Статья 'Ду Миньсинь. Фортепианная сюита по балету «Русалка»: опыт стилистического и исполнительского анализа' - журнал 'PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal' - NotaBene.ru
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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

Du Mingxin. Piano Suite based on the ballet "Rusalka": the experience of stylistic and performance analysis

Zhang Futun

Master's degree Student, Department of Special Piano, Kazan State Conservatory named after N. G. Zhiganov

420015, Russia, respublika Tatarstan, g. Kazan', ul. Bol'shaya Krasnaya, 38

Gumerova Aysylu Tagirovna

PhD in Art History

Associate Professor at the Department of Theory of Music and Composition of The N.G. Zhiganov Kazan State Conservatory 

420015, Russia, respublika Tatarstan, g. Kazan', ul. Bol'shaya Krasnaya, 38

Other publications by this author










Abstract: The object of the study is the piano work of the famous Chinese composer, teacher Du Minxin (born 1928). The genre composition of his piano work is diverse – it includes miniatures, suite cycles, concerts, fantasies, toccatas. A separate place is occupied by piano transcriptions created by the composer on the material of his own ballets – "Red Women's Squad", "Mermaid". The subject of the study is a piano suite based on the ballet "Rusalka", which is a repertoire composition in concert and pedagogical practice in China. The purpose of the work is to identify the stylistic and performing features of the work necessary for the successful interpretation of the work. In the process of preparing the material, theoretical and empirical research methods were involved, including analysis, generalization and systematization of scientific sources, stylistic and performance analysis of the suite "Mermaid" by Du Mingxin. As a result of a detailed examination of a number of plays, the features of the figurative structure, form formation, intonation, harmonic language, texture are revealed. Special attention is paid to the performing tasks that a pianist needs to solve when referring to this composition. In particular, the author deals with the issues of stroke technique, pedalization, tempo and dynamic dramaturgy, disclosure and use of the timbre-coloristic possibilities of the piano. Of particular importance in the performance of the composition is the orchestrality of the piano sound. The conclusion is made about the importance of preliminary analysis of the orchestral score when performing piano transcription of ballet music. In the Russian research literature, the suite on Du Minxin's ballet "The Mermaid" is considered in detail for the first time.


chinese music, chinese composer, contemporary music, music for piano, piano suite, Du Mingxin, Mermaid, piano transcription, ballet, features of piano performance

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

Du Mingxin (born 1928) is a contemporary Chinese composer whose works make up the classics of Chinese music of the 20th century. His piano compositions demonstrate the main trends in the formation of piano art in the country both in genre and stylistic terms. The vivid imagery of Du Minxin's music, the simplicity and spontaneity of utterance, the colorful harmonic language, the organic interaction of national and European traditions do not leave listeners and performers indifferent.

An analysis of the literature on the composer's piano music has shown that this area of creativity has been the subject of attention of researchers more than once. There are many publications by Chinese authors in Chinese and Russian on various aspects of Chinese piano art, in which attention is paid to the person of Du Mingxin. Among them are the works of Guo Hao [2], Li Ming [6], Pei Han [8], Huang Ping [10], Wu Zhao Liu [14], Yu Ping [15]. In addition, a number of articles by domestic and foreign researchers have been published, the object of attention of which are individual piano opuses of the composer from the point of view of the peculiarities of the figurative system, musical stylistics [1, 4, 5, 9, 11, 12, 13]. The specifics of the interpretation of works for piano were not included in the field of view of Russian-speaking authors, and the suite for the ballet "Rusalka", which became the object of analysis in this article, was not specifically considered.

Piano music is one of the most important areas of the composer's creativity. The first experiments in this field appeared during his studies at the Moscow Conservatory, early opuses were written under the guidance of his composition teacher M. Churaki (among them – "Etude", "Variation"). These compositions were distinguished by some patterns, the young musician mastered and tried to use various textured, harmonic techniques characteristic of Russian and European music.

In a later period, the composer's individual style was already quite clearly manifested, characterized by the desire for a harmonious combination of the Chinese intonation basis with European compositional techniques.

The genre composition of piano creativity is quite diverse – it includes miniatures, suite cycles, fantasies, toccatas, concerts. A separate place is occupied by piano transcriptions created by the composer on the material of his own ballets – "Red Women's Squad", "Mermaid". These compositions have gained great popularity among the musicians-compatriots of the author: they are included in many collections of Chinese piano music, are used both in concert and in pedagogical practice. Within the framework of this article, we will consider the stylistic and performance features of the suite "Rusalka" ()).

