Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ancient China BianZhong 編鐘 Chimes

The 65 bronze chimes from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (433 B.C.) ( 曾侯乙; pinyin: Zēng Hóu Yǐ) are considered as one of the most fortunate discoveries in China archeology.

The tomb contained the remains of Marquis Yi of Zeng. Zeng was a minor state subordinate to its powerful neighbor, Chǔ-State, during the Warring States Period.

In 1981, a less well-preserved and smaller tomb was discovered about 100 meters away, containing the remains of a woman related to Marquis Yi. This tomb contained a less extravagant set of 36 bronze bells and other musical instruments.
The most famous discovery at the tomb is the large set of B
ianzhong 編鐘, which required a cast of five members to be played, and were struck with wooden mallets to produce music. The bells are two-toned, producing two distinct tones when struck at the center or the side; this property is enabled because the bells have an almond-shaped cross-section. The bells cover a range of five octaves. The collection also contains a non-matching bell, a memorial to Marquis Yi from King Hui of Chu State, recording King Hui's rushed trip from the west to create the bell and attend the Marquis's funeral during the 56th year of King Hui's reign; the inscription on the bell dates the event to 433 BCE. The bells were inscribed with music notations that detailed the relationship among the pitch standards of Zeng, Chu and Zhou
Other musical instruments in the ensemble include stone
chimes. Various string instruments were also discovered in the tombs, including the twenty-five stringed se, ten-stringed qin and five-stringed zhu.

Due to favorable conditions of tomb preparation, soil, and soon natural water filling, the bronze of the bells survived fully intact.

A unitary ensemble of 65 bells, with 130 discrete strike tones, was excavated in a fully preserved state 1978 in the Chinese province of Hubei from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng from 433 B.C. The ensemble's tuning system could now for the first time be determined by applying exclusively empirical methods. Only pitch data, hanging order, and tone names on the bells were considered. The results show (1) a norm tone of F4 ~ 345 Hz (ca. F4-20 Cent, re modern A4 = 440 Hz), (2) a six-tone standard scale of D-E-F-G-A-C with F#, G#, A#, B, C#, and D# as accidentals, and (3) a third-oriented tuning with equally tempered fifths (~696 Cent) in the series C;G;D;A;E.

Two-tone bells were common in China between 1200 and 200 B.C. After that the advanced know-how to cast them was lost, and it could not yet be fully recovered in our days. The bells have an eye-shaped cross-section and vibrate in one of two modes, depending on where they are struck. A strike in the middle of the front makes frontside and backside vibrate as whole units and produces the lower tone sui. A strike between the middle of the front and a side edge makes frontside and backside vibrate as two units each and produces the higher tone gu. If struck correctly, both tones are fully independent, each with its own fundamental and harmonics.

Quality and timbre of the two tones are fully compatible, and they are both marked by tone-name inscriptions on the bells. Thus, both were intended to be used in musical practice. Of the 33 bells in the melody section of the Zeng ensemble, 21 have a sui-gu interval of a minor third (mean 312.4 Cent, SD 13.8), 10 have one of a major third (mean 403.1 Cent, SD 18.1), and two have apparently mistuned ones with 244 and 342 Cent .

The 65 Zeng bells prove that about 2500 years ago the Chinese had fifth generation, fifth temperament, a 12-tone system in musical practice (not just in theory), a norm tone for an orchestral ensemble, an integration of fifths and thirds in tuning, and a preference of pure thirds over pure fifths. At this point in history, China was 2000 years ahead of Europe, not only in bell casting, but also in musical acoustics. One may hope that replicas of ancient Chinese bells that match the quality of the best originals can soon be made, and that appropriate mallets are used to play them. One may also hope that musicians will then make full use of the Gamelan-like potentials of large bell ensembles, as those from the Marquis Yi of Zeng.

The collection that I aquired ten years ago was the Chimes from Eastern Zhou period.( About 771 BC-221 BC ) The set consist of Seven Chimes.

I have another collection from the Warring States.( About 453BC-221C ) The set consist of Thirteen Chimes.
Another set of my collection come from Eastern Zhou period. But this is a miniture set which is identical to the Marquis of Yi Zeng's Chimes. ( About 453BC ) The set consist of 21 chimes. It is also one of my favorite.

Most of these chimes have Bronze Oracle Inscription.

Several sets of Bianzhong were imported to the Korean court during the Song Dynasty. Known in Korea as pyeonjong, the instrument is still used in Korean court music. A similar instrument in Japan is called the Hensho.

I will upload these chimes when I have these photo taken.

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