ellon DeGrief Carpenter’s PhD dissertation The Theory of Music in Russia and the Soviet Union, ca. 1650–1950. Carpenter testifies to “the lasting continuity of this textbook [i.e. the second edition], which has gone through numerous editions and is still in print.”[15] The Book was undoubtedly the principal agent in the promulgation of functional harmony throughout the Soviet Union. But before long it was destined to find, in a foreign land, a comparably widespread and long-lasting readership.

1.2. An Iconic Presence in China

In 1957–58, the first Chinese translation of Uchebnik garmonii, by Zhu Shimin of the Central Conservatory, was published (Ex. 3). Soon it attained canonic status, and this status persists up to the present day.[16] When the Cultural Revolution began to subside in 1976, Chen Min of the Shenyang Conservatory worked on a new translation of The Book, though it was only published much later in 1991. At least two further editions of Chen Min’s translation appeared in print in 2000 and 2008. Most of these editions were reprinted on numerous occasions.

The publication statistics for The Book in China are remarkable (Table 1). For example, the 1991 translation, which was based on the 1984 Soviet edition, sold a total of 42,715 copies, and the reprint in 1998 brought the figure up to 62,735 copies.[17] What is more, the 2008 edition, together with its 2010 reprint, sold 100,000 copies. All in all, to date an accumulated number of at least 250,000 copies have been sold, which is unsurpassed by any other music theory textbook published in China.


Table 1: Publication statistics of The Book in China

Even today, The Book continues to be used, or at least referenced, and still enjoys a privileged position in conservatories and music institutes across China. It is singled out as one of the only two harmony textbooks listed on the website of the Shanghai Conservatory for their prospective composition undergraduates.[18] It is also noteworthy that between 2008 and 2014 several music theorists published model answers to the exercises in Sposobin’s textbook to help prospective students prepare for conservatory entrance examinations.[19] That model answers to a single textbook were themselves published in book form by theorists affiliated to three main conservatories in vastly different geographical locations attests to the widespread use of The Book in China. Insofar as higher music education in the PRC is concerned, this is truly exceptional.



Example 3: Front covers and title pages of The Book (fourth edition, 1956) and its first Chinese translation (1957)

We may infer from these publication statistics that The Book has been influential and that it continues to enjoy a wide and sustained readership. But the statistics alone do not offer us any clue as to how it impacted the development of harmonic thinking in China, nor why this textbook has loomed so large in the teaching of harmony since the late 1950s. In order to address these questions, it is not enough simply to examine what is in The Book. It is also necessary to determine how it was interpreted and used, especially in the two decades that span its first appearance in China in 1957 and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Our main objective is to assess critically how, and to what extent, the notion of functional harmony, as disseminated through this Soviet harmony textbook, inaugurated changes that were then interwoven in telling ways with political and ideological contexts. Although some informants generously shared their views with us, we decided to adopt textual criticism rather than ethnography as our principal research tool. This decision was made partly on the grounds that we identified pertinent texts of high research interest, texts that deserve, but have not received, critical attention. Also, the research findings we present here are readily verifiable as the texts under investigation are accessible. We hope that this may encourage other researchers to explore this area further by building on these foundations.

Four key publications, all from the post-Cultural Revolution era, will be examined first in order to assess how some of the most eminent music theorists and musicologists in the PRC understood the development of harmonic thought in China (2.). All four scholars highlighted the major 1956 conference held at the Central Conservatory, and two of them also mentioned the official visit to China of Boris A. Arapov (1905–1992), a notable Soviet scholar (3.1.). Following our critique of these four publications, we will refer to two nationwide conferences on harmony organized by the Wuhan Conservatory (1979 and 1986 respectively, 3.2.), before examining five high-impact publications which mark key stages in the development of harmonic theory and practice in China in the 1950s (4.). All of them revolve around the appropriation of harmony by the Chinese nation – we will refer to the “nationalization” of harmony – which was a widely shared concern among theorists and one that was inseparable from devastating contemporary political upheavals in China (see Table 2).


Table 2: Timeline of main sources and related musical/political events

What sets The Book apart from most other textbooks available in late 1950s China is the reading of tonic, subdominant, or dominant functions into virtually every chord as a way of understanding and teaching Western tonal harmony. Table 3 lists the best-known harmony textbooks authored by Chinese music theorists before the arrival of The Book in 1957.[20] The teaching of functional theory was not yet in evidence. Gao Shoutian’s harmony textbook (1914), the first of its kind in China, outlines only some rudiments of tonal harmony and comprises mostly translated, rather than original, material.[21] Xiao Youmei’s harmony textbook contains no hint of functional harmony, even though the author was a doctoral student of Riemann at Leipzig University, from which he graduated in 1916.[22] Wang Zhenya’s Wusheng yinjie ji qi hesheng [The Pentatonic Scale and Its Harmony] stands apart in that all the other textbooks in the list focus on Western tonal harmony. Issues related to minzuhua hesheng (literally, “ethnicized harmony”) in Chinese traditional folk music were not commonly addressed in the pre-1949 era. The Pentatonic Scale and Its Harmony thus set an important precedent, although Western tonal harmony still serves as its main theoretical reference point.


Table 3: Harmony (text)books published by Chinese theorists before 1957


Table 4: Important Western harmony textbooks translated into Chinese and published before The Book

Table 4 shows a selection of Western harmony textbooks that were translated into Chinese and published before The Book came out in China. For reasons that will be explained later, The Book effectively sidelined these other textbooks and came to monopolize the teaching of harmony in the early 1960s. Privileged with a widespread and long-standing readership in the PRC, and the teaching of functional harmony being primarily conducted through its pages, The Book became emblematic of functional harmony and, by extension, of Western tonal harmony. Functional harmony and tonal harmony are more often than not thought of as synonyms in China.[23] Also, it has seldom been observed by Chinese theorists that functional theory and Stufen theory[24] were drawn together in The Book, even though this is clearly spelt out by the combined use of Riemannian symbols to denote harmonic functions and Roman numerals to denote scale steps.[25] All in all, we contend that the theoretical concepts of functional theory and Stufen theory are often conflated in China (indeed, they had already been combined in some of Riemann’s own analyses), and that The Book has been commonly understood as the principal codification of that conflation.

2. Perspectives on Functional Harmony from the Post-Cultural Revolution Era

In understanding how the theory and practice of harmony in China evolved and changed course following the onset of The Book, we have identified two articles, Su Xia’s “The History and Current State of Ethnicized Harmony” (1981) and Du Xiaoshi’s “Revisiting the Style and Historical Development of Ethnicized Harmony in China” (1990), as crucial texts.[26] Su Xia and Du Xiaoshi are leading figures in art music scholarship in the PRC and the two articles in question demonstrate the high standard of Chinese musicology. Of the notable publications to have critiqued how functional theory impeded creative harmonic writing in China, Su Xia’s 1981 article was the first. The publication of such an article prior to the demise of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 would have been unthinkable. But the criticism levelled at functional harmony is sharper still in Du Xiaoshi’s article, which was published close to a decade after Su Xia’s. Both authors wrote about composers and musical works without mentioning The Book or indeed any other theoretical text.[27] Central to the two articles is the advice they offer to composers to delve into both traditional folk music and modernist art music in order to extend beyond the confines of functional harmony, and thereby to contribute to the future development of Chinese music at large.

In addition to Su Xia’s and Du Xiaoshi’s essays, the collection of essays Contemporary China: Music, edited by Li Huanzhi (1997, reprinted 2009) and Fan Zuyin’s 2003 monograph Chinese Pentatonicized Modal Harmony (both published about a decade after Du Xiaoshi’s article of 1990) will also be compared and critiqued.[28] Li Huanzhi and Fan Zuyin are grouped together not just because of their proximate chronology, but also for their attitude towards official positions on culture.[29] Contemporary China: Music is, at its core, more propaganda than scholarship. It comes as part of a series of books (with Contemporary China as the collective title) published to document “over thirty years of historical experiences” in homage to, first and foremost, the “creator(s) and constructor(s)” of the PRC, “a great socialist country.”[30] In July 1997, which marked Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty after 156 years of British rule, the volume devoted to music – Contemporary China: Music – was launched.[31]

Fan Zuyin’s monograph chronicles the development of pentatonic harmony in China in the twentieth century. He reviews the development of so-called multi-voiced Chinese music, noting that initially more research efforts had been directed to the study of professional/art music than traditional folk music.[32] Fan Zuyin’s discourse draws liberally on Contemporary China: Music. He quotes, paraphrases, and even borrows from Li Huanzhi’s book. Their sources and narrative structures are often similar and in one extreme case, they identify exactly the same texts to illustrate how functional theory may have contributed to the nationalization of harmony in China.[33] In part four of this article we will revisit selected excerpts from these texts in order to uncover the theorists’ premises and arguments, which are not always plainly stated.