The ballet Rusalka (1958) is one of Du Minxin's first major works, written by him almost immediately after graduating from the Moscow Conservatory and returning to his homeland. The ballet was the result of the collaboration of composers Du Mingxin and Wu Zujiang on their own libretto. The creation of the composition was timed to coincide with a rather important date – the 10th anniversary of the creation of the People's Republic of China, a year later the ballet was staged at the National Palace of Culture in Beijing. The premiere was a great success, and subsequently the play was shown on many theater stages in China.

The interest in music from the audience prompted Du Mingxin in 1961 to create a suite based on the music of the ballet. He prepared orchestral and piano opuses, including the most striking six numbers (it is known that in 1982 the composer expanded the suite by adding other fragments from the ballet, but these notes have not yet been published):

1) "Ginseng Dance" (?))

2) "Dance of the corals" ()

3) "The dance of algae" ()

4) "Dance of the Three Mountain Demon Girls" (?))

5) "Dance of the 24 Mermaids" ()

6) "Wedding Dance" ()

The parts are arranged in the order in which the fragments appear in the dance performance. The main part of the suite consists of music from the first act of the ballet, in which the plot begins.

The performance of ballet transcriptions requires a special approach from the performer: along with solving traditional piano tasks, a detailed study of the original source – the ballet score - plays a fundamental role. On the one hand, this is important from the position of the figurative structure of the composition – knowledge of the plot of the performance ensures awareness of each number as a certain stage of the denouement of the plot plot, contributes to an adequate interpretation of the composer's musical thought. On the other hand, working with the score is necessary to achieve the orchestral sound of the piano, to align the timbre dramaturgy of the fragments in accordance with the original.

The plot of the ballet is based on a fairy tale love story of a Mermaid and a Hunter. An insidious mountain Demon with the help of magic and sorcery is trying to separate the lovers. But, in the end, good overcomes evil; the ballet ends with the triumph of love, beauty and youth.

To identify the stylistic and performance features of the piano transcription of the ballet "Rusalka", let's take a closer look at a number of numbers from the suite.

"Ginseng Dance" opens the first act of the ballet: in the dense forest thickets, an old Man Ginseng wakes up from a dream, who, according to the plot, will help a Hunter in search of a Mountain Demon cave.

The play is written in a complex three-part form. Schematically , the form can be represented in the form of a table:












Clock cycles








Tone. planH





The introduction paints a picture of the awakening of Ginseng. Jerky phrases sounding in octave unison are interspersed with "flickering" seconds and fifths in a high register for weak fractions of a beat. The text of the introduction is set out in three lines, which emphasizes the importance of the orchestral sound of the piano, listening to all the elements of the polyphonic texture by the pianist (example 1).

Example 1. The introduction, based on the repeated repetition of the same rhythmic and intonational elements, in the score version is developed primarily by timbre and dynamic means: the initial motif in the form of a roll call is alternately played by different instruments - Cl.

+ Fl. picc.; Cl. + Ob. + Fl. picc.;  V-le. + V. + Cl.; C. ingl.+ Fl.; tutti. The task of the pianist is to strive to realize the timbre dramaturgy, laid down by the author in the orchestral version, by the "forces" of the piano.

The main theme(s) is cheerful, joyful, and skerzoznaya. A clear rhythm with unexpected accents on weak lobes, the accuracy of the stroke, the average tempo (M oderato S hcerzando) show some angularity, the "clumsiness" of the old Ginseng. But the theme, set out in staccato chords combined with trills in a high register, gives the sound a playful, cheerful character (example 2).

Example 2.

The middle in thematism is close to the extreme parts: the intonation system and textural organization do not change, the contrast is created primarily due to the change of tonality (E-dur ?e-moll) and the sound of the theme in a lower register. It is important for the performer to compare the two almost identical in the text of the second theme (b, b1) timbral, transmitting the sound of different groups of the orchestra (the first conducting is a string group, the second conducting is a woodwind group).

The reprise (A1) is the culmination of the whole play: the theme, set out in polyphonic chords on forte, acquires a solemn, marching character.

