January 1, 2008, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Instrumental | Tags: , ,

JW over at Excavated Shellac has posted a great Cantonese Opera recording this week, so I decided to post some Chinese music that isn’t opera. Here are two records of instrumental music.What would Confucius play? The Guqin, a 7 string zither, is a very old instrument that was associated with philosphers and scholars, and played by Confucius 2500 years ago! The music is very different from the Chinese Opera we’ve been listening to, which is essentially folk music, while the Guqin played meditative art music. This was probably the first instrument to use tablature notation, some of it was written as early as the 12th century. Pretty amazing. A nice cd of old guqin recordings by Lo Ka Ping is available here.


>CHINA 3-1589a

The Sanxian is basically a banjo. It has 3 strings, usually tuned DAD, and a fretless neck. The lack of frets allows for all kinds of great slides and unusual intonation. It’s body is covered with a python skin. Sanxian is used throughout China and there are variations all over South East Asia.


>BEKA 22777


Blind Musicians from Shanghai. Sanxian player in the middle.


6 Comments so far
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Squirrelly Dave,
Nice stuff! The Sanxian looks and sounds a bit like an instrument in the Vietnamese group I saw this summer at the Smithsonian Fest (reflecting the wide distribution you mention). I’m fairly certain that guy was playing with some kind of pick – in the photo above it looks like the sanxian player has his fingers on the strings, no pick. So, question — was this just due to a non-playing portrait pose, or did they play these things with the fingers as well?

Comment by Scott P.

Thanks for checkin in Scott!
A good question about Sanxian picking…from my understanding most now play with a pick but at one time it was played with the fingers. Anyone who’s seen a Chinese pipa player knows what can be done with four fingers!

Comment by hajimaji

Hi David, I’m so excited to know your website come true!!Awesome!Fabulous! Your introductions and collections are invaluable!

To be honest, I like this part of instument the best, esp. those about Guqin. The music is a good example to explain traditional Chinese personality: keep and enjoy the status of being lonely, which is the way to find out the meaning of life from within.

Comment by Grace

The Beka record is the very well known “Guangdong Music” piece called Hungry Horse Shaking Its Bell (è mǎ yáo líng 饿马摇铃).

The label says it is a pipa performance, no mention of the sanxian. The pipa is the Chinese 4 string pear-shaped plucked lute. Also, the first of the two musicians named on the label is the pipa player and composer Hé Liǔtáng 何柳堂 (1872 -1934). The second musician also has the same surname He, who I guess is a relative as He Liutang was part of a family of musicians.

I’ve read about earlier Chinese musicians such as He Liutang for many many years and this the first time I’ve listen to their recordings, thanks.

Comment by huqinblog

The music on CHINA 3-1589a is another very well known piece, it’s the guqin piece Three Variations of Plum Flower (mei hua san nong).

I’ve worked out the player’s name is Pu Xuezhai (Pǔ Xuězhāi 溥雪斋), and amazingly I’ve just discovered that he was Puyi’s, (China’s last emperor) brother! Or at a cousin according to http://www.silkqin.com/08anal.htm, which has more info.

I think the record is no earlier than the late 1950s, as simplified characters are on the label.

Comment by huqinblog

I’m a scholar who do research of guqin. I’m so excited that I find Pu Xuezhai’s “Three Variations of Plum Flower ” here, but it is incomplete. Maybe you have a complete file? Could you also post it on the webpage, or mail a file to me?

Many thanks!

Comment by flowerwheels

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