Concerning the development of harmonic theory in China, the need to nationalize harmony was a matter of conviction right from the outset. Harmony was thought of as indispensable to the future of Chinese art music and was identified as one among many things the Chinese had to master if they were to catch up with the West.[34] Chao Yuanren (1892–1982) is revered as one of the first key figures to take up this challenge back in the 1920s.[35] Like other Chinese composers of his time, he affirmed that the Western system of tonal harmony would not find a counterpart in China,[36] and set out to apply Western tonal harmony to Chinese pentatonic material. That the ethnic identity of the latter should not be compromised, however, remained an important concern. Before 1949 this challenge was largely self-imposed. Composers of art music freely experimented with different harmonic approaches in the national interest, but such freedom did not last. After 1949, functional harmony came to be valued as an intellectual commodity imported from the Soviet Union and its use was increasingly mandatory.

2.1. Su Xia’s Critique of Nationalized Harmony

In 1981, Su Xia lamented the ill-fated development of nationalized harmony after the founding of the PRC in 1949, tracing how the nationalization process evolved with reference to selected musical works from between the 1920s and 1940s. Over the years, two main schools of thought had emerged from the debate about harmonic systems in China. Put simply, some advocated forging a new harmony from China’s own pentatonic tradition and some favored the harmonic system of the West. Having pointed out that the latter came to prevail after 1949, Su Xia wrote about a particular conference held in 1956 at the Central Conservatory. Although he did not directly correlate the loss of pentatonic harmony with the 1956 conference, he referred to the two in immediate succession suggesting that he saw them as related. According to Su Xia, composers, music theorists, and harmony teachers gathered at the conference to discuss the cultivation of a nationalized harmony, and eventually a consensus of sorts was reached:

After deliberation, the delegates arrived at a consensus. In order to resolve the problem of how best to cultivate nationalized harmony, the modal characteristics of different ethnicities [in the PRC] should be combined with scientifically based functional harmony.[37]

The rationale for combining ethnic modality and functional harmony apparently was not queried, and from this point onwards the so-called consensus was referred to as a “basic principle.”[38] Su Xia added that this basic principle summed up the experiences of esteemed Chinese composers since the May Fourth Movement, as well as those of composers worldwide. But it is doubtful whether he truly believed this, for a few lines later, having expressed the need not just to nationalize but also to modernize harmony, he made an abrupt swerve by recounting how musicians had been constrained to the use of only a few primary triads during the time of the “Gang of Four”:

The nationalization and modernization of harmony was slow to progress when compared to the pace of our revolutionary musical culture more generally. The leftists seriously interfered with literary and artistic thoughts. Initially, they rejected the traditional harmony of the “Westerners”; later they dictated the teaching of traditional [Western] harmony, but with mid-nineteenth-century Romanticism marked off as the chronological limit. It is as if the audience could only appreciate a few primary triads. When it came to the time of the Gang of Four, only these few triads were allowed to accompany Peking operatic tunes.[39]

Su Xia was explicitly critical of the “Gang of Four,” probably because in 1981 this would have been considered a position of minimal risk. His reference to the restrictive use of “a few primary triads” is noteworthy, suggesting that the theoretical notion of tonic, subdominant, and dominant functions imported from the USSR might have come to acquire additional meanings and assumed an oppressive presence during the Cultural Revolution. In consequence, Su Xia suggested two ways forward: to derive harmony from ethnic musical thinking and to assimilate modernist harmonic techniques from outside China. As for the use of functional harmony to serve the lofty cause of nationalization, we may infer from Su Xia’s views that he had little sympathy with this position.

2.2. Du Xiaoshi: Functional Harmony as a Tool of Oppression

By the late 1980s the socio-political situation had changed in ways that allowed Du Xiaoshi to criticize the “basic principle” more openly.[40] Throughout his article, he reiterates what he called the limitation imposed by the highly restrictive use of only one “framework,” meaning the formulaic use of functional harmony in tandem with “coloristic harmony” (secaixing hesheng).[41] Like Su Xia, Du Xiaoshi alluded to the 1956 conference as a pivotal event where the “framework” is concerned.

One meaningful event was the 1956 conference, attended by Soviet experts, at which the basic principle about the nationalization of harmonic style was put forth. “In order to resolve the problem of how best to cultivate nationalistic harmony, the modal characteristics of different ethnicities [in the PRC] should be combined with scientifically based functional harmony.” This principle certainly sums up the harmonic idioms used in most musical works composed since the May Fourth Movement and it was instructive for harmonic style during the 1950s and 1960s. In hindsight, however, it becomes obvious that all this had been overgeneralized. On the one hand, it overlooked that some composers had already succeeded in ethnicizing harmony through non-functional means in the 1940s. On the other hand, more varied approaches, which should have led to the creation of more inventive harmonic styles, were precluded by the imposition of a unifying framework. Even more critical was the impact of factors other than music, including political campaigns […], the influence of the Soviet Union’s condemnation of modernism and formalism, and limited exposure to modern arts in the outside world […]. The impacts of these factors only became known after Boluanfanzheng [the “Setting-things-right” movement].[42]

In Du’s view, the “framework” effectively discouraged the exploration of other possible means of nurturing ethnic harmonic styles and its proponents turned a blind eye to the achievements of composers who succeeded in devising a national harmony through non-functional means. The situation was aggravated by highly oppressive political campaigns in the PRC, some of which mirrored the ruthless criticism of modernism and formalism in the USSR.

2.3. Li Huanzhi, Fan Zuyin, and the “Negative Influence” of Soviet Music Theory

Indeed, the ruling party of the PRC had closely followed the footsteps of the “old big brother”[43] in the 1950s and had tightened its control on literary and other creative arts. After 1955, there was an influx of Soviet music theory textbooks to China. According to Li Huanzhi’s Contemporary China: Music, which provides us with a list of these textbooks, Sposobin’s harmony textbook and Sergei S. Skrebkov’s Polyphonic Music stand out as having exerted “the widest influence on Chinese readers.”[44] Fan Zuyin quoted from the same source to elaborate on the influence of The Book in more concrete terms:

The theoretical system [delineated in The Book] penetrated the domains of pedagogy and composition at higher musical institutions in China for an extended period of time. Many of its basic concepts, such as traditional tonality, consonance, function, the high value attached to European Classical music and Russian traditional music, and the importance attached to folk modality and multi-voiced settings, constituted the axioms of compositional theories in China.[45]

Curiously, Fan Zuyin positioned this quotation after a brief account of the “negative influence”[46] of Soviet cultural policy on China, which had purportedly led the leftists to condemn musical modernism in strident terms. The Book is thus liable to be read, in this context, as a product of this “negative influence,” especially since Fan Zuyin also commented that it had impeded the development of harmony in China. Whether intended or not, this comes close to a criticism of The Book and of the theory it promoted.[47] This is somewhat unexpected, given Fan Zuyin’s tendency to side with officialdom.

