Listening Examples for Chinese Music CD

Music 250 Sound Cultures of the World


 [1] an example of Jiangnan Sizhu (Silk & Bamboo ensemble music) demonstrating heterophony.   The tune is played three times, each time at a different speed.  Note the high register, thin timbres, and duple meter.


[2] genre:  Jiangnan Sizhu; title:  Fan Instead of Gong.  (The title is a reference to pitch names and is unusually abstract.  Most titles of Chinese pieces make some sort of reference to nature, such as “The Autumn Moon Over The Han Palace,” “South Breeze,” “Ode To The Plum Blossom,” “Moonlit Xunyang,” “Brilliance Of Lanterns And Moon,” “Geese Landing On A Sandy Beach,” etc., or a story or an emotion, such as “Along the Strategic Pass,” “The Great Ambush,” “The Sorrow of Lady Zhao-jun,” “The Tears of the Imperial Concubine Xiang,,” “Longing for the Homeland,” etc.)
This music is organized in typical variation form with changing tempos, slow to fast. (6:55)


[3] genre: music for pipa; title: The Great Ambush; instrument: pipa.  Note the dazzling array of virtuoso, even noisy, effects.  The depiction of the violence of the battle requires a much greater pitch vocabulary than the simple pentatonic scale.  Performer:  Li Tingsong.  (8:27).


[4] genre: folk music re-worked for the ideological purposes of the Cultural Revolution, recorded in 1976.  Title: Commune Members Are Sunflowers.  Instrument: suona (or sona), and oboe (double-reed aerophone) with a flared bell.  (Duration: some might find this far too long)


[5] genre: music for qin.  Title: Meihua san nong (very rough translation – pieces on plum blossoms).  Instrument: qin.  Performer: Li Xiangting.  (2:30).   This is proper music that sticks to the proper (pentatonic) scale.  The term “qin” denotes both all string instruments in the generic way and this specific instrument, which is also known as the gu-qin, or “ancient string instrument.”  The term “qin” can also mean “instrument” or “resonator.”  A poet from the Tang Dynasty, Wang Wei, wrote of the aesthetics and proper mood for playing this revered instrument:


Sitting alone among the quiet bamboos,

I strum the qin and burst into song.

No one notices me in the lush green,

But for the moon that shines bright above me.


Three types of Chinese opera (jing ju) aria

[6] title: The Match of Spring and Autumn; narrative aria sung by the principal female actress (“blue gown”).  Note repetition of melody and heterophony.

[7] title: Waiting in the Fortress; a dramatic aria sung by a painted-face actor.  Note the very characteristic Chinese opera gong (cymbal).

[8] title: The Revenge; a lyrical aria sung by an old male role actor.  Note the supple voice and the expressive bending of pitch.  The basic tune is structured around a pentatonic core, but 2 additional notes are added.

Be able to identify these examples as Chinese opera.  It will not be necessary to recognize specific aria types on an exam.  Do remember that there are specific types of aria; that fact may give you an insight into the formalized nature of traditional Chinese culture.



[9] a demonstration of the some of the gongs and drums in the percussion section of a Chinese opera orchestra.  This is the “wuchang,” or “military instrumentation” part of the ensemble, as compared to the melodic “wenchang” or “civic instrumentation.”  Note the duple meter (4/4), the clarity of the texture and the crisp, syncopated rhythms.  Performance group: Thundering Dragon.  (3:47).




Heterophony – a texture in which two or more versions or variations of the same melody are performed simultaneously, often by different types of instruments.


Aria – a general term for a composition for solo voice, especially in opera; “song” or “air” are similar terms.