Saturday, March 11, 2017

Early Chinese Music Resources: Ming
compiled by David Badagnani (rev. 24 December 2019)

In an effort to make this repertoire more accessible, this document contains resources related to the known surviving pieces and songs from China's Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Links to scores are highlighted in blue.  Links to recordings and videos are highlighted in pink.
Links to textual sources are highlighted in green.


Guqin handbooks
During the Ming Dynasty many qinpu (琴谱, handbooks for the guqin, or 7-string zither, which is also called qin) were published (in woodblock-printed form), although a few of these survive only in hand-copied form. These contain scores for qin qu (琴曲, qin pieces), some of which include paired lyrics and so are called qin ge (琴歌, literally "qin songs"), along with explanatory and/or instructional text. Of these, approximately 47 survive to the present, comprising approximately 405 different pieces, many of which exist in multiple versions.

This huge volume of material, which is difficult to summarize, is covered thoroughly by U.S.-based guqin player and scholar John Thompson on his website, which includes many translations and transcriptions as well as analysis:

Specific pages from John Thompson's website that provide an overview of the extant Ming-era qin pieces are as follows:

Pan Gong Liyue Shu Pan Gong Liyue Shu 《頖宫礼乐疏》 is a book in ten volumes on the subject of Confucian ritual and music by Li Zhizhao (李之藻, c. 1565 or c. 1571-1630), a late Ming Dynasty scholar-official and convert to Roman Catholicism from Hangzhou. It was published in 1618, the 46th year of the Wanli Emperor (万历帝, r. 1572-1620).

Full text of Pan Gong Liyue Shu:

Weishi Yuepu The Weishi Yuepu 《魏氏乐谱》 is a collection of Chinese yanyue (palace entertainment music) pieces compiled by Wei Hao (魏浩, courtesy name Wei Ziming, 魏子明), a music scholar of Chinese heritage, in Nagasaki, Japan in 1768, during the Edo (Tokugawa) period, which was also the 33rd year of the reign of the Qing Dynasty emperor Qianlong. This music is believed to have been in use in the imperial court in Beijing in the late Ming Dynasty (early 17th century). The collection comprises 50 tunes that include vocal pieces with texts from the "Shijing" (Confucian "Classic of Poetry") and Han Dynasty yuefu, as well as poems from the Tang and Song dynasties. These tunes were originally in the possession of Wei Shuanghou (魏双侯, courtesy name Wei Zhiyan, 魏之琰), a palace music master of the late Ming Dynasty who fled to Nagasaki, Japan upon that dynasty's fall in 1644. Wei Shuanghou's fourth-generation descendant Wei Hao, who prepared the "Weishi Yuepu," was a Chinese music specialist employed by the Tokugawa court. At that time in Japan this style of music was called Mingaku (明樂 / みんがく, literally "music from the Ming [Dynasty]"). Wei Hao selected the most important tunes out of a collection of more than 200 pieces and had them printed in 1768. The collection includes a broad array of scores for various wind, string, and percussion instruments, which are grouped into eight distinct modes.

The collection's contents are as follows:
1. 《江陵乐》 2. 寿阳乐
3. 杨白花
4. 甘露殿
5. 蝶恋花
6. 估客乐
7. Dunhuang Yue 敦煌乐
8. 沐浴子
9. 寿(无疆词)
10. 喜迁莺
11. Guan Shan Yue 关山月
21. Youzi Yin 游子吟
23. Yangguan Qu 阳关曲
25. Cai Sangzi 采桑子》 (Picking Mulberries)
37. Wan Nian Huan 万年欢
40. Qian Qiu Sui 千秋岁
41. Shui Long Yin 水龙吟
50. 齐天乐

Facsimile of the Weishi Yuepu:
Full text of the Weishi Yuepu:

Video of a performance of pieces from the Weishi Yuepu:


Ming-Era Reference Works

Ming Shi 明史》 (The History of Ming)
The official history of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Ming Shi was completed in 1739 (actually during the Qing Dynasty).  It is one of the Twenty-Four Histories (二十四史).


Ming-era poems about music



Lam, Joseph S. C. "The Yin and Yang of Chinese Music Historiography: The Case of Confucian Ceremonial Music." Yearbook for Traditional Music, vol. 27 (1995), pp. 34-51.
● Lam, Joseph S. C. State Sacrifices and Music in Ming China Orthodoxy, Creativity, and Expressiveness. Albany: State University Press of New York, 1998.
Picken, L. E. R. "The Musical Implications of Chinese Song-Texts with Unequal Lines, and the Significance of Nonsense-Syllables, with Special Reference to Art-Songs of the Song Dynasty." Musica Asiatica, v. 3 (1981), pp. 53-77.

Thanks to Alan Lau and John Thompson for assistance with this page.

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