Sunday, March 1, 2009

Confucius Not Only Said It, He Played It on the Zither 2

Most of the instruments on display come from a tomb of the Marquis Yi, found by Chinese soldiers in 1977 when they were leveling a hill as a site for a factory. The instruments are borrowed from a museum in Hubei, China. So said this is the first time they have been displayed in a musical context.

Confucius had definite ideas about what music ought to be. "Get rid of the tunes of Zheng," he is quoted as saying. "The tunes of Zheng are lascivious." The Zheng area lies just to the south of Lu, Confucius' home state. A later chronicler, who So says may have been using his imagination some, told of a Chinese king who was fond of licentious music. "He assembled a large company of musicians and actors at the Shaqiu garden," says the account, "filling a pond with wine and hanging up meats to make a forest. He caused men and women to disrobe and pursue each other through this scenery, as part of a drinking feast lasting long into the night."

A costumed musician, Mei Min Su of the local Chinese Music Society, played more recent Chinese music for visitors before the official opening, on a zither like one from Confucius' time. The marquis apparently had two sets of musicians: one for public ceremonials, which emphasized percussion instruments, and a smaller, more intimate one with strings. Chinese authorities considered his ceremonial set of 65 huge bronze bells too precious to leave the country. Inscriptions on them identify the notes they produce on the Chinese five-tone scale. So far as scholars can find, it took nearly another thousand years before actual tunes were written out, Su said. In one chamber of the tomb archaeologists found an elaborately lacquered double coffin with the body of a middle-aged man, presumably the marquis. Eight smaller coffins contained the skeletons of eight young women.

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