About this Recording
8.225844 - PLUM BLOSSOM MELODY - 4 Virtuosi Play Chinese Traditional Music (Fung Lam, Chun Bo So, Kuen Wong, Tak Wai Cheng, Hong Kong Virtuosi Folk Ensemble)
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Four Virtuosi Play Traditional Chinese Music


Four distinguished Chinese virtuosi have contributed to the present collection of traditional Chinese instrumental music. The pipe-player Lam Fung is joined by Cheng Tak Wai (sheng), So Chun Bo (zheng) and Wong Kuen (xiao and di) in solo and ensemble music.

The Pipa (Chinese lute) and Its Music

The pipa has a long history, although the instrument has undergone various changes over the years, since the first explicit literary references in the second century AD. The modern instrument is thought to be derived from a form of plucked instrument brought from Central Asia in the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386–534), differing from similar Han Dynasty instruments chiefly because of its pear-shaped body and reversed peg-box, comparable to that of the European lute, although a straight-necked form of pipa later developed. In its earlier form the pipa had four strings and four frets, later extended to five strings and became very popular during the Tang Dyasty (AD 618–907). There have been more recent changes in the form and technique of the pipa. The instrument was at one time played with a wooden plectrum, but nowadays is generally played with the fingernails, and there has been an increase in the number of frets up to a possible 24.

The pipa has a large traditional repertoire. Plum Blossom Melody, derived from a di piece under the title Qin-xi Melody, was originally for guqin (a form of Chinese zither), written in the Jin Dynasty (AD 1115–1234) by Huan Yi. The pipa version imitates to some extent the sound of the guqin, and here includes the ensemble of xiao, zheng and Sheng. Sound of Nature is a well-known suite for pipa composed during the Qing Dynasty (AD 1644–1911) and Song of the Lotus is taken from the collection Thirteen Grand Suites for the Pipa from the Northern and Southern Schools, arranged by Hua Qiuping (1784–1859), the reference in the title being to the divergent northern and southern schools of pipa-playing.

The Sheng and Its Music

The sheng (a form of Chinese bamboo mouth-organ) is one of the oldest Chinese instruments, referred to on oracle bones from the 12th and 11th centuries BC, in the Shang Dynasty, and as a popular instrument in the Book of Odes, a compilation of the sixth century BC. The instrument has again undergone various changes in different parts of China and is particularly popular among the ethnic minorities of the South West, an aspect exploited by some contemporary Chinese composers. The award-winning Phoenix Spreading His Tail, composed in the 1950s by Hu Tianquan and Dong Hongde, is highly characteristic, a reminder that the Sheng itself, with its usual complement of 17 pipes set in a calabash wind box or its modern substitute, is itself in the form of a phoenix. Love Song of Lang Qiang River and Festival of the Tong People are derived from the music of ethnic minorities in south-west China, where the form of Sheng known as lu-sheng is used as an accompaniment for traditional dances.

The Zheng and Its Music

The zheng or guzheng (plucked zither) probably originated in the Qin region of western China during the Zhou Dynasty and the period of the Warring States (from the 11th century to 221 BC). Its probable geographical origin in what is now Shanxi earned it the name qinzheng. The historical repertoire of the zheng is extensive, while more recent composers have added to this. Among them So Chun Bo, a distinguished performer, wrote in 1969 Man from the Devastated City, a work in three sections depicting the city, an attack by bandits and the resulting desolation. So Chun Bo took his Butterfly Lovers and Flowers from the art of ci (story-telling interspersed with songs and ballads), creating from it an evocative piece for the zheng. Candle Tears is taken from Cantonese opera, a song well known from the performance of the singer Hong Xiannu. The words of the song tell of the vicissitudes of life, the body trembling in the wind like willow-catkins, and the bonds of love easy to tie but hard to part.

The Di and Xiao and their Music

The xi (transverse bamboo flute) originally had the name heng-chui (horizontal instrument) to distinguish it from the popular zhi-di, the dong-xiao (played vertically). The transverse flute seems to have been a foreign instrument, allegedly introduced into China in the second century BC from Central Asia or Tibet, and used to encourage soldiers to battle. The southern di, known as qu-di, became part of the traditional accompaniment of kunqu opera, and the northern bang-di, with its higher register, took its name from its use in northern bang-di opera. The di differs from the Western transverse flute with the presence of a vibrating membrane that gives a special timbre to the sound of the instrument.

The ancient wind instrument, the dong-xiao, was once known as the chang-di (long di) and later as chuang-xiao, before it acquired its present generally accepted name. The distinction between di and xian seems to have emerged by the period of the Han Dynasty (BC 206–AD 220), to the earlier years of which the vertical flute is credited by some scholars. Suzhou Scenes is derived from a kun-qu melody with the colouring of jiang-nan music. Meditation is for dong-xiao, accompanied by the yang-qin (hammered zither). Melody of a hundred Birds is for di, accompanied by a small instrumental group, and allows the performer to imitate in a remarkable way the singing of many birds, using techniques that have suggested to Western composers new uses of the flute.

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