‘Painting a Western musical score with Chinese ink’

Exploring Chinese cultural concepts and sonorities to develop a cross-cultural performance

  • Ana Filipa Neves Ferreira Universidade de Aveiro
Keywords: Áureo Castro, cross-cultural performance, musical narrative, intercultural artistic research, Macao


This research paper is an outcome of my ongoing Ph.D. project in which I intend to create a performance whose scenic dimension is explored to suggest a pre-reflective, embodied and interactive layer of awareness of Macao's mystical atmosphere to the audience. The performance will comprise the piano solo works of Áureo Castro, a Portuguese composer who lived in the 20th century in Macao and was an enthusiastic of Chinese music. His “Chinese Style” piano works merge Western composition techniques with melodies and rhythms inspired by Chinese folk music, thus revealing traces of Sino-Western interculturality. 

This paper addresses the second piano sonata of Áureo Castro and describes how performative choices are explored having as reference Chinese culture concepts and Chinese instrumental sonorities and gestures. These choices most likely are influenced by the performer´s imagery and poetic narrative from her own living experiences in Macao.

Concepts such as non-sound, virtues, Chinese metaphors and musical gestures were experimented in order to create a compelling musical narrative. Moreover, piano playing and affordances were explored not only emulating and integrating the gestures and sonorities of traditional Chinese instrumentalists but also experimenting accordingly with musical parameters such as agogic, meter and phrasing to create sonorities that resemble or were inspired by Chinese music.

From my perspective as performer, a conventional interpretation of piano works (i.e. one that follows traditional Western performance practices) would fail to be representative of Áureo Castro’s intentions as a composer who had a fondness for Chinese music and aimed to express feelings concerning the exotic atmosphere of Macao and its communities, but would miss as well to explore essential affordances of this music. As revealed by Áureo Castro about one of his most prominent compositions – “Macao Scenes” – the composer seeks to express the music as a “painting with ink that breathes Chinese atmosphere”.

I hope this paper contributes for a better understanding on how exploring performative practices can enrich approaches and perspectives to cross-cultural music works and to contribute to the development of intercultural artistic research in the domain of music performance, where intercultural exchanges and hybridization are, on one hand, increasing and continuously reassessing cultural identities and, on other hand, have the potential to inspire future artistic works.


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