Today, The Book continues to occupy a prestigious position in China, probably because those who had contributed to and benefitted from its longevity are still around, even if they are no longer influential in academia. As for the “basic principle,” Li Huanzhi and Fan Zuyin did not acknowledge that it had emerged from a discussion process, be it feigned or otherwise, at the 1956 conference: they presented it as something self-standing and did not question its aesthetic value. In stark contrast, both Su Xia and Du Xiaoshi alluded to the conference as a turning point, though without touching on the daunting presence of a Soviet specialist by the name of Arapov. The “basic principle” – the combination of ethnic modality with functional harmony – seemed to have been imposed from that point onward in China and brought about significant repercussions in the decades to come.[48]

3. Formation of and Escape from the “Narrow Space”

3.1. Arapov and the 1956 Conference

Boris A. Arapov, then a professor of composition at Leningrad Conservatory, was among a group of music specialists sent by the Soviet government to China in 1955–56 under the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance.[49] He was one of the two academics in the group and between October and December of 1955 he chaired regular meetings at the Central Conservatory to discuss the nationalization of harmony, and, more importantly, to plan the 1956 conference devoted to this theme.[50] The speech Arapov delivered at the conference was published as a paper entitled “Problems related to the fusion of modal and functional harmonic factors and modulation.”[51] We read in the second sentence of this paper that “the basic problem is how best to combine the modal characteristics of different ethnicities [in the PRC] with scientifically based functional harmony.” These are almost exactly the same words Su Xia used to delineate the “basic principle” in his 1981 article, though without attributing them to Arapov. As noted earlier, Du Xiaoshi, Li Huanzhi, and Fan Zuyin likewise cited Su Xia in this context without mentioning the original source.

It is intriguing to read in the same paper that Arapov referred to the fusion of ethnic modality and functional harmony as a “basic problem” rather than a “basic principle,” and that there was no mention of any “consensus.” This raises a question: did Arapov mean to prescribe, or perhaps just to recommend, the combined use of ethnic modality and functional harmony to his Chinese colleagues? Although he praised the constituent republics of the Soviet Union for having found this kind of fusion conducive to the development of their musical cultures, he also cautioned the Chinese delegates against the mechanical application of functional harmony to folk music and urged them to conduct more research on their native ethnic modality. Nevertheless, whether Arapov had intended it or not, the use of ethnic modality in tandem with functional harmony was enshrined as a “basic principle” in China as a consequence of the 1956 conference and was applied with much rigor.

One other revealing part of the picture, thus far overlooked, is that Arapov’s recommendation to his Chinese colleagues at the 1956 conference can be traced all the way back to The Book. Although Uchebnik garmonii was available in print in the Soviet Union by the late 1930s, the first Chinese translation was not published until the year after the 1956 conference. In the summer of 1955, however, the Beijing-born composer Wu Zuqiang took the lead by publishing his Chinese translation of one chapter from Uchebnik garmonii in People’s Music, a prominent pro-government music journal.[52] Wu Zuqiang was among the first batch of elite musicians sent to the Moscow Conservatory for further study in the 1950s, when China and the Soviet Union were close allies.[53] Wu Zuqiang handpicked the only chapter in The Book devoted to the “ethnicization” of harmony in Russian music. Just a few lines into the translated text, we read that “the functional and the coloristic characteristics of the natural minor mode were harmoniously blended in Russian music.”[54] It is not known which edition of Uchebnik garmonii Wu Zuqiang consulted when he worked on the translation, but the idea that functional and coloristic elements constitute a binary opposition, and that they need to be “harmoniously blended,” is in perfect accord with what Du Xiaoshi referred to as a prescriptive “framework.” These notions certainly resonate with what Arapov referred to as a “basic problem” on the occasion of the 1956 conference.

3.2. Two National Conferences on Harmonic Studies

Following the 1956 conference, we hear no more about such academic debates until the late 1970s. As regards music-theoretical research, the first ever nationwide conference in China took place in the post-Mao period in 1979, at a time when the implementation of Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up” (gaige kaifang) policy started to trigger new thinking on many different fronts. From 1979 to 1989 there were four nationwide music theory conferences in China. The first two were hosted in 1979 and 1986 at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music, then a powerhouse of pioneering initiatives.[55] While harmony was the conference theme on both occasions, the first conference was really about the nationalization of harmony, while the second conference shifted the focus to the modernization of harmony.[56] These national conferences were attended by delegates from numerous music conservatories and institutes and their influence was accordingly far-reaching.

A comparison of the First and the Second National Conferences on Harmonic Studies reveals how the theory and practice of harmony developed in the intervening years. Referring to the second conference held in 1986, Fan Zuyin joined Li Huanzhi in noting that the study of harmony in China had achieved an important breakthrough since the first conference and had “made its way out from the narrow space of functional harmony.”[57] Harmonic approaches more suited to the composition of modern music were accorded importance at the second conference. In stark contrast, research papers presented at the first conference, as documented in the proceedings, contain virtually nothing about the novel harmonic possibilities opened up by Western composers in the twentieth century. One main reason put forth by Li Huanzhi and Fan Zuyin was that “the theoretical research, teaching, and compositional use of harmony had been bound by the monopolistic system of functional theory.”[58] Notwithstanding the near monopoly of functional harmony in China since The Book was published in 1957, the proceedings of the first conference suggest that the escape from “the narrow space” was already underway in the late 1970s. Sang Tong’s paper to the 1979 conference, which advocated the use of pentatonic chords (with recourse to Hindemith’s rendition of unconventional chords) to serve the cause of the nationalization of harmony, came first in the proceedings.[59] A much shorter paper by Li Yinghai, advocating the use of tertiary harmonies and functional theory to serve the same cause, was allotted only second place.[60]

4. Repercussions of Functional Harmony in China during the 1950s

Li Yinghai had previously published Hanzu diaoshi ji qi hesheng [Han Modality and Its Harmony], a monograph that, like The Book, was pivotal to the initial formation of “the narrow space.”[61] Li’s book was published in 1959, shortly after Arapov’s visit and the publication of Sposobin’s harmony textbook in China. By the late 1970s, however, Li Yinghai’s critical position had been challenged by Sang Tong’s.[62] The wind had changed. It no longer worked well to use tertiary chords to dispel non-tertiary chords under the pretext of functional theory.

Sang Tong’s ascendency as a scholar in China, an early sign of which can be gleaned from the 1979 conference proceedings, went from strength to strength, even as “the narrow space” was progressively relegated to history. In the late 1990s, with a view to marking the advent of the new millennium, the Ministry of Culture commissioned scholars to contribute to a series of art education publications, and Sang Tong was invited to be the author of a new textbook on harmony.[63] The latter, together with the two volumes of his award-winning textbook on traditional tonal harmony (published in 1982 and 1988 respectively),[64] signified the official recognition of Sang Tong as arguably the specialist in harmonic studies. Indeed, his textbook on traditional harmony was among the most acclaimed in China and eventually established a Chinese-authored publication which could compete with The Book.

4.1. Wang Zhenya’s and Li Yinghai’s Concept of Pentatonic Harmony

Although Sang Tong stands out retrospectively as a major torchbearer in the theorization of both Western tonal harmony and Chinese pentatonic harmony, it was Wang Zhenya and Li Yinghai who first authored theory books specifically on pentatonic harmony (published in 1949 and 1959 respectively, Ex. 4).[65] If a comparison of the first and second nationwide harmony conferences in post-Maoist China proves to be revealing, it is no less illuminating to set side-by-side these two theory books on pentatonic harmony from the early Maoist period. Wang Zhenya’s The Pentatonic Scale and Its Harmony was pioneering, given that all other harmony textbooks at the time were about Western tonal harmony. His book was published in October 1949, the month that saw the birth of the PRC. It was timed to perfection, for it was in fact the first theory book on Chinese pentatonic harmony in China.[66]

Wang Zhenya distinguishes two rather than five pentatonic modes.[67] He includes only a few concrete examples from the musical literature. Instead, he draws on the performance practice of the traditional Chinese instruments pipa and sheng and proceeds on this basis to advocate the use of quartal rather than tertiary chords to harmonize Chinese pentatonic melodies.[68] The Chinese flavor in Claude Debussy’s music, in Wang Zhenya’s view, may also be attributed to the use of quartal chords.[69] There is no trace of functional harmony in his very short book. In chapter three, he proposes the systematic derivation of trichords and tetrachords from the pentatonic scale by extracting every other scale degree from it. As shown in Example 5, the trichords numbered 1 to 5 and the same number of tetrachords are constructed by vertically aligning the pertinent scale degrees.


