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Playing Pipa
written by Ingo Stoevesandt

Pipa music history

The first known Pipa scores appeared in Dunhuang, dated back the year 930. Most scores are parts of bigger collections, like the collection from Jiangdong from the year 1528. In the 19th century, several collections like the Hua Shi collection of 1819 opened up the Pipa music to a wider public acceptance and the instrument got more and more famous.
This walks hand in hand with the development of the instrument. Coming to China in three big waves, the Pipa represents a culmination of three different lute ideas: The drum like ancestor "Taogu" is sometimes referred to the term "Qin Pipa" and may be originating in old Mesopotamian instruments alike. The famous instrument of princess Zhaoyun, the first pearshaped lute, maybe originating from Afghanistan, and the third form called "Wuxan"reminds us strongly of the Indian "Veena" instruments.
It was in the year 617 when the term "Pipa" was used for a specified instrument the first time. In two more  epochal waves, the Pipa was redevloped to its actual form, this by adding additional frets and two more xiang (so it has two more than the Japanese 
Biwa).

Titles in the Pipa music

The Pipa music is often misunderstood as a programmatic style because of its picturesque titles. The first titles in Chinese music appeared in the Zhou dynasty (700 BC) and deal with the "timu", which are several themes or topics that are elaborated within the music, art or literature. Each of this "timu" can deal either with emotive topics ("shu qing"), historical topics ("shu shi"") or imagery topics ("shu shing"). The titles are categorized like in the Qin music (especially the Qin Cao, the first Qin music book with titles from the year 170) .
It was thousand years later (700) when the Pipa titles and music were categorized in the two chapters "wen" and "wu", which are somehow linked to the priciples of "yin" and "yang". These categories indicate if the title was composed during times of peace ("wen") or war ("wu") and do also charactize the music due to the usage of different patterns, some in a crying sound mode (wen, "ku yin") and the others in a happy sound mode (wu, "huan yin").  So far one can say the imagery in the Chinese lute music corresponds with the patterns used within.
All "wen" (civil) pieces show up stable metrics while the "wu" (war) pieces often show more free rhythm.
Today, also practical titles appear, like for example "dao ba ban" ("easy eight beat").
The deep link of the titles to the music one hears is not so easy to understand. It reffers back to the basic link of Chinese music to other art forms, most of all the calligraphy, but also to a philosophical understanding of making music.
This all affects the structure of the music and the artificial concept of the music performed, as we will see on the next page.

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