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An Overview of Longmen Music

2013-05-13 16:24:36      Web Editor: Luo Chun

1. From court music to folk music

With the establishment of the ritual system during the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-771 BC), court music made it first appearance. It was purely ritual music performed for ceremonial activities and court meetings. The musical instruments in court music included the bell, drum, chime, and Zheng. Although there were pipe instruments such as the Sheng and reed, and string instruments such as the Qin and Se, bronze percussion instruments were mostly used. They looked impressive and sounded magnificent, so they were popular at ceremonial activities, celebrations, assemblies and court meetings ranging from morning sessions to banquets.

However, some considered court music was dull, rigid and devoid of artistic taste. After the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), music styles began changing during the Northern (AD 386-589 and Southern dynasties (AD 420-589), changes in musical style were inspired by the popularity of ethnic music. This popular music style, which came to be known as folk music, came from places such Xianbei, Chucha (Kuqa, Xinjiang), Kashgar (Xinjiang Kashgar), Xiliang (Wuwei, Gansu), and Gaochang (Turpan). Foreign music styles from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India and the former Soviet Union also influenced the evolution of folk music in China.

Clumsy bronze percussion instruments were gradually replaced by traditional folk music instruments, as well as pipe and string instruments introduced by ethnic regions of China regions and foreign countries. The artistic effect was enhanced due to the change of the musical content. Moreover, the musical instruments were easier to make and carry, so they could be played anywhere, anytime.

There are 14 musical instruments included in the Table of Musical Instruments of the Northern Dynasties in Longmen Grottoes, including four percussion instruments, four string instruments and four wind instruments. According to this Table, musical instruments made of bronze had already been replaced by light and flexible pipe and string instruments. Court music turned to folk music and the content of the Chinese orchestra was changed. The musical instruments preserved in the Longmen Grottoes are the historical proof of this significant change. The court music drawings in the Tomb of Yi, the king of Zeng in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), and the stone carvings of the Han Dynasty would never be reproduced again.             

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