Example 4: Front covers of Wang Zhenya, Wusheng yinjie ji qi hesheng [The Pentatonic Scale and Its Harmony] (1949) (left) and
Li Yinghai, Hanzu diaoshi ji qi hesheng [Han Modality and Its Harmony] (1959) (right)


Example 5: Example 5 from Wang Zhenya, Wusheng yinjie ji qi hesheng [The Pentatonic Scale and Its Harmony] (1949, 8)

Wang Zhenya then draws our attention to the fact that this restriction often leads to the formation of quartal harmonies. He likens the derivation of quartal harmonies from the pentatonic scale to that of tertiary harmonies from the major/minor scale. A tonic triad, for example, can be understood as having been derived from a major/minor scale by choosing the first, third, and fifth but not the second and fourth scale degrees. This is by far the most startling theoretical position taken by Wang Zhenya, i.e. the suggestion that the same chord-generating principle is at work in both cases.[70]

The nationalization of harmony, a much-debated topic and one to which the highest importance was attached, also led Li Yinghai to publish a monograph in 1959: Hanzu diaoshi ji qi hesheng [Han Modality and Its Harmony]. In the intervening decade between the publications of these two books, there had been remarkable changes in the development of harmonic theory in China. The major mission of Li Yinghai’s book was to solve the problem of how best to apply functional harmony to Chinese pentatonic modes. There is no mention of any Western composer or theorist in it and most music examples were extracted from what was presented as Chinese folk music (Zhongguo minzu yinyue). Li Yinghai shaped his theory around functional theory, which, as mentioned above, had been widely accepted as an unshakable scientific truth in the USSR before it made its way to the PRC. Li’s commitment to this conviction led him to prioritize triads in the harmonic vocabulary. Example 6 reproduces Li Yinghai’s example 161 to illustrate how he built triads out of the five pentatonic notes (C-D-E-G-A) and tackled the problem that there are only two complete triads within the confines of a pentatonic collection.


Example 6: Example 161 from Li Yinghai, Hanzu diaoshi ji qi hesheng [Han Modality and Its Harmony] (1959, 109; example 164 in 2001 revised edition)

The pentatonic notes (C-D-E-G-A) appear as the roots in five of the seven triads. Li Yinghai denoted the five pentatonic notes and their corresponding triads by the traditional Chinese names of gong, shang, jue, zhi, and yu respectively. Notes that are required to complete selected triads, and yet are not available in the pentatonic collection, are simply added. The five pentatonic notes and the two non-pentatonic notes are distinguished graphically in the example using white and black noteheads respectively.[71] Li Yinghai commented that the gong triad (C-E-G) and the yu triad (A-C-E),[72] the only two complete triads within the pentatonic collection, are the most useful. The jue triad (E-G-[B/B]) is also considered viable with the rationale that the non-pentatonic fifth of the chord can be left out without causing too much of a threat to its identity. In Li Yinghai’s view, the shang triad (D-[F/F]-A) and the zhi triad (G-[B/B]-D) can be used, but in each case, it is advisable to omit the third of the chord and use the open fifth instead. The remaining two triads in the example (on F/F and B/B respectively) are to be avoided, since the roots of these triads are not available in the pentatonic collection.


Example 7: Example 184 from Li Yinghai, Hanzu diaoshi ji qi hesheng [Han Modality and Its Harmony] (1959, 120; example 187 in 2001 revised edition)

Having reviewed the seven triads, Li Yinghai reorders them to center around the yu triad (boxed) in his Example 184 (Ex. 7).[73] No longer called by its Chinese name, the yu triad is now designated as “t” instead. By the same token, the shang and jue triads are designated as “(S)s” and “d” to specify their subdominant and dominant functions. Such use of chord function symbols is juxtaposed with that of Roman numerals (II, III, VI, VII), which denote scale-steps. A precedent for this example is found in Sposobin’s harmony textbook, though with A minor replaced by C major, and with the overall descent replaced by an ascent (Ex. 8). There are other differences, but the similarities remain striking. In both cases, the three notes of the tonic triad are given white noteheads throughout the example. All other notes are given black noteheads. The three dominant-function chords and the three subdominant-function chords are deployed to counter-balance one another around the tonic triad such that black noteheads appear incrementally more frequently towards the two extremes.[74] This model might be considered a belated, though probably unconscious, consequence of Riemann’s dualism transmitted via a Soviet route. Indeed, Riemann had developed a similar theory of pentatonic modes in his Folkloristische Tonalitätsstudien from 1916, where he reduced the pentatonic scale to the yu mode as it alone supports his argument about the scale’s symmetrical attribute. Riemann also posited that quartal, rather than triadic structures, are constitutive of the pentatonic scale.[75]


Example 8: Examples 17–230 from Chen Min trans., Heshengxue jiaocheng [Textbook of Harmony] (Dubovsky/Yevseev/Sposobin/Sokolov 1991, 136)

Example 9 below reproduces the first music example in Li Yinghai’s monograph to have adopted an elaborate set of chord symbols. In the 2001 revised edition, from which Example 9 is drawn, the first “t” in each system is misprinted as “s.” According to Li Yinghai, the folk melody Xiu Chuang Lian is from the Hebei province and is in the yu mode, i.e. C-E-F-G-B. The harmonization utilizes tertiary chords retrievable from the yu mode and shows an observant use of the T-S-D-T paradigm of functional theory.


Example 9: Example 230 from Li Yinghai, Hanzu diaoshi ji qi hesheng [Han Modality and Its Harmony]
(Li Yinghai 2001, 145; example 227 in the 1959 edition)

Li Yinghai’s harmonization of the folk melody includes two notes (A and D) foreign to the yu mode on C. Such inflected notes (bianyin) are traditionally used melodically to add color and in the process, the pentatonic “core” may be expanded into one of the three Chinese heptatonic scales.[76] But here they are used harmonically to make a larger pool of functional chords available:

  1. the non-pentatonic note A contributes to the formation of the only major subdominant chord (F-A-C) in m. 6;

  2. the non-pentatonic note D appears as the fifth of a minor dominant seventh chord (G-B-D-F) in mm. 2 and 4.[77]

The semitone-free pentatonic sound world of the folk melody is also disrupted by the bass note A (m. 6), since it forms a plainly exposed semitonal inflection B-A-B.[78]

Example 9 is the first in a series of music examples through which Li Yinghai delivers his instruction for the harmonization of Chinese pentatonic folk melodies. Three main stages are proposed. First, identify the pentatonic mode on which the Chinese folk melody is based by assuming the last note of the melody to be the first note of the pentatonic mode. Second, harmonize the last note of the melody with a major or minor triad. Third, treat the last chord as tonic in function and the penultimate chord as subdominant or dominant in function in order to bring the music to an end with a plagal or an authentic cadence.

Depending on the pentatonic mode in use, the constituent notes of the chords that assume tonic, subdominant, or dominant functions may be foreign to the referential pentatonic collection. The incongruity of using a plagal or an authentic cadence to end a Chinese pentatonic melody is registered keenly when one or more notes in the cadential chords are extraneous to the referential pentatonic collection.[79] Li Yinghai’s attempt to graft chordal functions, theoretical concepts indigenous to Western tonal music, to Chinese pentatonic contexts yields rather peculiar results.

Based on the “objective” presence of the overtone series, Li regards the superimposition of thirds as the only option for chord construction and criticizes the use of quartal chords in the construction of Chinese pentatonic harmonies. Some strong words are used here:

Some held the view that “Chinese chords” should not be based upon the superimposition of thirds. Can it be that Chinese people have different ears and therefore hear the intervals of seconds and sevenths as consonant in effect?[80]

When a revised edition of Li Yinghai’s book appeared in 2001, more than four decades after it was first published, such pungent remarks were omitted. Neither did Li Yinghai repeat his former suggestion that Chinese terminology should be adopted, with tonic (T), subdominant (S), and dominant (D) replaced by zhu (Z), xiashu (X), and shu (S) respectively. The tribute Li Yinghai had previously paid to Mao Zedong’s Zai Yan’an wenyi zuotanhui shang de jianghua [Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art] of 1942 also disappeared from the 2001 edition.[81] These amendments, which provide us with important insights, are reflective of the tumultuous changes in China’s political and intellectual climate during the post-Cultural Revolution era.

As mentioned in part two of this article, Fan Zuyin and Li Huanzhi both commented on how functional theory impacted on the nationalization of harmony in China with reference to exactly the same texts, which are seminal writings by eminent theorists of the time. They include Li Yinghai’s Han Modality and Its Harmony, Jiang Dingxian’s paper entitled “Problems of Ethnic Style in Harmonic Usage” delivered at the 1956 conference chaired by Arapov, and writings on the same topic published by Wu Shikai and Zhao Songguang in the late 1950s.[82] The theorists’ premises and arguments were somewhat ambivalent, but their search for theoretical positions and compositional strategies to cope with the increasingly prescriptive use of functional harmony, and therefore of tertiary chords, is evident even in the heyday of state control.

