About this Recording
8.225839 - Pipa Recital: Liu, Dehai (Liu Dehai Plays Pipa Favourites)
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Liu Dehai plays Pipa Favourites


Born in Shanghai in 1937, Liu Dehai began to study the Chinese flute first at the age of 13, taking up the pipa four years later. His parents were not musicians but they encouraged his interest in music and the arts by taking him to the opera and the theatre, experiences which certainly helped to accelerate his artistic development. He graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in 1961 and from then on, he performed to critical acclaim in over thirty countries.

Liu divided his time between performance and teaching. Apart from playing pipa solo at the Central Philharmonic Orchestra, he also taught at the Central Conservatory of Music, followed by China Conservatory, and visited schools and universities, giving recitals and demonstrations on the playing of the instrument.

Although Liu was on a crusade to save China from a full-scale invasion by popular music, he himself was not really a traditionalist. In the 70’s and 80’s, he made a major contribution to the development of the pipa by applying Western-style fingering techniques which had greatly expanded the instrument’s range of expression. As a result he was sometimes criticized by the “old guard”, who believed that traditional music should be preserved in its original form.

He has made a number of recordings in China. The best-known recording in the West is certainly the Little Sisters of the Grassland Pipa Concerto, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa.

The Chinese pipa, a four-stringed plucked instrument, pear-shaped and with a fretted fingerboard, was assimilated into Chinese music during the period of the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386–534), although the group of plucked instruments to which it belongs has a more ancient connection with Chinese music. The technique of playing the pipa, as it has developed over the centuries, is complicated, involving over seventy different technical elements, which can, nevertheless, be subsumed under the following six headings (1) single-note technique, (2) double-note technique, (3) chord technique, (4) sustained-note technique, (5) finger-grouping technique and (6) special technique. Until the period of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) the instrument was generally played with a plectrum, but since that time it has been customary to use the fingernails, whether natural or artificial.

The earliest music for the pipa seems to have been introduced into China in the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties, between AD 386 and AD 489. The earliest Chinese music that can be traced for the instrument dates from the Sui Dynasty and the earlier years of the Tang Dynasty, in the seventh century AD. Documents, however, bear a much later date, from the Ming or Qing Dynasties (AD 1368–1644 and AD 1644–1911 respectively). Teaching of the instrument was always practical rather than written, so early scores cannot be found, although a system of character-notation for pitch was developed during the Tang Dynasty.

Liu Dehai is generally regarded as the leading pipe player in China today. He has included here five pieces regarded as traditional and four further pieces of provincial or religious provenance. Of these the five traditional pieces are very well known. While the original of The Flying Petals is unknown, it appears in Yang Yinliu’s a Album of Elegant Sound (1929) as The Flying Embellishment, the similarity of sound of the two final characters accounting for this discrepancy. Either title would suit the music, which is, as usual in Chinese music, descriptive in nature. Birds on the Shore bears a title used for a guqin piece written down during the Ming Dynasty. The wild goose was traditionally supposed to serve as a messenger, a role it enjoys in some Chinese operas, and therefore, as a form of homing pigeon, symbolizing nostalgia. Autumn Moon in the Han Palace has the same title as a well-known example of music from Canton, which is probably derived from the present work. It describes the bitter feelings of a group of girls in the palace in the Han Dynasty.

Ambush on All Sides and King Chu Doffs His Armour are two well known pieces in Northern style, probably identical with the Chu Han pipa music mentioned in a document of the Ming Dynasty. Wang Youding, in his Pipa Album of the Tang, explained the music as relating to the war between Xiang Yu of Chu, and the rival leader Liu Pang, founder of the Han Dynasty. The first piece describes a scene of battle, pitching camp, dividing the camps, drums, signal trumpets, cannons and so on, followed by the sounds of the ambush and battle, the suicide of the ruthless Xiang Yu, the triumph of his rival and final retreat of the vanquished. The second piece, King Chu Doffs His Armour, follows a different sequence of events. Drums lead to pitching camp, counting the soldiers, organising the army, planning, setting out, battle, fighting at Gaixia, Chu song, farewell, sounds of war, sudden attack, pursuit of the enemy and returning home.

Chaozhou and Guangzhou both belong to the Guangdong Province, but are different in character. Chaozhou music has its own local and historical position and is well known for its characteristic two-four verses and unique melodic and modal system, with the so called light three-six and strong three-six scales, live-five scale, and so on. The music of Guangzhou and the Zujiang River has its own special flavour, and the well-known Zhaojun in Exile is identical to the famous Canton music The Sorrow of Zhaojun, depicting the sorrow of Zhaojun who was compelled, and for reasons of state, marry a barbarian prince.

Liu Dehai includes here a new arrangement of Tao ritual music for the dead, under the title In Memory.

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