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Constructing Culture through Sound: The Choral-Orchestral Works of B. Sharav

Joe Lerangis

Soon to be published.

Constructing Culture through Sound: The Choral-Orchestral Works of B. Sharav









This article traces the development of Byambasurengiin Sharav’s (1952-2019) compositional style through his three works for choir and instrumental ensemble: Zambuu Tiviin Naran (1981), Symphony No. 2 (1987) and Chinggis Khaan Bat Orshig (2005). I examine ways in which the musical structure and contents of these pieces depict a late- and post-socialist cultural (re)construction practice in contemporary classical composition in Mongolia. Situating Sharav in the context of his nomadic childhood, studies in the USSR, relatively late acquisition of western musical knowledge, and rapid rise to stardom in Mongolia, I trace aesthetic shifts and inertias through a close musical analysis of the three pieces’ pitch collections, phrase structures, large-scale narratives, textural manipulation, timbre, and treatment (or lack of treatment) of traditional Mongolian ardyn duu and urtyn duu melodies and texts. The analysis reveals several important trends: encoding of Mongolian numerology in phrase structures and pitch collections, shifting approaches to musical mimesis of both performance-based traditional musical styles and the quotidian “sounding” practices of Mongolian nomadic life, and a move from earlier minimalism and polystylism to a codified yet still cosmopolitan “Mongolian” sound. Sharav’s attempts to portray gun uhaan, or intrinsic intelligence of the Mongolian people through music, and to honor his homeland and his nomadic upbringing provide a through-line. Yet the pieces display a change over time in Sharav’s own perception of faith, fate, and identity. The 1981 cantata depicts Mongolian life as deeply connected to the sun, and collages the words of nine different ardyn duu and urtyn duu. The 1987 symphony was later revealed to be an abstract portrayal of mongoliin nuuts tovchoo, but without the ability to directly reference the narrative Sharav builds musical characters and conflicts through orchestration. Finally, the 2005 oratorio sets Chinggis Khaan as a messianic figure in a story of faith and nation-building.

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