4.2. Jiang Dingxian, Wu Shikai, and Zhao Songguang: Dissent about Tertiary Chords in Chinese Harmony

Jiang Dingxian proposed to supplement the use of tertiary harmony with a free grouping of pentatonic notes. He commented that “strictly speaking, they are not proper chords, just groupings of notes,” but he insisted that they should be valued for their ethnic colors.[83] Jiang Dingxian’s paper, first published in the Bulletin of the Central Conservatory in 1956, was praised by Fan Zuyin as an impactful paper on harmonic studies in the mid-1950s.[84] There is, however, nothing new in what Jiang Dingxian proposed. Composers had experimented with the combined use of tertiary and non-tertiary chords already before 1949,[85] before the enforced use of functional harmony brought about an increasingly sharp and hierarchical distinction between tonal and coloristic harmony. Jiang Dingxian’s proposed use of coloristic “groupings of notes” to serve the cause of nationalization was probably conceived as a strategy to mitigate the “grip” of functional harmony. Just as the latter was imposed in the interests of nationalization, Jiang Dingxian proposed non-tertiary harmony to the same ends. It was a way of affirming the worth of “ethnic colors.”

Wu Shikai, like Jiang Dingxian, understood harmony as either functional or coloristic in makeup. In a paper published in 1959, also in the Bulletin of the Central Conservatory, he wrote:

Non-tertiary chords are vital for their enriching ethnic colors, but they can never be made any part of the harmonic foundation due to their inherent weakness. […] [Pentatonic harmony] should be built on the tonal system of functions, which draws on the seven triads derivable from the diatonic scale.[86]

According to Wu Shikai, the problem of stylistic incongruity does not stem from the use of tertiary chords, but rather from the dogmatic use of harmonic progressions that are typically Western in style, which should be avoided. He argued that harmonic progressions rich in Chinese modal characteristics should be creatively explored.[87]

The Bulletin of the Central Conservatory also published Zhao Songguang’s paper on the fifth-generated pentatonic system. Zhao Songguang cut his way through the difficulties by noting a major discrepancy between Chinese pentatonicism and Western diatonicism. Upholding the cause of nationalization, he boldly argued against the use of triads in pentatonic contexts. His theory is intriguing. It is grounded on the derivation of a pentatonic collection from the cyclical use of a perfect fifth. As a result, the second to fifth notes generated by the progenitor note relate to it by what comes close to the intervals of a perfect fifth, major second, minor third, and major third respectively. Zhao Songguang’s theorization of a pentatonic collection as a series of perfect fifths led him to argue that the interval of a major third is the most dissonant among all the intervals available in the Chinese pentatonic sound world and that the interval of a minor third is less consonant than a major second.[88] Significantly, he argued that triads have no place in the fifth-generated pentatonic system, since the latter is fundamentally distinct from the system of major-minor tonality. Having fought hard to do without triads, i.e. the basic components of functional harmony, Zhao Songguang may then have found it necessary to somehow pay homage to the official theoretical position, for he then transferred the dichotomous distinction between the functional and the coloristic from the domain of chords to that of notes. He considered the tonic, subdominant, and dominant notes to be functional and all other notes to be coloristic in effect, though it is not clear whether (and if yes, how) this distinction is aurally perceptible or compositionally relevant.

The application of functional theory to a Chinese pentatonic framework stands out as a markedly different enterprise from the theoretical position delivered in Wu Zuqiang’s translated chapter from The Book. The pentatonic scale lacks many of the tertiary chords retrievable from the diatonic scale and is thus deficient of the resource upon which functional theory is grounded. Any attempt to force functional harmony to work in such an ill-matched pairing can only lead to mutations of one kind or another to the point of seriously undermining Chinese pentatonicism, if not also the functional harmony imposed. In order to survive reasonably well in China, given the tight political control on all walks of life, the Chinese people often comply with a policy in word but not in deed without leaving any obvious trace that discrepancies as such exist. Jiang Dingxian, Wu Shikai, and Zhao Songguang might have come up with these inventive ideas because they understood that they could not abandon the use of functional harmony, but must find ways to live with it. They no doubt succeeded, since their papers were published in the Bulletin of the Central Conservatory, which implies official approval.

In 2003, Fan Zuyin retrospectively praised the research achievements of these theorists in the 1950s by reiterating that they had observed the celebrated “basic principle” by combining ethnic modal features with scientific functional harmony. Again, he avoided using his own words and quoted instead from Contemporary China: Music, which in turn quotes Su Xia:

In sum they [Li Yinghai, Jiang Dingxian, Wu Shikai, and Zhao Songguang] upheld the principle of combining the modal characteristics of different ethnicities and scientific functional harmony. This conclusion had been reached after debating the nationalization of harmony in the mid-1950s with reference to musical compositions in the USSR and the PRC. It is indicative of the status of research into harmony in China at that stage.[89]

5. Epilogue

To summarize, the summer of 1955 saw the publication of Wu Zuqiang’s translation of a chapter from Sposobin’s harmony textbook, the only chapter in The Book dealing with the nationalization of harmony. This was followed by the arrival of Arapov from the Soviet Union later that year. Arapov met with his Chinese colleagues on a regular basis and led their discussion of issues related to higher education in music and, more particularly, tactics for nationalizing harmony. Unlike the ensuing 1956 conference, on which occasion Arapov delivered what seems an ill-fated speech (ill-fated because a notable amount of reliable textual evidence points to the nailing down of the “basic principle” as having stemmed from his speech), there is hardly any documentation of what the regular meetings preceding the conference were about.

In order to uphold and practice the “basic principle,” the teaching of functional harmony had become indispensable by the late 1950s. It is thus timely that the first harmony textbook in Chinese to have drawn on functional theory in a comprehensive way was published in 1957–58. There is a clear mission to The Book, i.e. to serve the official implementation of the teaching of Western tonal harmony by means of functional theory. The implementation was considered progressive by faithfully following the lead of the Soviet “old big brother.” The extent to which a logical thread can be seen to have connected these events, extending from Wu Zuqiang’s translation of one handpicked chapter from The Book, Arapov’s arrival in China, the 1956 conference, to the publication of the whole of Sposobin’s harmony textbook, is impressive. It is as if a blueprint had been set according to which the entire sequence of events was acted out.

The “basic principle” was grounded in an unstated assumption that functional harmony and ethnic modality can be satisfactorily fused to create a national harmony. One major factor that contributed to the favorable acceptance of functional theory as well suited to this key role is its putative scientific basis, which for many was enough to render functional harmony indispensable to any attempt to ethnicize harmony.[90]

Although Uchebnik garmonii was originally conceived as a textbook for the teaching of Western tonal harmony in the Soviet Union, it came to assume exceptional pedagogical importance in China. From the publication of the first Chinese translation of The Book in the late 1950s to the present day, it continues to be looked upon as a tour-de-force of Soviet theory. It is not commonly known that functional theory is indebted to Riemann (i.e. to the “imperial” West),[91] not least because it had passed through Gevaert, Catoire, and the four Moscow theorists – a circuitous path – before reaching China.

These ideas [about functional harmony], though, did not enter Soviet theory directly through the works of Riemann, but through the works of his follower Gevaert, whose approach was subsequently developed and refined by the Soviet theorist Georgy Catoire during the 1920s. During the 1930s, these functional concepts were further refined for Soviet theory by the “brigade” of Moscow theorists who wrote the first truly Soviet harmony textbook[.][92]

Yet, it is debatable whether Riemann’s ideas were “refined” or in truth distorted. While the three harmonic functions, pillars to Riemann’s theory, remain central in The Book, the symbols for harmonic functions no longer stand on their own. Rather, they are combined with Roman numerals, residues of the Stufen theory that were understood as irreconcilable with Riemann’s functional theory. This poses the question as to whether the Soviet theorists’ espousal of functional theory was whole-hearted, or whether it was partly driven by the analogy between the notion of dialectical materialism and the dynamic interaction among the three harmonic functions – an analogy that would have rendered the functional theory politically correct in the eyes of the communist regimes.[93]

When the “first truly Soviet harmony textbook” came out in print, it was in the midst of the Great Purges, when Stalin was tightening his dictatorial grip. Similar purges were underway in Maoist China not long after the PRC was founded in 1949. The De-Stalinization and cultural thaw instigated by Khrushchev following Stalin’s death in 1953 further fueled the Chinese communist regime’s determination to “clean up” China. In this context, the translation of the “first truly Soviet harmony textbook” into Chinese for publication in the late 1950s would have played its part, helping to preclude highly chromatic or modernistic harmony from taking root on Chinese soil. The stipulated use of three functions, according to Su Xia’s testimony, often boils down to the use of just “a few primary triads.” This was especially the case during the period of the “Gang of Four,” when composers found it risky to venture beyond diatonic harmony populated by mainly the tonic, subdominant, and dominant triads.

