Saturday, March 16, 2019

Bronze Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng

This video can hear the sound of the set of bronze bells from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, unearthed in 1977 at Leigudun, Suizhou, Hubei province.  This recording was recorded in March 29, 1986.

Set of bronze bells:

- Since it is so costly to make, that only the wealthiest aristocrats could afford to own a set. 

- It is a fully melodic instrument, supplying all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, over a range of three octaves (a less dense scale continues for two more octaves). 

- Each bell with almond-shaped cross section (not including the middle bell at the bottom which was a gift from King of Chu) can produce two different fundamentals, depending on where the player strikes it. The center axis (front or back), or near the side (which the same pitch will be heard if the bell is struck at any of four symmetrically located points). 

- The two pitches are either major or minor third apart.

- Each bell's strike points have the names of the two pitches labeled with solmization syllables 唱名 (such as western's do or re, but in Chinese Gong or Shang 宮, 商 etc,. )  which is not the absolute pitches. 

- Longer and more extraordinary inscriptions on the other side of each bell relate its pitches to a series of named absolute pitches.

- The method of making set of bronze bells with accurate and required pitches is still unknown.
" 姑洗之下" 後面還有一個"角"字 This picture might
explain the picture below about this particular bells'
tone definition. 
Left: [正](1)   Right: [正](3)

Reference and photos: Music in the Age of Confucius, published in 2000 by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

Thanks to Juni L Yeung who commented: 
the inscriptions indicate multiple things. 1: the common names of pitches in multiple states: Zeng, Chu, and Zhou, Jin and Qi, and what that particular tone would act as in the case of different modes. It shows both absolute and relative pitch positions - across multiple systems.

What is particularly important in these names is the use of a previously unknown system known as the Zeng/Pu system, which accounts for not just the thirds of the sanfen sunyi system, but also just intonations of fifths.

Peiyou: Zeng/pu should be Zeng/fu

See 曾侯乙編鍾的音律體系

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