Chou Wen-chung

Qin (ch’in)


Two illustrations of ch'in (Chinese zither) technique.I believe calligraphy is the foundation of all artistic expression in China and that qin music is the essence of Chinese musical expression. Both have influenced me deeply.


Qin stop positions.It [The qin] is also the most characteristic of Chinese music. Over one hundred symbols (chien tzu (jianzi)) [sic] are used in its finger notation for achieving the essential yet elusive qualities of this music: subtle inflections in the production and control of its tones as a means of expression. They indicate the articulation and timbre of either a single tone or a series of tones; they specify the occurrence of variable microtones between fixed scale tones; and they control the rhythmic and dynamic organization within each tonal aggregate.

Qin notation from Yu Ko. To make this clear, let us examine a short characteristic phrase in Yü Ko by Mao Min-chung (c. 1280). In the score, this phrase is indicated by a single chien tzu (jianzi), which, in this case, denotes only one excitation of the string. Consequently, the changes in pitch and timbre are achieved during the decay. The finger technique involved may be described briefly as follows: as the right middle finger pulls the string inward, the left ring finger glides up quickly from the whole tone below the given note. At first, it glides very lightly, barely touching the string; then, when the finger is just less than a semitone below, it glides more firmly, pressing down on the string. This is referred to as “hiding the head (of the tone)” and is described as “flying seagull touching down.” Once the finger reaches the given note, it pauses to ring out the tone, which should be “as pure as a pond in autumn, as bright as the clear moon, as resonant as waterfalls, as remote as echoes in a valley.” Then the finger again quickly glides up to the whole tone above and back “like a gust of wind.” It then glides down to the whole tone below and executes there a broad and accentuated vibrato, which is described as “the cry of a monkey climbing down a tree” and is expected to sound as crisply as “pearls rolling in a bowl.” Afterwards, the finger glides back to the given note once again, when the decay as well as this transitory musical expression of a “single tone” is completed.

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