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MUSIC OF MEDIEVAL CHINA. Tang Dynasty 618 – 907AD The “golden age” of culture. BACKGROUND.

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music of medieval china


Tang Dynasty

618 – 907AD

The “golden age” of culture

  • Music’s highest function was as a tool of moral education and socialization. It taught people to respect authority and hierarchy, and to cultivate a spirit of composure and moderation. Music emphasized myriad sounds united as one to promote the emperor’s authority – strength through unity.
  • Music was seen as central to the harmony and longevity of the state
  • Roots in Confucianist, Buddhist, and Taoist ideologies
  • “Listening to music brings harmony to the mind. Right conduct brings harmony of existence.”
musical characteristics
Musical Characteristics
  • MELODY: The skeletal notes of melodies are embellished; this process is called “adding flowers”
  • PURPOSE: Most songs tell stories or paint a picture (programmatic); closely tied to poetry
    • Four main types
      • Court music ** (our main focus)
      • Ritual/temple music
      • Military music
      • Folk music
    • Primary importance placed on subordination to the unified group
    • Imperial Music Bureau was established (1st century B.C. until 1911) to supervise musical activities and styles
musical characteristics1
Musical Characteristics
  • NOTATION: Written down using Chinese characters rather than Western music. Certain nuances could not be captured by the characters so it needs to be taught orally as well. Style cannot be captured by notation alone.

Dunhuangpipafu (music scores from Dunhuang, China), one of the earliest decipherable notations of Chinese music, which show direct relationships between gagaku notation for the biwa and the popular notation for ci songs of Song China.

characteristics cont d
Characteristics cont’d
  • TEXTURE = Heterophony
    • all instruments play the same thing at the same time but make the melody their own by embellishing
    • results in a thick, dense sound
    • Listen: Sound of the Drunken Dragon
    • Listen: Zan Bei (Buddhist Song)
experiment with texture
Experiment with texture
  • Decide what “instrument” you will be playing by using only what you have with you at your seat.
  • Together we will perform “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
  • Remember, we perform in unison.
  • We unite our diversity and become stronger as one.

Mary had a little lamb

Little lamb, little lamb

Mary had a little lamb

Whose fleece was white as snow

characteristics cont d1
Characteristics cont’d
  • TONALITY = Pentatonic (5 note scale)
    • They HAVE all 7 notes but mainly use 5 to represent 5 elements in the world: metal, wood, fire, water, earth OR east, west, north, south, & middle
    • Skeletal or primary notes
      • Do = Gong
      • Re = Shang
      • Mi= Jue
      • Sol = Zhi
      • La = Yu
    • Fa and Ti are secondary notes and seldom used.
instrument categories

ALL originate in nature

Ba yin: Collectively known as the eight sounds

  • Si = Silk: stringed instruments
  • Zhu = Bamboo: flutes and reed instruments
  • Mu = Wood: woodblocks and similar percussion instruments
instrument categories1
  • Shi = Stone: stone instruments hit with mallets
  • Jin = Metal: gongs and bells
  • Tu = Clay: ocarina-like globular flutes
  • Bao = Gourd: various free-reed mouth organs
  • Ge = Hide: large drums
PIPA (琵琶)
  • Pronounced “pee-pah”
  • A.k.a Chinese lute
  • Most popular string instrument
  • 3’5” representing three powers: heaven, earth, man and Five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, earth
  • 4twisted silk strings represent four seasons
  • originally held horizontally plucked with a plectrum
  • name describes the plucking motion: pi forward, pa backward
  • now held upright on the knee and plucked with fingers
  • generally played solo
  • Listen

Pipamusic in Tang China: a painting by GuMinzhong (910-980 CE) that is now known as “Han Xizai entertains at night” (“Han Xizaiyeyantu”). The painting is a representation of musical parties in the home of the scholar-official Han Xizai (d. 970 CE). The story tells how Li Yu (937-75 CE), the ruler of the Southern Tang (937-975CE), sent the painter to investigate the private life of the scholar-official; the painter then reported what he saw in the form of the painting. Illustration 12: A female pipaist entertains Han Xizai and his guests. In its first section, the painting expressively captures a group of seven elite males and their four female companions attentively listening while a female pipaist plays a quxiangpipa.

pipa listening examples
  • Endangered music:
  • Pronounced “are-who”
  • A.k.a. Chinese violin
  • New during Tang Dynasty
  • 2 strings with horsehair bow fixed between
  • played vertically resting on lap
  • no fingerboard making intonation very difficult
  • Imitates human voice
  • wooden drum is the amplifier
  • Provided instrumental accompaniment in traditional dramas
  • Listen
erhu listening examples
  • Erhu listening: there is also video with this file!
QIN (琴)
  • Pronounced “chin”
  • A.k.a. Chinese zither
  • 7 twisted silk strings
  • playing it helped to cultivate character, understand morality, supplicate gods and demons, rid one of evil, enhance life, and enrich learning
  • Generally played solo
  • Players required to bathe before, have good manners, burn incense, and remain solemn and quite while playing
  • Meditation instrument to cultivate mind and body
  • Instrument of the scholar
  • Listen: Moon Over Mountain Pass
qin listening examples
  • Various qin recordings
  • Notice the names are very descriptive
  • Remember that Chinese music is largely programmatic in nature: it tells a story, paints a picture, or portrays a particular poem
  • Bamboo horizontal flute
  • An extra hole covered with thin membrane of reed gives it aslightly buzzing tone
  • Depicts joy
  • Listen
  • Various examples of dizi
SUONA (嗩吶)
  • Chinese oboe
  • Double reed
  • Heralds a bride’s arrival in Chinese weddings
  • Funerals
  • Commemorates abundant harvest in festivals
  • Imitates bird sounds
  • Homage to the Phoenix (BaiNiao Chao Feng)
  • Listen
  • Links to various suona recordings
  • Pronounced “shung”
  • Chinese mouth organ
  • 17 bamboo pipes set in a gourd
  • Sound is imitated by Western harmonica
  • Arrangement of pipes represent the folded wings of the mythical phoenix
  • Listen
  • Listen
XUN (埙)
  • Pronounced “shun”
  • Chinese ocarina
  • Egg-shaped
  • Clay vessel flute
  • Used most often in ritual music
  • One of the oldest Chinese instruments
  • Listen
moonlight on the ching yang river by yo su nan
Moonlight on the Ching Yang River by Yo-Su Nan
  • 0:00 - Introduction by pi-p’a
  • 0:12 - Hsaiojoins the pi-p’a
  • 0:24 - Erhujoins in and begins to play the melody
  • 0:58 - The melody repeats, all three instruments play variations
  • 1:38 - The melody repeats, with variations
  • 2:26 - The melody continues to repeat with variations
seated female musicians
Seated Female Musicians
  • Playing small copper cymbals, harp, clapping, and pipa
  • Highest ranked musicians played seated; less important stood
  • Ensembles of female musicians served as bridge between elite and popular cultures
  • Moonlight on the Ching Yang River and others