The main part of the pieces of the piano suite "Rusalka" are numbers that are characteristic of characters from the sea world. One of the bright fragments is the "Dance of Algae", which draws colorful underwater landscapes.

The play is written in a three-part form with a contrasting middle (ABA 1).

Form diagram:





A 1


Clock cycles






Tone. plan







The work opens with an eight-act introduction, built on trembling figures with double notes in the parts of both hands, creating an image of Water. The initial bars set the general rhythmic movement, outlined by the sixteenth notes, incessant throughout the composition. In the orchestral version, this material is played by Celeste, respectively, the pianist should achieve a gentle, "silvery", fascinating piano sound (example 3, 1-8 tt.).

The appearance of the main theme (A) is accompanied by a change of key (f-moll ? H-dur), size (3/8 ? 2/4), tempo (Andantino ? Larghetto). The commonality with the introduction is manifested at the level of texture: the accompaniment is based on arpeggiated figuration, rhythmically similar to the thematism of the initial bars. The dance theme, consisting of two contrasting motifs (descending fifths, harmonized by the sounds of tonics, and second "vibrations" related to the material of the introduction), draws smooth movements of algae swaying to the beat of the music (example 3). Arpeggiated figurations in the left-hand party create an image of a calm, peaceful sea. The accompaniment should sound soft, serene, like the light plucking of the harp, which is entrusted with this material in the ballet score. For timbre accuracy, a pianist needs "quasi-plucked" sound production and easy pedal support.


Example 3. The harmonic language of the first movement, as well as the whole piece as a whole, almost completely levels the ladofuctional connections between chords, bringing to the fore colorful and coloristic comparisons.


This is reflected both in the chord sequence and at the level of tonal planes (for example, unexpected tonal shifts H-dur ? G-dur in tt. 9-16, H-dur ?h-moll in tt. 25-30).

The beginning of the second movement is marked by a change of tempo (Tranguillo) and tonality (h-moll). The theme sounds in a low register, in the left-hand part (example 4). The piano sound should match the timbre of the cellos, be expressive, rich, melodious. The melody is mainly based on angemitone intonations, semitone conjugation of sounds occurs only once, at the end of phrases (a-gis, c-h). Thus, the general sound gets a clear national coloring. The composer's desire to combine the features of national music and the techniques of European compositional writing is seen in the combination of angemitonic intonation and chords of the tertz structure.

The organization of the texture is interesting: in the right hand, a melodic line is duplicated on the pp, but it sounds with a chord thickening and lagging by the sixteenth note, creating continuity of the overall rhythmic pulsation of the piece. Thus, again through music, but by other rhythmic-intonation means, a slight swaying of the water is shown.


Example 4.


The harmonic content of the middle part is characterized by a wealth of colors: the main tonality of h-moll is "colored" with interspersed altitudinal steps that expand the scale of the classical minor (gis sounds, c). The polyphonic fabric of the middle part reveals a monodic principle of organization in which, in contrast to the homophonic-harmonic warehouse of the extreme parts, the horizontal origin prevails. In order to feel the linear nature of polyphony in this section of the transcription, it will be useful for the pianist to play each of the voices separately when learning, as well as to isolate some pairs of voices from the texture.

The third part is a reprise of the main theme of the play, which sounds with some changes. In conclusion, elements of both themes are combined, the dynamics subsides, the movement stops. A descending move on the fifth, which makes up the intonation grain of the main theme, completes the piece.

 The piece "The Dance of Algae" can be called one of the most beautiful examples of Chinese piano music. In order to accurately convey the image, the composer refers to various rhythmic-intonation figurations that sound in the background throughout the composition. This creates certain difficulties for the performer: on the one hand, it is necessary to reproduce exactly all the sounds of the arpeggiated figures, to line them up in one line, on the other – to remember that this is a "background" that should not drown out the main melody sounding higher or lower in the tessitura.

The chord texture, in which the theme is often presented, requires the strength and strength of the fingers, well-thought-out fingering.

It is necessary to pre-arrange the tempo dramaturgy laid down by the composer (Andantino Larghetto- Tranguillo) in such a way that it enriches the figurative side of the performance, creates the necessary emotional state in the listeners.

The "Dance of the corals" in the ballet sounds in the first act: after the Mermaid woke up the Hunter enchanted by the Mountain Demon and saved him from death, the coral girl performs a dance for lovers.

