Classical Instrumental Music

There are increasingly many recordings of Chinese music. I have heard most of those produced in Europe or North America, and am starting to be able to hear those from China, Hong Kong & Taiwan as well. In the latter case, there is a large variety as well as some difficulty obtaining them, so I will concentrate entirely on the so-called literati music which is my priority.

Returning to more generally available recordings, many are orchestral of various types, and so of lesser interest to me. There are also some song recordings, but I have not explored those as much. Somewhat unusually, instrumental performance has long had a certain kind of pre-eminence in Chinese art music, as scholars of all disciplines were expected to become proficient in it.

Chinese music is basically pentatonic-diatonic, meaning that the basic pentatonic scale can be modulated within a diatonic context. The theory talks of 12-notes to an octave, but most of the compositions are overwhelmingly pentatonic with diatonic/chromatic passing tones. This is even more true of the traditional orchestral music than of the more intricate scholarly music which makes up most of this page. Generally speaking, the Chinese tunes with which many readers will be familiar are much simpler than most of what appears here.

Solo instrumental performance is the most serious musical genre, and will be emphasized here. The best performances should bring out harmony with one's surroundings, although at times a more aggressive tone is used. The intonation is very subtle, and generally similar to poetic recitation. The music itself is clearly designed to be an abstract complement to the highly-developed poetic genres, and bears similar titles. The prominence of poetry & the aphorism might help explain the restricted impact of vocal art music.

There are rather few classical compositions, although each instrument has its own repertory. Some of these repertories are several centuries old, and musicians add to them only slowly, especially in some areas. Therefore many compositions will be repeated from CD to CD, mostly for the same instrument, but sometimes versions exist for more than one instrument. Also, a performance by a musician from a different lineage will often bring out different facets.

I will especially emphasize qin music, and look to buy many such recordings. Now there are literally dozens available, of very high quality. The qin section is consequently large, and increasingly becomes a priority. In other areas, I intend to keep representative samples up to date, and would like to expand the lists in a few areas.