Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



First Committee Member

Ambroise Aubrun

Second Committee Member

Weiwei Le

Third Committee Member

Kate Hamilton

Fourth Committee Member

Richard Miller

Fifth Committee Member

Patrick Sean Clark

Number of Pages



The study examines the importance of the Butterfly Lovers’ violin concerto (1959) by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang and the related research on its musical and culture context in China, focusing on how students from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music explored the use of Chinese traditional music elements on a western instrument, the violin in the 1950s. The dissertation discusses three aspects: the social and compositional introductory background, composition analysis and the influence of this piece in the eastern and western musical worlds. In the first chapter, I give a brief introduction to the piece. When the new People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, people had little familiarity with the violin; Chinese people had very little exposure to violin compositions, so composers wanted to invent a piece for violin and orchestra with the most familiar tunes from traditional operas that the general audience could relate to and understand. The first version of the Butterfly Lovers’ violin concerto, written by He Zhanhao, is a three-minute string quartet, subsequently arranged for solo violin and orchestral accompaniment in 1959. After the sensational premier performance at the Shanghai Lanxin Theatre by Yu Lina in 1959, the concerto was also arranged for violin and piano, making it more available to study and perform. This concerto is today one of the most famous instrumental pieces in China. In my literature review, I use documentaries and interviews related to the people involved in the project. I also include several journal articles, books, recordings, as well as their liner notes to exemplify the value of researching this concerto. In Chapter Two, I introduce the two main composers, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, as well as a violinist, Yu Lina, on their innovation during the composition process, and include information about several world-class violinists such as Gil Shaham and Takako Nishizaki, on their performances and recordings for this piece, now required in some international violin competitions. Chapter Three contains information related to the form and structure of the piece. It is a one movement program music in sonata form; the main musical elements are inspired from Yue opera, also called Shaoxing opera, which developed in Zhejiang Province in 1906 from rural storytelling traditions into a dynamic urban opera form. Thus, there are many elements in the concerto that reflect musical elements in the opera tradition, including imitations of the sounds of traditional Chinese instruments such as erhu and pipa. In the last chapter, I conclude this study by talking about the significant influence of the piece in the subsequent historical and social climate.

Controlled Subject

Concertos (Violin); China--Shanghai; Music



File Format


File Size

14800 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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