The tempo designation Allegro suggests a fast tempo, which must be combined with the soft, gentle sound of the instrument.

The play is written in a three-five-part form, formed as a result of the repetition of the middle and reprise of the three-part composition.

Form diagram:



||: In








Clock cycles1-6






Tone. planh / D







From the first bars of the play, the invariable for fragments of the ballet that represent the underwater world, figuration with sixteenth notes, is "turned on".  The main theme (a) is light, graceful, based mainly on general forms of movement. The parts of both hands are based on playing the sounds of the pentatonic fret, but the overall sound composition goes beyond the limits of angemitonics, primarily as a result of dissonant harmonic inclusions in the left-hand parts (example 5).


Example 5. Harmony is characterized by an increase in phonism, primarily due to the addition of secondary sounds to the traditional third chords (for example, the tonic function is represented by a triad with a sexta) or the use of consonances of a non-third structure (example 6).


Similar structures may also be due to the general intonation of the play, characterized by reliance on angemitonic trichordism. 


Example 6. The strengthening of the role of coloristics is also found at the level of tonal development: in the second holding of the theme (a1), a transition to G-dur is made by comparison, which persists until the beginning of the middle part (b).


The second part is thematically related to the first: against the background of the trembling seconds of accompaniment (right hand), the theme sounds outlined in double notes (left hand). The left hand has to combine two textural functions: bass and melodic, assigned in the orchestral version to different timbres ? bassoons and clarinets (example 7).   Taking into account a sufficiently fast tempo, the pianist needs to work out these hand transfers from one register to another separately, while it is important to achieve a timbre difference of each textural element, the sound of which should correlate with the instrument from whose part this musical material is "translated into piano".


Example 7.  The tonal development of the second part is identical to the previous presentation: each successive holding of the theme sounds in a new key, which is introduced by matching: G dur– B dur– D-dur.


In the third part, the initial thematism returns, updated from the point of view of structural organization: three-stroke phrases are reduced to two-stroke. This creates a feeling of "squeezing" time, speeding up the course of events and prepares the listener for a conclusion based also on the motives of the main topic.

Rhythmically, the whole piece is characterized by a certain stability and monotony, which are achieved by even eleventh notes continuously sounding throughout the composition. This requires the pianist to have a good sense of the metrorhythm, the evenness of the tempo and the alignment of the dynamic dramaturgy of the accompaniment depending on the overall dramaturgy. A fast tempo will require clarity of articulation and at the same time softness of sound throughout the composition.

Special attention should be paid to pedalization. Taking into account the fact that there are no necessary designations in the musical text, the performer needs to control the moments of changing the pedal with his hearing. You can also resort to the advice of outstanding pianists on this issue. For example, I. Hoffman writes the following: "In order to prevent cacophonous mixing of sounds, it should be remembered that the old sound must fall silent before we take the pedal to the new one; and in order for this silence to be complete, it is necessary to give the dampers the opportunity to press the vibrating strings long enough so that they can fulfill their mission" [3, pp. 60-61].

Covering the entire suite, it should be said that it is built on an alternation of different pieces, each of which represents a complete composition. Thanks to the creation of the piano suite, individual numbers from the ballet "Rusalka" received an independent life, entered the repertoire of many performers.

The pieces forming the suite "Rusalka" are distinguished by the compactness of the form, the colorfulness of the figurative system, the dominance of the colorful and coloristic interpretation of harmony, the pentatonic basis of intonation, the absence of texture overload, the breadth of the timbre palette of the piano.

The analysis of performing difficulties showed that the pieces from the suite "Rusalka" by Du Minxin are characterized by the need to master the basic piano playing techniques that are important for every musician. The performance of these compositions will allow the pianist to work out and demonstrate such important and basic performing skills as piano intonation, stroke technique, adequate articulation, a sense of metrorhythm and agogics. In the case of turning to piano transcriptions of ballet music, the ability to reveal the timbre-coloristic capabilities of the piano, to achieve the orchestrality of its sound, acquires a special role.

