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Musical Heritage of China Celebrated in Metropolitan Museum Exhibition
Pipa. China, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), late 15th or early 16th century. Wood, ivory, bone, silk. L. 94 cm; W. 64.3 cm (37 x 25 5/16 in.) Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950. 50.145.74

NEW YORK, NY.- The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present an exhibition celebrating the musical heritage of China – one of the oldest continuously documented traditions with roots reaching back more than 8,000 years – beginning September 5. Featuring some 60 objects and illustrations – drawn largely from the Museum’s collections of Asian art and musical instruments – Silk and Bamboo: Music and Art of China will reveal the dynamic interplay of cultures, the continuity of musical practice, and the diversity of China’s musical traditions from the fifth century B.C. to the present.

This exhibition will display a wide variety of Chinese musical instruments and art, including a rare ivory-covered pipa (lute) and a lacquered qin (zither) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), extraordinary bells of the fifth century B.C., and a set of pottery figures in the shapes of dancers and musicians from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and Tang dynasty (618-907).

Some of these works of art are:

The qin in its present form, is the classic instrument in China, having been played continuously since the first century. It is the favorite instrument of scholars and the literati, and thus occupies a special place in Chinese culture.

Prince Lu (active first half 17th century) of the imperial house of the Ming dynasty had hundreds of this instrument made. Of these about a dozen (genuine ones) are known, of which the one in the Metropolitan Museum, dated 1633 and numbered 18 in the series, is the earliest on record. On the back of this qin is a twenty-two-character poem that reads:

The moonlight is being reflected by the river Yangzi,
A light breeze is blowing over clear dewdrops,
Only in a tranquil place
Can one comprehend the feeling of eternity.
[signed] Jingyi Zhuren

The word pipa describes the plucking motion of the right hand: pi, means "to play forward" and pa, "to play backward." The pipa descends from western and central Asian prototypes and appeared in China during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220). The back of this extraordinary pipa is a regular pattern of 110 hexagonal ivory plaques, each carved with a Daoist, Buddhist, or Confucian symbol. The pipa remains one of the most popular musical instruments in China today.

This small bronze bell was played at sacrificial rituals in the Shang dynasty (16th-11th century B.C.). It represents the sophistication of bronze casting and music making of ancient China. The lentoid shape of the bell allows it to produce two notes at an interval of a major or minor third, depending on where it is struck – in the center of the side or half way between the center and the edge.

Seated Musician
This marble figure would have been part of an ensemble of Central Asian musicians performing in the capital city of Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) of the Tang dynasty (618-906). The transverse flute was an integral component of Central Asian music of the time.

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