THE T'ANG AND SUNG DYNASTIES
|Next listen to the tape, Side 1, which presents music played on the Ch'in, an ancient Chinese instrument that was a symbol of learning and signified that its possessor was a scholar or a philosopher, but not necessarily a musician. Historical chronicles allude to Confucius' having played the Ch'in, but also that it was a common object of the scholar's study in the Sung Dynasty. A picture of the instrument can be seen in Rowley, Plate 8, at the left, where one of the court ladies sits on a rock, holding the long, rectangular instrument on her lap as she plays. The instrument is fretted and has seven (originally five) strings, but two of these merely repeat the primary five tones as it is plucked. It is tuned to the pentatonic scale and emits a fragile, delicate tone as a means of evoking a mood that expresses a subtle range of feelings.|
Listening to the Ch'in will not be easy for the Western listener, for Asian music differs from that of the West in almost every respect. But one must understand that the structure of Asian music is founded on a long, rich tradition, that while different from that of the West, is equally valid and logical, though unfamiliar.
While the scale in Western music has a pitch range, or octave, divided into twelve notes, each of which is a half-tone apart, the scale in the East is divided into twenty-two, seven, five or four tones, so that when played, it sounds out of tune to the Western ear. The earliest scale in China was the five tone or pentatonic and in spite of numerous departures, it has persisted as the fundamental basis of tonal structure.
Harmony, the simultaneous combination of sounds of different pitch, has been of primary importance in the West, but it is not used to any great extent in Eastern music, for here melody is all important.
Rhythm, in the West, is a succession of heavy and light accents, but in Eastern music it is the addition of short and long notes frequently double and quadruple in time, as a simple two beats to a measure has provided sufficient variety to satisfy the Chinese ear. Thus Eastern music has a rhythm that is not of motion, but of symmetry and rest with a tone color that is augmented by the many percussive instruments which are used for the creation of a mood rather than for rhythmic complexity.
While Western music is played from a score or written notes created by a specific composer, Asian music is generally improvised within a conventional and rigid framework, or passed on from master to pupil. Thus composers do not have the significance in Asia that they have in the West and notation is used only as an adjunct to memory, not as a rigid system that must be followed by each player. Yet there is continuity for Eastern music, which is relatively resistent to change. While European music has undergone innovations in style almost from decade to decade and falls into periods of historical growth, Asian music shows little change in the course of centuries for tradition has been carefully preserved.
In China music has always played an important role as it has been connected with a view of the universe in which it had a casual part in man's relation to the world. Pitch and scale have been carefully regulated lest an error in their organization would bring about the downfall of the state. Music, as an art both mysterious and emotionally compelling, has been used to understand and to control the external world. According to Confucius, the ideal state is one in which the people are educated above all by rituals and music, which therefore did not function as aesthetic expressions alone, but as utilitarian disciplines. Music has been placed between the Heavens and the State. It took its laws from the cosmos and passed it on to the State.
The universe consisted of infinite time, infinite space, matter, energy and sound. Musical instruments and tones symbolized these five elements and by doing so, were largely responsible for transmitting cosmic order to the State through the people. Each of the five notes of the scale carried a weight of symbolism that connected it with a planet, a color, a type of matter, a direction, etc. If pitch and/or scale were not correct, the State would be thrown out of tune with cosmic unity. And this is what was supposed to have happened at the downfall of a dynasty. In consequence, a new emperor would always order the retuning of the instruments.
From earliest times music was sung with poetry and accompanied by an instrument. It also flourished in an instrumental form with players assembled into orchestras which included singers and dancers. Poetry and music were thus united and the existence of a poem implied a musical setting. Thus the scholar-poet-painter was also involved with music, especially that played on the Ch'in.
|The selections on the tape are from the record, Exotic Music of Ancient China, a Lyrichord Disc, LLST 7122. The first selection is Yearning on River Shiang, which provokes nostalgic scenes of lost love. The second piece is The Flowing Streams, which is attributed to Yu Po-Ya, the greatest Chinese Ch'in player of the Ch'un Ch'in period (550 B.C.). The notation for the piece was handed down from the Taoist master, Chang Ko Shan, who made unusual demands of the player, whose rendition of the vivid melody compels the listener to feel as though he or she were floating in a small boat through a deep, treacherous canyon. The third selection is In Remembrance of an Old Friend, which presents a hermit alone in the mountains who reflects on his long separation from his best friend. Finally, The Elegant Orchid was purportedly composed by Confucius (550 B.C.) while travelling among the feudal princes whom he wished to convert to his ideology. As he was not successful, he returned to the Lu Kingdom, his homeland, via a desolate valley where beautiful orchids grew prominently among the wild flowers and grasses. He mused about the similarities between this scene and his own plight. Orchids, the flower of kings, intermixed with wild flowers in the way that the great scholars who had no audience with the princes had to speak among the commoners. This parallel between man and nature became the theme of this piece and reflects a Taoist attitude.|
|Listen to Side 1 of the tape. Note your reactions to what you hear. Then play a recording secured by you of music you generally listen to. Then write a comparison of what you hear. Think about the components of music: rhythm, melody, musical motifs, patterns of notes, rests, harmony, tonality, intervals of silence between sounds, etc. With these elements, you should have bases for a comparison. This will be the fourth part of your 15-page integrative essay.|