Top 10 Traditional Chinese Music

Chinese music is believed to date back to 3,000 years ago, when European music was just experiencing its first breath of life, a complete musical theory and sophisticated musical instruments already began forming in China. And since then a lot of famous classic Chinese music masterpieces appeared in different Chinese dynasties. Below are the 10 most famous traditional music pieces:

1.  High Mountains and Flowing Water (高山流水)

The tune originally was two separate compositions. Both were based on the legendary friendship between Guqin master Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi.  The music “High Mountain and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship in traditional Chinese culture. Although the piece usually performed today is not the same with that Yu once played almost 3,000 years ago, it still conveys the same idea – the magnificence of high mountains and the power of moving waters.

2.  Guangling Melody (广陵散)

“Guangling Melody” was originated from the Han Dynasty (221–207 BC). The content of “Guangling Melody” is an adaptation of the melody “Nie Zheng Assassinating King of Han”, which mainly told a sad story that a swordsmith’s Nie Zheng in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), killed himself after stabbing the king of Han Kingdom in order to revenge his father. The melody’s main part centers on the change of his feelings from hate to indignation, which profoundly revealed his unbending spirit to avenge regardless of violence.

3. Wild Geese Descending on the Sandbank (平沙落雁)

The melody was first found in “Gu Yin Zheng Zhong,” a music book published in 1634 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The piece features relaxing melody and seems to be unaffected by the unstable situation that time. The soothing melody can sweep over the sorrows of those who seek peace in their mind.

4. Plum Blossom Melodies (梅花三弄)

The piece “Plum Blossom Melodies” is often played with flute and lyre. The plum blossom is an important symbol in traditional Chinese culture. It represents the value of endurance as its fragrance “comes from the bitterness and coldness.” The song praise those with high moral integrity and unyielding courage tempered in the depth of experience.

5. Ambush from Ten Sides (十面埋伏)

“Ambush from Ten Sides” is a classical Pipa music. The piece describes the dangerous circumstances that General Xiang Yu was defeated in Battle of Gaixia and surrounded  by Liu Bang’s army in 202 BC. “Ambush from Ten Sides” is considered a masterpiece in Chinese classical music.

6. Flutes and Drums at Dusk (夕阳萧鼓)

“Flutes and Drums at Dusk” is a famous Chinese traditional music work. The song already existed  in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Its understated melody and peaceful atmosphere paint a tranquil scenery of gorgeous landscape in the countryside south of the Yangtze River. The song was later adapted to the famous music ” A Moonlit Night on the Spring River”.

7.  Dialogue between the Fisherman and the Woodcutter (渔樵问答)

“Dialogue between the Fisherman and the Woodcutter” is an ancient Chinese lyre music piece. The beautiful melody describes the dialogue between fisherman and woodcutter, reflecting the longing for a life of fishing and woodcutting, a reclusion life free of worldly affairs.

8. Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute (胡笳十八拍)

“Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute” are a series of Chinese music works created by Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) poet Cai Wenji. The music include 18 pieces, reflecting the Cai’s homesickness and his contradictory feelings that he could not bear the extreme pain of family separation.

9. Autumn Moon over Han Palace  (汉宫秋月)

This piece displays the lady-in-waiting in imperial palace who were in depressed and sad mood. The purpose of this music is to wake people’s pity toward them. The music can often be played with the musical instruments of  Erhu, Pipa, Guzheng, etc.

10. White Snow in Early Spring (阳春白雪)

“White Snow in Early Spring” is said to be composed by Shi Kuang of Jin State, or by Liu Juanzi of Qi State in the Spring and Autumn Period(770-476 BC). The music has fresh and smooth melody, bright and breezy rhythm, describes a vivid scene of early spring, when everything comes to life again after the long cold winter.

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