When Sposobin collaborated with three other music theory professors at the Moscow Conservatory to write Uchebnik garmonii in the 1930s, there was of course no sign that The Book would later be read by so many musicians in a foreign land and that it would initiate a whole tradition of harmony teaching in China to such an extent that it became one of the most widely used harmony textbooks worldwide. That Sposobin would eventually emerge as one of the most revered, and certainly best known, music theorists in China would have seemed inconceivable. As a textbook of Western tonal harmony, The Book remains unsurpassed in sales, but it is doubtful whether it would have achieved this status had it not been entrusted with the political mission of nationalizing harmony in the heyday of ideological power struggles. As The Book continues to enjoy canonic status in China, as well as in Russia, it remains freighted with political agendas. Even if over time these agendas have receded into our collective unconscious, they may still have the potential to influence us.


Appendix 1: Music textbooks by Sposobin translated into Chinese and adopted as teaching materials

Sposobin, Ivan V. 1955. Yinyue jiben lilun [Elementary Music Theory]. Translated by Wang Qizhang. Beijing: Yinyue Chubanshe.

Dubovsky, Iosif / Sergei V. Yevseev / Igor V. Sposobin / Vladimir V. Sokolov. 1957/58. Heshengxue jiaocheng (shang, xia) [Textbook of Harmony (Parts I & II)]. Translated by Zhu Shimin. Beijing: Yinyue Chubanshe.

Sposobin, Ivan V. 1957. Qushixue (shang, xia) [Musical Form (Parts I & II)]. Translated by Zhang Hongmo. Shanghai: Shanghai Yinyue Chubanshe.

Sposobin, Ivan V., ed. 1957. Shichang: diyi bufen, ershengbu shichang [Sight-Singing: Part I, Two-Part Sight-Singing], Shanghai: Shanghai Yinyue Chubanshe.

Dubovsky, Iosif / Sergei V. Yevseev / Igor V. Sposobin / Vladimir V. Sokolov. 1991. Heshengxue jiaocheng, (shang, xia) [Textbook of Harmony, (Parts I & II)]. Translated by Chen Min. Beijing: Renmin Yinyue Chubanshe.

Appendix 2: Table of Contents of the Chinese Translation of The Book (1991)

Volume I


1. Major and Minor Triads; Four-Part Harmony

2. Functional System of the Primary Triads

3. Connection of Root-Position Triads

4. Harmonization of Melody with Primary Triads

5. Change of Spacing

6. Harmonization of Bass Line

7. Leaps between the Thirds of Primary Triads

8. Cadence; Period; Phrase

9. Cadential Six-Four Chord

10. First Inversions of Primary Triads

11. Leaps that Connect Triads and Their First Inversions

12. Connection of Two First-Inversion Triads

13. Passing and Auxiliary Six-Four Chords

14. Dominant Seventh Chord in Root Position (D7)

15. Inversions of Dominant Seventh Chord

16. Leaps that Resolve Dominant Seventh Chord to Tonic Triad

17. Functional System (Complete) and Major and Harmonic Minor Keys; Diatonic System

18. First-Inversion and Root-Position Triads on the Supertonic (SII6 and SII)

19. Harmonic Major Key

20. Triad on VI; Deceptive Cadence; Extension of Period

21. Subdominant Seventh Chord (SII7)

22. Leading-Tone Seventh Chord (DVII7)

23. Dominant Ninth Chord (D9)

24. Rarely Used Chords in the Dominant-Function Group

25. Natural Minor Mode in Phrygian Progression

26. Diatonic (Tonal) Sequence and Secondary Seventh Chord (Sequential Chord)

27. Diatonic Modes in Russian Music

Volume II

28. Secondary Dominant Harmony in Chord Progression

30. Altered Tones in Secondary Dominant Harmony

31. Classification of Tonal Relationship

32. Tonal Digression, Chromatic System

33. Chromatic Sequence; Tonal Digression

34. Modulation

35. Modulation to First-Class Related Keys

36. Prepared Suspension in a Single Voice

37. Prepared Suspension in Two and Three Voices

38. Diatonic Passing Tone in a Single Voice

39. Diatonic Passing Tone in All Voices

40. Diatonic and Chromatic Auxiliary Tone

41. Chromatic Passing Tone

42. Anticipation

43. Cambiata (Not Prepared; Not Resolved)

44. Suspensions of Different Settings

45. Delayed Resolution of Non-Chord Tone

46. Altered Chord in the Dominant-Function Group

47. Altered Chord in the Subdominant-Function Group

48. Pedal Tone

49. System of Modal Mixture

50. Flat-VI Triad (tsVI) in Modal Mixture

51. Tonal Hierarchy; Modulation (Keys with a Difference of Two Sharps or Flats)

52. Modulation (Keys with a Difference of Three to Six Sharps or Flats)

53. Modulation via Modally Mixed Flat-VI Triad (tsVI) and Neapolitan Chord

54. Modulation via the Same Tonic Note and Tonic Triad

55. Sequential Modulation

56. Unexpected Harmonic Progression

57. Enharmonic Modulation via Diminished Seventh Chord

58. Enharmonic Modulation via Dominant Seventh Chord

59. The Basic Principles of Tonal Plan

60. Issues of Harmonic Analysis

Appendix 3: Books that provide model answers to the exercises in Sposobin’s textbook

Huang Huwei. 2008. Heshengxue jiaocheng xiti jieda (shang, xia) [A Textbook of Harmony: Model Answers to Exercises (Parts I & II)]. Beijing: Remin Yinyue Chubanshe.

Liu Xueyan/Liu Ming. 2013. Sibosuobin heshengxue jiaocheng jiao yu xue tongbu fudao [Instruction in the Teaching and Learning of Sposobin’s A Textbook of Harmony, Books I & II]. Beijing: Renmin Yinyue Chubanshe.

Chen Enguang. 2013. Heshengxue jiaocheng xiti xiangjie [Detailed Explication of the Questions in A Textbook of Harmony]. Tianjing: Baihua Wenyi Chubanshe.

Wen Ziyang. 2014. Hesheng xiti zuoye: yiju sibosuobin deng zhu heshengxue jiaocheng [Harmony Exercises: Based on Sposobin’s A Textbook of Harmony]. Chongqing: Xinan Shifan Daxue Chubanshe.



Our undertaking of this research is indebted to Gesine Schröder, who involved us in her Eurasia Pacific Uninet project “The Cultural Transfer of Central European Music Theory to China.” We are also indebted to the anonymous readers and Jim Samson in particular, who read different versions of the article and provided invaluable feedback. All quotations from Chinese and Russian texts in this article have been translated by the authors.


The Book is commonly referred to by the name of Sposobin (1900–1954) in China even though he came only third among its four authors. This is indicative of his prestigious position as a music theorist in China. Sposobin graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and taught there from 1924. He was subsequently promoted to head of the theory department (1942–47), and later dean of the theory and composition faculty (1943–48); see Carpenter 1988, 1168. Apart from the co-authored Uchebnik garmonii, three other music textbooks were (single-)authored by Sposobin. They were translated and published in China within a short time span (1955–58) and adopted as teaching materials in music conservatories and institutes (Appendix 1).


Skrebkova/Skrebkov 1955.


The theory of functional harmony was attributed to Riemann in the first edition of the Soviet textbook “for the benefit of provincial music teachers, who may not have been aware of such advances in theoretical thought,” but this information was deleted from the second and subsequent editions (see Carpenter 1988, 1004). All the Chinese translations draw on later editions of the harmony textbook, in which Riemann and the names of other music theorists are no longer included.


