The sublime was at the aesthetic core of Chinese musical modernity from the first half of the twentieth century onwards. Not only was it an important subject for modern thinkers who introduced key ideas from Western philosophy, but the concept of the sublime was also translated into various Chinese terms. Notions of the Kantian beautiful and sublime were central to an ongoing discourse, but the Kantian sublime was never formally addressed with respect to music. What do survive are aesthetic remarks by critics eulogizing music in terms of its manly vigour and monumental grandeur, and it is these that prompt investigation into the philosophical context for the vigorous sound ideal promoted by reformers. The composer Huang Zi (1904–38) is a central figure since he not only referred to the final movement of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony in terms corresponding to the Kantian sublime, but also characterized the second movement using language drawn from classical Chinese poetics that invoked the immortals’ wind-riding aspiration. His attribution of ‘hun’ echoed Daoist transcendence as found in classical lyric criticism and provides a starting point for theorization of the Daoist sublime as a component of modern Chinese aesthetics that continue classical poetics. Huang’s works embrace a sense of loss that places them apart from Chinese modernists’ emphasis on strength and virility in accordance with Western theories of the sublime.


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pp. 534-563
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