Marquis Yi's Bells and Warring States music
Posted 03 September 2006 - 08:25 PM
Bells from Marquis Yi's tomb, Wuhan.
Marquis Yi's tomb is located at Suixian county of Hubei Province. The pit of the tomb has a measurement of 21m long, 16.5m wide, and 13m deep with a total area of 220 sq.m. It has four chambers: north, east, central, and west. Marquis Yi and a large number of music instruments and weapons were buried in the eastern chamber. The central chamber was decorated as a royal ceremonial hall with a set of bronze bells still hanging on their rack and bronze ritual vessels neatly arranged in rows. The northern chamber resembles an armory with a large number of weapons, chariot trappings, helmets, and armor. Besides Marquis Yi's coffin, there are 21 smaller coffins occupied by young women between the age of 13 to 25. Eight of the coffins were placed in the eastern chamber, and the other thirteen were placed in the western chamber.
Excavation of the 64 bronze bells
Posted 03 September 2006 - 08:51 PM
Background and History
In the summer of 1978, in China's central Hubei Province, archaeologists discovered significant Warring States period (474 - 221 BC) tomb. The tomb, which dates back more than 2400 years, belonged to a high-ranking noble, a certain Marquis Yi, of a small kingdom called Zeng. Among the nearly ten thousand relics unearthed were more than 120 musical instruments. The majority of these instruments were found arrayed in a central chamber of the tomb. There was a full set of bianzhong-chime bells, a complete set of bianqing-chime stones, and an assortment of other instruments: drums, chi-flutes, qin-zithers, se-harps, sheng-pipes, paixiao-pan pipes, and di-flutes. The fully intact set of sixty-four bronze bianzhong-chime bells was of special interest. Not only was it a physically impressive, exquisite work of art, it was, moreover, the earliest example in China of an instrument of such broad ranbe employing a chromatic scale with a set pitch. The ancient bells were delicately inlaid in gold filigree with intricate dragons and inscriptions, documenting music theory and the precise instrumentation of ancient orchestras over two thousand years ago. Each bell is capable of producing two distinct musical notes. Their design, with a twelve tone scale and a tonal range beyond that of most contemporary instruments, requires a theoretical grasp of physics, engineering, and musical acoustics formerly thought to have evolved only in the late 18th century.
Discovery of Marquis Yi's "music chamber," and the chime bells in particular, generated further research into early Chinese music and ultimately inspired a program of music and song based on some of that research. The Imperial Bells of China is a unique program revolving around the bianzhong-chime bells, created and performed by the Hubei Song and Dance Ensemble.
The Imperial Bells of China recreates what is known of the music and dance of the Chu, a powerful kingdom in the south during the Warring States period. By the time of Marquis Yi, Chu had subjugated the state of Zeng. All evidence, including that found in Marquis Yi's tomb, indicates that Zeng was dominated by the Chu culturally as well as politically. The influence of Chu on Chinese culture was considerable and long lasting. This was ensured, in part, by the fact that many members of the ruling elite of the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), China's first major imperial dynasty, hailed from the region which formerly had been Chu.
One of the challenges confronting composers was the lack of music scores from that time. Composers consulted music for the guqin (an ancient form of zither) which had survived. They studied fold music of the region (Hubei Province) --a legacy of Chu which seems to have endured with little departure from its predecessor of many centuries ago. The instruments themselves provided clues about the range, tonality, and harmonics of music in that time. Lyrics for the vocal music are taken from two of the oldest collections of ancient Chinese poetry, Shijing (The Poetry Classic) and Chu Ci (songs of Chu). In order to acquire a sense of the original rhyme and rhythm of the poems, composers studied local dialects in Hubei Province as well as reconstructed phonologies of ancient Chinese of that period. Repeating the lines of poetry over and over again according to approximations of the ancient phonetics, they developed a sense of original aural effect and a deeper sense of the spirit of the work, which they then translated into musical form.