It should be remembered that such an analysis of a musical work is necessary for every musician, it should precede work on the technical side of the musical text. The importance of the analytical approach is pointed out by many outstanding piano teachers. For example, G. Neuhaus writes: "I suggest that a student study a piano piece, its musical notation, as a conductor studies a score ? not only as a whole (this is, first of all, otherwise there will be no holistic impression, an integral image), but also in detail, decomposing the composition into its component parts ? harmonic structure, polyphonic; separately view the main thing ? for example, a melodic line, "secondary" ? for example, an accompaniment. ... With such work, the student discovers amazing things that are not immediately recognized by the beauties that abound in the works of great composers. In addition, he begins to understand that the composition, beautiful in general, is beautiful in every detail, that every "detail" has meaning, logic, expressiveness, because it is an organic particle of the whole" [7, pp. 27-28]. In particular, a preliminary stylistic and performance analysis is important when referring to the genre of piano transcription of orchestral music, in the performance of which, in order to adequately convey the composer's idea, the pianist needs to study the score of the composition in detail.


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5. Zagidullina, D. R. (2017). Du Mingxin and his piano suite "Album for the youth of the new century". In L. V. Savvina & V. O. Petrov (Eds.), Musical art and science in the modern world: theory, performance, pedagogy (pp. 94-101). Astrakhan: Astrakhan State Conservatory.
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15. Yu, P. (1992). History of the development of Chinese modern dance drama. Beijing: Folk Music Publishing House. [于平 中国现代舞剧发 展史. 北京:民乐出版社。 1992 年].

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The subject of the study, the piano opus by the Chinese composer Du Mingxin based on his ballet "The Mermaid", is revealed by the author in the aspect of stylistic and performance analysis, which is of great importance for the quality of performing interpretation of musical works. Accordingly, the work submitted for review is valuable not so much in terms of the accumulation of empirical material by music theory, as in the aspect of developing methodological material for the development of a performing piano school. The author gives a cursory analysis of the representation of the composer's works in the scientific literature and concludes that "the specifics of the interpretation of works for piano were not included in the field of view of Russian-speaking authors, and the suite for the ballet Rusalka, which became the object of analysis in this article, was not specifically considered." Thus, the author fills the existing gap in the ideas about the merits of Du Mingxin's piano opuses, while at the same time paying attention to the performing difficulties in solving artistic problems of interpretation. The author, relying on a substantive empirical analysis of the work, justifiably points to the coloratura techniques prescribed by the composer, which allow the piano to achieve the figurative expressiveness of the work originally written for a symphony orchestra. In general, the subject of the study has been sufficiently disclosed. Although it is possible to recommend the author in further work to pay more attention to the comparative characteristics of the subject of research, which allows it to be placed in the general field of world artistic culture and theoretical musicological discourse. On the one hand, one can compare the techniques of outstanding piano composers (Liszt, Brahms, Debussy, etc.) with the achievements of the Chinese school of composition in terms of enriching the piano repertoire with transcriptions of symphonic works, and on the other, with the existing theoretical baggage of analyzing such works. The value of the presented article consists in referring to an unexplored object, but the introduction of this object into the wide space of world culture and theoretical discourse in the future will significantly enhance the experience undertaken. The methodology of the research is consolidated by the classical synthesis of historical-biographical and musical-analytical methods. The author presented the place of the subject of research in the composer's work, and then, by analyzing fragments of the suite, drew attention to the most significant difficulties associated with the piano embodiment of musical images created previously taking into account the textured and coloratura richness of symphonic sound. The relevance of the presented work is due, on the one hand, to the growing importance of Chinese culture in the dynamics of the development of world artistic (and, above all, musical) culture, and, on the other, to the need for a systematic expansion of the reflected space of musical heritage, the inclusion of previously undeveloped empirical material in musical theoretical discourse. The scientific novelty of the work lies in the expansion of the field studied by theorists of the musical heritage of China. The indicated problem of the weak representation of Du Mingxin's piano suite based on the ballet Rusalka in theoretical discourse has been partially solved by the author. Of course, a detailed comprehensive analysis of this work has yet to be carried out. This article reveals further prospects for the study of empirical material introduced into theoretical circulation. The style of work is scientific. Tabular diagrams and musical illustrations are appropriately used. The structure of the article is subordinated to the logic of presenting the results of the study. There are no comments on the content of the text. The bibliography generally reflects the problem area covered, contains a sufficient number of descriptions of works over the past 5 years, as well as material from foreign authors. The appeal to the opponents is correct: the author's approach and the methodological recommendations given by the author are well-founded and trustworthy. The interest of the readership of the journal "PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal" is provided. The article will be of interest to performing pianists, music art theorists, cultural scientists and music historians.
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