Dubovsky/Yevseev/Sposobin/Sokolov 1934/35.


Dubovsky/Yevseev/Sposobin/Sokolov 1937/38.


Catoire 1924/26.


Ibid., 956. See Gevaert 1905/07.


Butir 2001.


For example, a discussion of the root-position primary triads and how to connect them takes up five consecutive chapters.


More than ten chapters are devoted to auxiliary notes in volume II of The Book. One side effect is that the coverage of chromatic harmony is rendered less conspicuous.


The functional categories applied to the III and VI chords suggest they have double harmonic functions.


Notwithstanding the exclusive use of diatonic triads in Example 1, the harmonic progressions accompanying the Phrygian descent do not suggest a standard diatonicism of Western tonal music. In contrast, Example 2 offers only one oddity, the insertion of DTIII to, as it were, embellish the closing D-T cadence.


Protopopov 1960, 250.


Carpenter 1988, 1109.


Although The Book fell out of favor when the Sino-Soviet relationship turned sour in the 1960s, and subsequently during the Cultural Revolution when higher music education came to a standstill, it continues to be used up to the present day.


These statistics are from the 1998 reprint of The Book. In 1999, the Ministry of Education set a target for a significant increase in undergraduate student numbers over the following decade (2000–10). This gave additional impetus to the sales of The Book.


The other is Sang Tong’s Hesheng de lilun yu yingyong [The Theory and Practice of Harmony] (Sang 1982/88). Sang Tong was president of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music from 1986 to 1991. Prospective graduate students are given a much longer list of writings, but with no texts on functional harmony. On the official website of Shengyang Conservatory, as on those of most other conservatories, The Book is not explicitly listed. However, it is common to see the nomenclature of functional harmony (e.g. DD7) used to describe the level of harmonic proficiency required of incoming composition students.


These model answers were published by Huang Huwei (Sichuan Conservatory), Liu Xueyan (who proofread the 1987 translation of The Book) and Liu Ming (Shenyang Conservatory), Chen Enguang (Tianjin Conservatory), and Wen Ziyang (Sichuan Conservatory). It seems likely that they used The Book in their teaching. See Appendix 3.


See Wang/Wang 1991.


A mixture of original writing and material paraphrased or quoted from other sources was then common in Chinese academic publications.


Xiao Youmei’s doctoral dissertation, which was completed under Hugo Riemann’s guidance, examines the historical development of the Chinese orchestra before the seventeenth century.


For instance, the term “functional harmony” (gongneng hesheng) is used in place of “tonal harmony” (diaoxing hesheng) in Du 1990, an article that will be critiqued below (see 2.2.).


There was little awareness of Stufen theory as a system of harmony in those days, although the theoretical idea was in circulation thanks to the translation of different Western harmony textbooks.


Functional theory and Stufen theory are two different ways of theorizing tonal music. In the Grove entry on “harmony,” Carl Dahlhaus pinpoints the basic difference between Stufen theory and functional theory: “What is known as the theory of Stufen, or degrees, ascribes intrinsic importance to the scale. It asserts that seven chord degrees coalesce into a key by virtue of the fact that they form a unique scale. […] In contrast to the theory of Stufen, Riemann’s theory of function starts from the tonic–subdominant–dominant–tonic cadence in order to establish the key, and deduces the scale by analysing the three principal chords (C-E-G, F-A-C, G-B-D = C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C). The chords and their relationships to each other are taken as given; the scale results from them.” (Dahlhaus 2001) Harmonic analyses that draw on Stufen theory or functional theory tend to use Roman numerals or chord function symbols exclusively, notwithstanding Riemann’s own practice (see, for example, Riemann 1918/19).


Su 1981; Du 1990. Su Xia was among the founding faculty members when a number of music institutes were combined in 1949 to form what came to be called the Central Conservatory of Music. He had served as head of the composition department and nurtured some of the most distinguished contemporary Chinese art music composers. Du Xiaoshi has recently retired but was for a long-time chief editor of the People’s Music Publishing House (Renmin yinyue chubanshe), the most esteemed of its kind in the PRC.


The musical works discussed in both articles are almost exclusively from the pre-1949 era. Su Xia, but not Du Xiaoshi, included music examples in his article.


Li Huanzhi 1997; Fan 2003.


Needless to say, we consider only the relevant parts of these book-length publications. There is a general lack of critical evaluation when we compare these texts with those of Su Xia and Du Xiaoshi.


See the preface to the series in Li Huanzhi 1997. There is no pagination to this preface.


In 2009, perhaps to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of the PRC, the book was reprinted in Hong Kong.


Fan 2003, 2–3. The term “professional multi-voiced music composition” (zhuanyede duoshengbu yinyue chuangzuo) is commonly used in China, but it calls for some explanation here. First, the term “professional music” stands in binary opposition to traditional folk music in much of China’s academic writing on music. A less literal translation of the original Chinese term would be “art music,” which will henceforth be used to replace “professional music.” Second, the concept “multi-voiced” is broadly defined in China to include homophony, polyphony, and heterophony without prioritizing any one of them. That this concept is found useful or necessary in China merits consideration. Suffice it to say that it may have been conceived as a means of downplaying the absence of a clearly-defined harmonic system in China comparable to that of the West. As is well known to anyone familiar with music education in China, harmony, counterpoint, form, and orchestration are dubbed the “four big things in composition” (zuoqu sidajian) and have been taught using Western music as the main point of reference. Given the obvious correspondence of harmony and counterpoint to homophony and polyphony respectively, heterophony is left out of the reckoning and this may have encouraged the use of such an inclusive term as “multi-voiced.”


Fan Zuyin seldom ventures beyond summarizing Li Huanzhi’s main points, often by directly quoting from them.


While “Chinese orchestras” could be created easily enough by expanding traditional Chinese instrumental ensembles along Western lines, it was more difficult to develop anything coming close to a nationalist harmonic system in the absence of viable models in traditional Chinese music.


Chao Yuenren subsequently developed into a world-class linguist.


Chao 1928.


Su 1981, 42. The source for the “resolution” as defined here might have been Arapov’s paper given at the Central Conservatory on 31 March 1956. See section 3.1. below for more details.






The situation was much more difficult ten years before Du Xiaoshi’s time, which may explain why Su was relatively vague and generalized in his critical stance. Still, Su Xia was then considered courageous enough in promoting the use of modernistic harmonic idioms.


Du Xiaoshi (1990, 51) used the term “functional harmony” (gongneng hesheng) as a synonym for tonal harmony (diaoxing hesheng) (see footnote 23). This is in evidence right from the beginning of his article when he wrote about “the gradual establishment of the functional harmonic system in the seventeenth century.” The term “coloristic harmony” (ibid., 57) is obviously set as an antonym to “functional harmony.” We can infer from Du’s article that quartal chords and the like are considered coloristic harmony.


Ibid., 54–55. Although Du was vocal in his criticism of the “basic principle,” he did not explain in his own words what it is actually about. Instead, as documented here, he quoted the definition of Su 1981. Furthermore, Li Huanzhi cited the same passage (somewhat curtailed) in Contemporary China: Music and when Fan Zuyin subsequently quoted Li Huanzhi, he repeated the same text. There is something seemingly authoritative about these words.


The USSR was often dubbed the “old big brother” (laodage) in China. See Huang Xiaohe 1998, 3.


Li Huanzhi 1997, 633–634. See Skrebkov 1957.


Fan 2003, 5, quoted from Li Huanzhi 1997, 633.




During the 1980s, Huang Qiong, a student of Sang Tong, also criticized The Book for the rigidity of the rules in the exercises, but that hardly amounts to a major condemnation of its message. See Huang Qiong 1985, 33.


Li Huanzhi and Fan Zuyin document the 1956 conference in passing, without highlighting its importance.


Wang 2010. Arapov was awarded the official honor of “People’s Artist” in 1986, having allegedly composed Zhongguo minge zhuti gangqin xiaoqu liu shou [Six Piano Pieces based on Chinese Folk Tunes] and published them in both USSR and PRC in 1955–58. From 1941–44, he had escaped to Tashkent in Uzbekistan following the siege of Leningrad, teaching at the local music schools and composing an Uzbeki opera. During his visit to North Korea in 1959, Arapov also composed a symphony incorporating Korean pentatonic modes. It is tempting to speculate that Arapov may have introduced the theory of functional harmony to these foreign lands too. See Jaffé 2012, 40.


