Enjoying the Flowers: Chinese Music & Drama
The Gang-a-Tsui Ensemble of Taiwan
Look at related items in our online collection to learn more about the symbolism of the music, the instruments played in this recording, and the dancers in the photographs.
The plum blossoms evoked in the third piece are central to Chinese poetry and art. Two paintings show plums blossoming in winter (Magpies, Sparrows on Snowy Plum Flower Tree and Plum Blossoms), while two others show scholars in the long-standing practice of seeking out plum blossoms in the mountains (Searching for Plum Blossoms while Riding a Donkey and Two Riders Searching for Plum Blossoms). (Search our online collection under "plum" for additional Chinese paintings, ceramics, and calligraphy.) Because they appear only briefly during China's harsh winter, delicate plum blossoms came to symbolize purity of character, courage in the face of adversity, the transience of beauty, and the rebirth of hope. They gradually evolved into a metaphor for the impoverished scholar and recluse from society, and even an emblem of the nation as a whole.
The pear-shaped lute heard in this recording is a form of the pipa, an instrument adapted from central Asian lutes that arrived in China around the sixth century via the Silk Road. A sixth-century sculpture shows central Asian musicians from Silk Road cultures performing on several instruments, including a proto-pipa. A fourteenth-century hanging scroll shows musicians performing on pipa and panpipes for a Buddhist divinity. And the pipa is invoked in an eighth-century poem that commemorates a famous first century B.C. concubine who was married off by the emperor to a central Asian king, much to the emperor's later regret.
A courtesan plays an end-blown flute (xiao), similar to the one on this recording, in a seventeenth or eighteenth-century painting on silk. An eighteenth-century hanging scroll depicting the Rainbow Dance features a side-blown flute. The music for this dance is thought to have been brought from India and presented to a Tang dynasty emperor in the eighth century. A female drummer accompanies the dancer.
Our collection includes other depictions of Chinese dance, including the colorful mortuary costume; a stone sculpture of a female dancer in procession with three musicians from the tenth or eleventh century; and a fourteenth-century hanging scroll of an Indian or central Asian dancer attending a Buddhist divinity.
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