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
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.