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Discussion: Erhu Chant - Yu Hong Mei

Posts: 9

Post by Beagle March 27, 2007 (1 of 9)
Seow Lim,

Thank you for your review of this disc. It was on my Wish List, I ordered it yesterday.

Would you please share some more of your knowledge of this music? Can one say more than that the music is "traditional"? How old are the tunes? What dynasty or century?

Post by soundboy March 28, 2007 (2 of 9)
Beagle said:

Would you please share some more of your knowledge of this music? Can one say more than that the music is "traditional"? How old are the tunes? What dynasty or century?

Channel Classics' website has a relatively long description of the music on that particular SACD.

Beagle, please give your impression of this SACD when you get a chance to listen to it. I am a total newbie to traditional Chinese music, but was turned on to it by the SACD of "The River of Sorrow" (now out-of-print), which is another erhu-heavy title.

Post by Beagle March 28, 2007 (3 of 9)
soundboy said:
Channel Classics' website has a relatively long description...

Thanks, I extracted all the info I could from that source (and a few others). Apparently most of these pieces were composed (or at least arranged) since the 1930s; only one is anonymous. If Seow Lim doesn't mind the effort of writing in English, I would love to hear more of his 'insider information' as an erhu player.

There are positive reviews all over the internet, so I expect this disc will be most interesting (although I won't know for sure until early May).

Post by ramesh March 29, 2007 (4 of 9)
Chinese bowed lutes go under the generic name of hu-ch'in, or in Pinyin, huqin. 'Hu' stands for foreign, and 'ch-in' stands for 'stringed instrument' or 'lute'. Although the plucked lute is attested in numerous paintings from the Tang dynasty [ 600-900 AD ], the erhu appears nonexistent in art prior to the MIng dynasty. The bowed lutes probably originated somewhere in Central Asia. One theory for this is that the bows in these lutes have hairs which are inserted around the strings, ensuring that the bow cannot slip off. This is consistent with conditions needed for music to be played on horseback.

As the erhu is probably no more than a few centuries old, the music either is of recent origin, specifically composed for it, or adapted from older models.

The reason many pieces date to the 1930s is that the great populariser of the erhu was a musician called Liu Tianhua, who was active from the 1920s. Before this, the erhu was considered a peasant instrument. Liu composed pieces for the erhu as a solo, rather than as vocal accompaniment instrument. Because of the peasant origins of the erhu, it became a politically-correct instrument in Communist China, much as the literati-elite qin fell into disfavour. In a traditional Chinese orchestra, the erhu replaces the Western violin.

Post by zeus March 29, 2007 (5 of 9)
ramesh said:

Chinese bowed lutes go under the generic name of hu-ch'in, or in Pinyin, huqin. 'Hu' stands for foreign, and 'ch-in' stands for 'stringed instrument' or 'lute'.

You learn something every day. Thanks for the insight.

Post by Julien March 29, 2007 (6 of 9)
Ramesh, that was impressive!

I should have done that job...

Post by ramesh April 1, 2007 (7 of 9)
I just bought this. The notes on the erhu are from Wikipedia! Wow, I haven't seen notes from Wiki before, even on Brilliant Classics.
What an excellent idea for Punyversal downloads : sell concerts for download at MP3 bitrates, save on liner notes by referring consumers to Wiki.

It would've been useful for the Channel Chinese series to actually include a diagram of the instruments for those unfamiliar with them, with captions as to the points of interest in their construction.

Post by seowfun April 4, 2007 (8 of 9)
Sorry, Beagle. I didn't see this thread until now. Ramesh did a great job explaining the background of the instrument. I'd just do my best to add to it. Like Ramesh said, "Hu" stands for foreign, and usually refer to the grassland area (where horsemen live) in the northwestern China. That's where erhu came from. There're many erhu pieces that are related to "horse" because of their origin, but in this SACD, none of the music are related to horse.

Erhu is a two-stringed instrument (usually tuned to D-A), with a bow made with horsetails in between. The sound box is made of wood and a piece of snake skin. The shape of the box and the wood used determine the timbre of the instruments. Erhu has evolved differently in different parts of China. For example, the northern erhu usually has sharper pitch, while the southern erhu is smoother. Depending on the music played, the erhu performer may use different erhus to play them. There're other instruments in the hu-qin family similar to erhu, like gao-hu, pan-hu etc. Some have origins different than erhu.

In the early 20th century, the instrument is commonly used to accompany singers beside the street. Liu Tianhua is the first person to formally compose and arrange scores for erhu, utilizing his knowledge of western music theory. Thus, if I'm not wrong, there's really no music specifically written for erhu until Liu. I started learning erhu by playing some of the "etudes" he wrote for erhu.

In this SACD, the "Idyllic Tune" and "Birdsong" are composed by Liu. "Weeping" and "Bunch of flower" are rearrangements from music for Chinese woodwind instruments. "Grape" is a rather modern erhu piece.

"Moon" is probably the most famous erhu pieces of all time, written by a blind streetside erhu performer in the 1930s named Hua Yan Jun. This piece is also performed by the string orchestra of the Chinese National Symphony in the other Channel Classics recording. Hua also compose few other pieces for erhu and pipa (one in the Channel Ambush disc), which are outstanding.

"Shanmenxia" and "Ballad" were considered rather challenging pieces when I studied erhu 20 years ago. They are composed by Liu Wen Jin, who also composed the famous "Great Wall Capricio" erhu concerto.

Unlike pipa, which has been a traditional chinese instrument for years(thus have many traditional classical pieces associated with it, like those in the Ambush disc), most of the erhu music are rather new. Beside "Grape" and "Bunch of Flowers", which are relatively new, I'd consider the other pieces in this disc "classical" erhu pieces. I grew up listening to my dad playing "Weeping". It's a sad music :)

Post by Beagle April 4, 2007 (9 of 9)
Seow Lim,
Thank you. One of the charms of is hearing from "insiders": Music Label CEOs, recording engineers -- and musicians!