1. Heroic Air of Chu 5:09
2. Bianzhong-chime Bell Sol0 3:56
3. For Those Fallen For Their Country 7:34
4. Concert of the Eight Tones 13:43
5. Collecting Mulberry Leaves 5:00
6. Cultivating the Land 2:49
7. Chamber Music 7:17
8. Music of the Chu Palace 10:43
Posted 04 October 2006 - 12:54 AM
"Wait for the wisest of all counselors...Time"
- Pericles, 5th century BC Athenian statesman and strategos
Posted 31 December 2006 - 04:05 PM
Sample of music on a 22 meg zip-file at www.megaupload.com
Play list for this zip-file includes the following songs:
1. Heroic Air of Chu 5:09
2. Bianzhong-chime Bell Sol0 3:56
5. Collecting Mulberry Leaves 5:00
8. Music of the Chu Palace 10:43
if you want to hear the other songs, you can purchase the complete cd at Amazon.com.
Posted 31 December 2006 - 05:21 PM
According to Robert Temple, on Marquis Yi’s bells “The bases and warrior figures included in the supports together weigh over 150 pounds. The largest of the bells alone weighs over 100 pounds. It is believed that five performers were needed to pay the set. As for the notes of the bells, forty-seven of them produce two notes with major third internals. Each bell bears a lengthy and meticulous inscription describing precisely what notes it gives forth, how they fit into a scale, and how that sale relates to other scales employed by other feudal states of the period” (198).
Creating these bells was a major achievement. They were precise and large. No Western bell was larger than two feet high until about 1000 CE. Temple also describes the possible complications that make bell-casting difficult:
“The Achievement of the ancient Chinese with regard to bells was a truly remarkable feat of early technology. Even today, the proper tuning of bells is considered difficult and highly intricate. To manufacture a bell giving out a particular sound, one must consider the proportions of metals in the alloy, the elasticity and thickness of the material, the specific gravity, the diameters at different points, the contours of the curves, the temperature at which the alloy stands when it is poured, the rate at which it cools, and so on. Even when all these things are considered, the resulting sound still may not be right. It is common to have to file bells down in places in order to improve their sounds. Apparently, few ancient Chinese bells show signs of filing.” (200 – 201)
Bells used as the measure of quantities—lengths, volume, and weight.
Bells during the Warring States period were not exclusively created for musical purposes. They were used to establish to establish weights and measures. Since they have a similar shape, metal grain scoops evolved into bells, and in turn, people continued to use bells to measure grain. A standard of length was derived from the bells pitch by using the Chun (Jun in Pinyin), which was a seven foot long stringed tuner. The pitch of the bell would be matched with the stringed tuner, which would then be measured, thereby giving a specific length. (Temple 199)
Later, the use of bells to measure grain was replaced by using a set of twelve pitch-pipes. Again, according to Temple, “An imperial history for the first century BC reveals how ‘The basis of the linear measure is the length of the Huang-chung pitch-pipe [which gave the fundamental note]. Using grains of medium-sized black millet the length of Huang-chung is ninety fen, one fen equal to the width of a grain of millet. . . . Using grains of medium-sized millet twelve hundred grains fill its tube. . . . The contents of one Huang-chung tube, i.e. twelve hundred grains of millet, weigh twelve chu [half an ounce].’” (200)
Temple, Robert. “The Genius of China: 3000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention.”
Singapore: Prion, 2005.
Posted 16 January 2007 - 05:42 PM
Our understanding of ancient Chinese musicology was enhanced in 1978 when Chinese archaeologists uncovered the 5th-century B.C. tomb of Marquis Yi of the ancient state of Zeng, in Hupeh province. Lavishly furnished and virtually undisturbed, its 7,000 funerary objects allowed unprecedented insights into late Chou aristocratic culture. The tomb’s four wooden chambers, though filled with water, yielded an astonishing number burial objects, including bronze ritual vessels, musical instruments, weapons, horse-and-chariot ornaments, lacquer ware, gold, jade, and wooden and bamboo articles.