Sheng Lihong (1956, 40) recounted that Arapov criticized Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg for showing a lack of functional orientation in their harmonic theories. Given Arapov’s authoritative status, his view might well have tempered the Chinese reception of Hindemith’s Traditional Harmony (vol. 1, translated by Luo Zhongrong and published in 1950; Hindemith 1949/50) and Schoenberg’s Structural Functions of Harmony (first published in 1954). The Chinese translation of the latter was published in 1958 and the translator Mao Yurun made a note to the effect that he had discarded the twelfth and last chapter of Schoenberg’s book because it tilted towards idealism and formalism. These details appear on the verso of the first page of the Chinese 1958 edition (Schoenberg 1954/58).


See Arapov 1956a and 1956b. The conference date of 31 March 1956 is given.


Dubovsky/Yevseev/Sposobin/Sokolov 1955.


Wu Zuqiang studied under Yevgeny Messner at the Moscow Conservatory. Three decades later, from 1982 to 1988, he headed the Beijing Central Conservatory, the music school closest to the party line.


Dubovsky/Yevseev/Sposobin/Sokolov 1955, 22.


Wuhan Conservatory was still named the Hubei Arts Institute in 1979.


See Fan 2003, 11–12 and 15–17. The themes of the third and fourth nationwide conferences, held in 1988 and 1989, were polyphony and formal analysis respectively. Thus, of the “four big things in composition,” only orchestration was omitted.


Compare Fan 2003, 17, and Li Huanzhi 1997, 645. Fan Zuyin might have played safe by quoting from Li Huanzhi to side with the official position.


Li Huanzhi 1997, 639. Fan Zuyin (2003, 13) paraphrased this somewhat closely.


Sang 1979/80. See also Cheong 2016, 15–16.


Fan 2003 devoted two chapters to describing how Li Yinghai and Sang Tong approached the quest for the nationalization of harmony (a chapter to each). An important background here is that Li Yinghai, not Sang Tong, was Fan Zuyin’s teacher.


Li Yinghai 1959.


Sang Tong had not published any major theoretical text prior to the First Conference. Until then he had published mainly musical compositions. See Cheong 2016 for Sang Tong’s achievements as a composer and theorist.


Sang 2001.


Sang 1982/88. See Cheong 2016, 9 on how the two books are related.


Wang 1949.


Fan 2003, 4. Wang Zhenya had previously published the same material in the research periodical of the Shangeshe [Society of Mountain Songs], a student-based academic unit at the Chongqing guoli yinyue yuan [Chongqing State Conservatory].


The traditional Chinese names of the five pentatonic notes (e.g. C-D-E-G-A) are gong, shang, jue, zhi, and yu respectively. There are five pentatonic modes to one pentatonic collection. They share the same five notes, but a different note is, in each case, established as zhuyin, the “principal note.” The five pentatonic modes are named accordingly as the gong mode, shang mode, and so forth. What Wang Zhenya (1949, 17) called the principal and subordinate modes correspond to the gong-mode (C-D-E-G-A) and zhi-mode (G-A-C-D-E) in standard Chinese music theoretical texts.


Wang 1949, 3.


One well-known example is the pentatonic passage (mm. 43–44) that briefly disrupts the overall whole-tone setting of Debussy’s Prélude (… voiles) (Préludes, vol. 1, 1909). The arabesques featured in the melody and the quartal chords are all derivable from the same pentatonic collection. Similar approaches to pentatonic harmonies are heard in the first movement of La mer (mm. 31–42, except horns, 1903–05), Pagodes (mm. 27–30; Estampes, 1903), Cloches à travers les feuilles (mm. 24–28; Images, vol. 2, 1907), and Pour les quartes (mm. 7–9; Douze Etudes, vol. 1, 1915). Debussy’s intricate use of pentatonic harmonies as such is not addressed in Day-O’Connell 2007. Day-O’Connell’s focus is on pentatonic melodies rather than pentatonic harmonies, and with reference to European art music rather than folk music: “the pentatonicism I describe will more often appear in the melody alone than suffuse an entire texture (the pentatonic scale, after all, supports only two triads, I and vi)” (ibid., 4). Throughout his monograph, “quartal harmony” is mentioned only once (ibid., 77). Day-O’Connell claims not to have “found any but the major pentatonic [1-2-3-5-6] to have interested Western composers, at least not before the late nineteenth century” (ibid., 5) and his analytical concern is confined accordingly to only one of the five pentatonic modes.


It was Li Yinghai, rather than Wang Zhenya, who elaborated this idea. See Li Yinghai 1959, 91. According to Zhao Songguang, Wang Zhenya subsequently gave up his theory as he came to realize that it failed to account adequately for the harmonic “function” of the quartal chords. Zhao Songguang’s view is quoted in Fan 2003, 4.


The addition of not just F and B, but also F or B calls for some explanation. It is commonly known among practitioners and theorists of traditional Chinese music that a pentatonic collection is the shared “core” of three fifth-related diatonic scales. For example, the pentatonic collection C-D-E-G-A can be supplemented with the non-pentatonic notes F and B, or F and B, or F and B to yield the diatonic scales C-D-E-F-G-A-B, or C-D-E-F-G-A-B, or C-D-E-F-G-A-B respectively. They are designated as qingyue, yayue, and yanyue scales respectively and share the intervallic structures with the Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes under equal temperament tuning. See Jones 2001.


See footnote 67 for the Chinese names of the five pentatonic modes.


The broken curve lines pinpoint the note D shared between VII and (S)s, and the note B shared between d and II.


There is no mention of the chain of thirds in The Book.


Riemann 1916, 1–5. See Utz 2015, 193–200.


See Day-O’Connell 2001 and Jones 2001.


The non-pentatonic note D can of course be omitted without altering the identity of the seventh chord.


The semitone E-D (m. 4), which lurks in an inner part, is much less disruptive.


Li Yinghai is aware of this problem. Instead of abandoning, or treating more freely, the major or minor triad as a way of ending Chinese folk melodies, he finds a solution by drawing on the syntax of Western tonal music. In Example 163 (Li Yinghai 1959, 111), a pentatonic melody ends with the note D and is, by definition, in the zhi mode D-E-G-A-B. Li Yinghai harmonized the last note D of the melody with a D major triad, even though the third of the chord (F) is extraneous to the pentatonic collection. Li gets around the problem by introducing the note F as a passing note in the lower voice, prior to its appearance in the concluding chord, which is tonic in function by default.


Ibid., 91.


This is found in the preface (ibid., III–IV) and the introduction to part II of the book, at which point Li Yinghai’s discourse turned from modes to Chinese (Han) modal harmonies (ibid., 90). According to Liu Ching-Chih, the core of Mao’s Talks revolves around “the need for literature and art to serve the people, to be popularized, and to achieve higher standards.” (Liu 2010, 721, note 131)


Wu 1959; Zhao 1959 and 1960.


Jiang 1956/96, 16.


Fan 2003, 6.


Li Yinghai (1959, III) points out that Chinese composers such as Huang Zi and Chao Yuanren had already proposed and practiced “sinicized harmonies” during the 1930s.


Fan 2003, 8–9.


Wu Shikai’s words are quoted by Fan in ibid., 9.


The Japanese composer Mitsukuri Shūkichi arrived at similar theoretical positions in the 1930s and might have taken Riemann’s Folkoristische Tonalitätsstudien as a reference (see Utz 2015, 204–205).


Li Huanzhi 1997, 635; quoted in Fan 2003, 10–11.


The widely held position in China that functional theory is scientifically grounded is one that dies hard. In an article published as late as 1985, we still read that functional theory was “verified” by a Soviet musician-cum-physicist. See Huang 1985, 28.


Riemann and other theorists were acknowledged in the first but not the second edition of Uchebnik garmonii, which is the version that came to be used until today in Russia and China. See note 4.


Carpenter 1988, 956.


Both the then putative scientific basis of functional theory and the musical representation of dialectical materialism through three interactive harmonic functions resonate with Lenin 1913.


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