Erhu - Chinese violin or fiddle
Chinese two-stringed bowed instrument
An introduction with sound samples [Czech] [Polski]
A brief introduction of
Liu Tianhua and Abing
Two great masters who are responsible for making the Erhu a solo instrument.
Liu Tianhua (1895-1932):
Though died very young, Liu Tianhua is one of the greatest composers in Chinese history. He is also renowned for the reformation of the ehu. He has profound knowledge about Chinese traditional music, being able to play several instruments such as erhu and pipa. He also studied western music and played the violin. He composed three pieces for pipa and several other pieces for erhu, all have become master pieces of classical repertoire. He made great contribution in improving the sound quality of the erhu, and composed music for it such that this beautiful instrument, which used to be folk instrument that accompany singers or local operas before his time, has become a solo instrument. Liu Tianhua was a great educator, being professor of music at the Peking University. He was active in the reform of China's society of his time, and was friend with some of the pineers and great thinkers who have helped shape the modern history of China.
Music samlpe on youtube.com
Abing (1893 -1950): His real name is Hua Yanjun, being blind street musician living in the most terrible period of wars and misery, his profound knowledge about traditional music, his great talent as musician and one of the greatest composers in Chinese history all went unnoticed until the last year of his life in 1950, shortly after the establishment of People's Republic of China, two musicologists went to his hometown Wuxi with a recording machine to record his music. At that time he was already very sick, and didn't play music for almost two years. Finally he was persuaded to play some. In the end, only three pipa solo and three ehu solo pieces of his own compositions were recorded. All are now master pieces for the traditional repertoire. It is said that he had a repertoire of over 700 pieces, most of them are his own compositions.
Abing was born in a Taoist family. His father was a renowned musician playing mainly Taoist music for various ceremonies. Abing hat has great music talent and learnt to play several traditional instruments, among them, the erhu and pipa were his preferred. He learnt from various master musicians of his time, and was able to improvise, and composed his own music. Later on, his became blind and reduced to street musician. But he was not beggar, and indeed different from the beggars. In fact, he never begged. He lived on his music, though with very little resources, and mostly in misery, but the local people loved his music. He played erhu standing or sometime walking. People knew that Abing was coming when they heard the particular erhu sound. He played traditional tunes, and mostly his own compositions; he improvised music with words telling stories and news, criticizing the government. For this he was often punished by the local Guomingdang goverment. Today, almost every body knows his name, because his music, though only six pieces of them have been preserved, is heard in every where in China. Some of them have been arranged as erhu concerto with orchestra, such as the first demo piece below "The moomlight reflexting on the second Spring", performed by one of the finest erhu soloist, Song Fei.
Erhu is a kind of violin (fiddle) with two strings which, together with zhonghu, gaohu, sihu, etc, belongs to the "huqin" family. It is said that its origin would be dated up to the Tang dynasty (618-907) and related to the instrument, called xiqin originated from a Mongolian tribe Xi. During Song dynasty (960-1279), the instrument was introduced to China and was called "Ji Qin". Soon the second generation of the huqin was among the instruments played at the imperial banquets. During the Dynasties of Yuan (1206-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), the erhu underwent a great development at the time of the golden age of the local operas. The erhu then developed in a different "schools". Two famous artists Hua Yanjun (1893-1950) and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) made an exceptional contribution to the improvement of the erhu, and it was indeed due to the latter that the erhu, an instrument mainly for accompaniment in an opera, becomes a solo instrument. After the foundation of People's Republic of China (1949), the manufacture of the erhu, the playing techniques, the repertoire as well as the musical education of this instrument have undergone an unpresidented development. The repertoire has grown rapidly in the genres of solo, with ensemble as well as concerti with symphony orchestra. Erhu now has become one of the most popular instruments in China.
The sound body of the erhu is a drum-like little case usually made of ebony or sandalwood and snake skins. It usually has a hexagonal shape with the length of approximately 13 cm. The front opening is covered with skin of python (snake) and that of the back is left open. The functions of this case of resonance are to amplify the vibrations of the strings. The neck of the erhu is about 81 cm long and is manufactured with the same materials as the drum. The top of the stem is bent for decoration. The two strings of the erhu is usually tuned D and A. The two tuning handles (pegs) are found close to the end of the stem. There is no frets (as contrast to the lute) or touching board (as contrast to violin). The player creates different pitches by touching the strings at various positions along the neck of the instrument. The strings are usually made of silk or nylon. Nowadays, metal strings are commonly used. The bow is 76 cm long and is manufactured of reed which one curves during cooking, and arched with horse hair in the same way as the bow of violin. However, in the case of erhu, the horse hair runs between the two strings. In another word, one cannot take off the bow from the instrument unless one of the two strings is taken off or broken.
The posture which the player must adopt to play the erhu is the same as that adopted for the other kinds of huqin: the left hand holding the fiddle and the right hand, the bow. The erhu is put on the lap vertically, the left hand moves vertically to touch the strings for the right pitch while the left hand (with the bow) move horizontally to make the sound. The Erhu is mainly a instrument for melody in a sense like voice. The left hand slides up and down the instrument while fingers pressing the strings to create desired pitch and "sliding" effects. The right hand pushes the horse hair against this or that string while moving horizontally, to create the sounds on either of the two strings. Occasionally some musicians hold the instrument with the help of a rope, in the same way as for saxophone, in order to play standing or walking. However it doesn't look elegant with the sound body pressing against the belly of the performer and the stem of the instrument pointing up and outwards. Therefore, the musicians normally play sitted unless it's absolutely necessary. In the old days, street musicians often used this method in order to play while walking. Today, in some pop or rock bands, musicians use this method of playing in order to act on the stage.
The erhu sounds similar to human voice, and can imitate many natural sounds such as birds and horse. It is a very expressive instrument, most well-known for playing melancholic tune, but also capable of play merry melody.
The erhu often plays an important role in the national orchestras. In the smaller orchestras, there are usually 2 to 6 erhu, in larger ones, 10 with 12. In fact, the erhu plays the same role as the violin in the Western orchestras.
Traditional style: Erhu solo composed by Sun Wenming. Performer: Song Fei Erhu and orchestra: adapted from the famous "Moon's shadow on the Erquan" originally composed by A-Bing for erhu solo.
The same piece as the above, but different performer. Both are fantastic musicians, but different personal styles.
Perfprmer: Sun Huang
Pop style: this recording was adapted from the original composition of Wang Liping for the theme music for the TV series "Red Chamber Dream" (Classical roman by Cao Xueqin). Performer: Hu Hong
- An introduction to Chinese traditional music - classical tradition and folk tradition
- Erhu - information from www.wikipedia.com
- L'armonie - un essai sur pipa et guzheng par le musicologue Lucie Rault, 2006.
- "What is the defining characteristics of Chinese classical music that you convey in your music" - Interview by Paula E. Kirman.
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