The tomb became famous for what was discovered in the central chamber, arguably the most spectacular surviving example of an orchestral collection of musical instruments from the ancient world. The 125 instruments included two types of ancient stringed zithers; wind instruments such as pan pipes, a reed mouth-organ, flutes, and percussion instruments, including sets of stone chimes, bronze bells, and a large drum.
Similar instruments were known to be from China’s Bronze Age but the magnificent set of 65 graduated bronze bells (bian zhong), ranging in size from 8 inches to 5 feet, was unprecedented. The smallest bell weighs 5 pounds, the largest 447 pounds, for a total of 2 tons. The bells were found perfectly intact, neatly suspended on their massive wooden frame after 2,400 years of burial. On loan from a private collection, the set of bronze bells on view in Sacred Sounds dates to about the same time as the Marquis Yi bells.
This Chinaculture site also more information about the bells:
Zeng Houyi Bells
It is the largest set of bronze bells excavated in the world. It comprises 65 bells in various sizes, with each bell producing two different tones when struck. There are three levels, with the smallest bells suspended on the highest level and the largest ones on the bottom section. The bells cover roughly 5 octaves and the middle 3 octaves produces 12 semitones each. There is an inscription on each bell that records events, musical theories and the sound the particular bell products. From historical records and other materials, it is concluded that there are probably five performers involved in the playing of the bells, with two standing in front of the set playing the larger bells with long poles and three behind playing the smaller bells with smaller sticks.
The bell right in the centre of the lowest level and not suspended at an oblique angle was a gift from king Hui of Chu to Yi, the Marquis of Zeng State, as recorded in the inscription on it. The inscription also states that the bell was cast in the 56th year of the reign of King Hui (433BC), the year of the burial of Marquis Yi. The State of Zeng was a vassal state of Chu and was under the same cultural sphere.
Length of longer side 748cm, Height 265cm
Length of shorter side 335cm, Height 273cm
Total weight 5 tons
Here is a picture of the bell given to Marquis Yi from the King Hui of Chu (image taken from this site: http://depts.washing...ae/tmarmain.htm):
P.S. Don't forget to listen to the music from the link on previous post!
Posted 05 August 2007 - 08:52 AM
The closest we may ever come to the actual performance of actual ancient Chinese music is a few pieces preserved in Korea. Ritual music, supposedly from the Zhou Dynasty, is called ("A-ak") (雅樂) ("Elegant Music"), which was brought to Korea in the 12th Century. It sounds "out-of-tune" to ears used to modern music, which is probably how most truly ancient music would sound to us. The other form of ancient Chinese music imported to Korea is called "Tang-Ak" (唐樂) ("Tang Dynasty Music"). The most famous piece still performed by the Korean Court Orchestra is known as "Springtime in Luoyang" (洛陽春). It is beautiful and sounds quite archaic. There is a CD of this music, easily obtainable through amazon.com, if you are interested in the subject:
You can also hear samples of the music there.
Posted 26 April 2010 - 08:59 AM
I realize this thread is years old, but it's still pretty high on the list if you run a google search on Marquis Yi of Zeng. I'm hoping some people out there will reply! Thanks to all for the links. I was really pleased to be able to hear the modern bianzhong replica in action.
Due to a seriously hectic schedule, I only managed to grab about 45 minutes in the Hubei Provincial Museum when I was in Wuhan last week. I was desperate to copy down the info on the wall about how the bianzhong bells were tuned but made it as far as the first three pitches before I had to leave! Does anyone know anything about the tuning system? I tried to email the museum, but since I can't read Chinese characters yet I didn't have much success.
Thanks to Jake Holman for his post - I'm listening to that CD right now and it's quite amazing! I'd like to learn more about this. How was the supposed Zhou dynasty music brought to Korea? Was it an aural tradition that 'migrated' or was there some sort of treatise?
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