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Chinese Early Music from Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Handbooks I

The music in this recital consists of John Thompson’s reconstructions from Ming dynasty silk string zither handbooks, in particular Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425) and Xilutang Qintong (1549). The compilers of these handbooks claimed that the melodies came from earlier sources, and historical evidence suggest that much of it was originally published or collected in the XIII century in Hangzhou, then the capital of China. Shortly after this the Mongols conquered China and the music was scattered. Further information on all the melodies is available on John Thompson\\\\\\\'s website, www.silkqin.com.

1. Almond Tree Pavilion (Chinese title: Xing Tan, published in 1549)

The Almond Tree Pavilion is in Qu Fu, the home town of Confucius (VI c. BC). He is said to have taught his disciples there. The melody is in 11 sections. The 7th is titled "The Sound of Reading Books", while the 10th has the following lyrics:

”Summer goes, winter arrives, spring turns to autumn;
Stars and sun set in the west, water flows east.
Generals who fought on horseback: where are they now?
Wild grass covers the flowers, filling the earth with gloom”

2. The Ancient Style (Gufeng Cao; 1425)

This melody (like #4 and #5 below) is one of the "Most Ancient Celestial Airs", a section of the handbook Shen Qi Mi Pu devoted to melodies so old that no one could play them any more, so the old tablature was simply copied out. According to the preface, "Its intention is to follow the purest ancient style of doing things, which is not to control them, and yet not have disorder; not to say anything and yet be believed; not to give instruction and yet to get things done."

3. Zhuangzi´s Butterfly Dream (Zhou Zhou Meng Die; 1425)

Zhuangzi, a near-contemporary of Confucius, is one of the most famous early Daoist philosophers. It is said that one day he awoke from what seemed like a dream that he was a butterfly. However, he was not sure whether in fact he had dreamed being a butterfly, or now he was a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuangzi. The melody is said to be an ancient one revised by the famous 13th century qin player Mao Minzhong.

4. Wine Crazed (Jiu Kuang; 1425)

This melody is attributed to Ruan Ji, a famous drinker of the IV century CE who, according to the preface, "So he forgot about the anxieties of society (by putting them) out of his mind and body; he made it his goal to rely on his enjoyment of being tipsy in order to enjoy his whole life".

5. Withdrawing from Society (Dunshi Cao; 1425)

This melody concerns Xu You, a legendary recluse. When the emperor offered to pass the throne to him Xu You said he had everything he needed, so why would he want to be emperor? He was so offended by the suggestion that he washed his ears out and withdrew further from the world. An interesting characteristic of the musical mode is that, although it is largely pentatonic, is uses a flatted mi (3rd) as well the natural mi.

6. The Male Phoenix Seeks His Mate (Feng Qiu Huang; 1549)

This is a suite beginning with a one-minute modal preface (“No Matchmaker Mode"), followed by a two-minute introductory melody (Linqiong Melody), then the main melody in 10 sections. The lyrics, in sections 3 and 8, were said to have been sung by Sima Xiangru (179-113 BC) while visiting the home of a wealthy merchant in Linqiong. His daughter was so entranced by the song that she eloped with Sima Xiangru. The father at first disowned her, then relented. Sima Xiangru subsequently became a famous poet in the capital. The lyrics are as follows:

A. (sung during section 3)
”This male phoenix has returned to his old home,
from roaming the four seas searching for his mate.
Time was not yet ripe, there was no way to meet her;
then what a surprise: this evening I come up to this hall,
and there\\\'s a dazzling maiden in the women\\\'s quarters.
The room near but she far: this poisons my guts.
How can we entwine our necks like mandarin ducks?
How can we flutter about, and together soar?”

B. (sung during section 8)
”Lady phoenix, lady phoenix: come with me and nest,
be supported, breed with me, forever be my wife,
exchange love in the usual way, our hearts harmonious:
at midnight if you follow me who will know?
Our wings together will rise, fluttering as high we fly.
If your are unmoved by my feelings, I will be miserable”

Short Break

Part II

XXIV International Festival ORIENT et OCCIDENT 10 - 13 October in Tartu & Tallinn


 The monument of G. Hackenschmidt


Taiji Yang style trainings 


FA Schola presents:
CD "Music from the Time of Marco Polo"


FA Schola presents:
CD "The Sound of
Medieval Flute"