China, Spain cel­e­brate an evening of an­cient court mu­sic

China Daily - - LIFE - By FANG AIQING fan­gaiqing@chi­

It’s com­mon these days to see Chi­nese and West­ern mu­si­cians work to cre­ate mu­si­cal pieces that com­bine el­e­ments from both gen­res.

And while this type of mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion was rare in the 17th cen­tury, it was not un­heard of.

Yet, thanks to the ef­forts of Diego de Pan­toja, a Span­ish mis­sion­ary who had been in China since the end of the 16th cen­tury and es­tab­lished cul­tural re­la­tions with the court of the Em­peror Wanli (1563-1620) dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), the prac­tice was pi­o­neered.

Pan­toja brought with him the first for­eign in­stru­ment with a key­board to the For­bid­den City and demon­strated to the court the mu­si­cal art of play­ing the clavi­chord.

It was from this time on that West­ern in­stru­ments such as the clavi­chord, spinet, or­gan and harp­si­chord be­gan to ap­pear in the Chi­nese im­pe­rial court.

And as a trib­ute to Pan­toja, a pro­gram of mu­sic com­posed dur­ing the 16th to 18th cen­turies was staged in Beijing re­cently.

The con­cert took place in a tra­di­tional Chi­nese wood-and-brick build­ing in the style of a tem­ple, lo­cated in a bustling hu­tong in the city’s Dongcheng dis­trict.

With its red pil­lars lin­ing the in­te­rior, the build­ing dates back to the Ming Dy­nasty and was once the site of an im­pe­rial print­ing work­shop.

Seven Span­ish mu­si­cians, with the women dressed in qi­pao and men in Chi­nese suits, played a pro­gram that blended the West­ern baroque style with tra­di­tional Chi­nese mu­sic.

The mu­sic was once played to the Chi­nese im­pe­rial court in the For­bid­den City dur­ing the Ming and Qing (1644-1912) dy­nas­ties.

The mu­si­cians played West­ern or­ches­tral in­stru­ments in­clud­ing the vi­o­lin, harp and vi­o­lone, along­side typ­i­cal baroque in­stru­ments such as the lute and harp­si­chord — as well as the Chi­nese in­stru­ments, the erhu, dizi, sheng and guzheng.

The in­stru­ments mixed har­mo­niously and, in some pieces, the melody was ac­com­pa­nied by an aria, which was com­bined with the singing styles of tra­di­tional Chi­nese Kunqu Opera.

The mu­si­cians were from two sep­a­rate bands. One is called To­dos los Tonos y Ayres, which spe­cial­izes in the re­search and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of early Chi­nese mu­sic, as well as the mu­si­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Im­pe­rial China and the West.

Ac­cord­ing to Ruben Gar­cia Ben­ito, one of its two mu­si­cians, the band took up an­cient Chi­nese mu­sic in 2012 when they were liv­ing in Beijing. Since then, they have re­turned to China for a few weeks ev­ery year to learn more about Chi­nese in­stru­ments at the Shang­hai Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

They wanted to pop­u­lar­ize the mu­sic with Span­ish peo­ple be­cause lit­tle is known about China’s thou­sands of years of mu­si­cal his­tory in the coun­try.

The other band tak­ing part in the con­cert was the Iliber En­sem­ble, a cham­ber mu­sic group that spe­cial­izes in per­form­ing baroque mu­sic us­ing an­cient in­stru­ments.

The two bands started work­ing to­gether on the project a year ago. Ac­cord­ing to Ben­ito, the reper­toire of the con­cert was de­signed to fol­low Pan­doja’s path from Spain to Ma­cao and then on to Beijing.

Most of the mu­si­cal pieces were re­dis­cov­ered at li­braries and mu­se­ums, among which, the sonata pieces by Teodorico Pedrini were found in the Na­tional Li­brary of China.

Ben­ito says that he has been look­ing into dozens of aca­demic pa­pers, not only about Pan­toja, but also about the lives of mis­sion­ar­ies in the Chi­nese im­pe­rial court.

The con­cert at­tempted to high­light the links and dif­fer­ences be­tween the Chi­nese and West­ern styles of mu­sic. “The ori­gins of pro­duc­ing mu­sic might have been the same, but then the Chi­nese and the West went off in two dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, with uniquely beau­ti­ful re­sults,” says Ben­ito.

The con­cert, which was part of the 18th Meet In Beijing Arts Fes­ti­val, was jointly held by the Cer­vantes In­sti­tute in Beijing and the Span­ish em­bassy to China to com­mem­o­rate the fourth cen­te­nary of the death of Pan­toja.

In the early 17th cen­tury, he wrote a let­ter from Beijing to the Bishop of Toledo in Spain, giv­ing a de­tailed in­tro­duc­tion to life in China, in­clud­ing de­tails of its ge­og­ra­phy and econ­omy, as well as the coun­try’s his­tory, re­li­gion and pol­i­tics.

The let­ter was be­lieved to rep­re­sent the most com­pre­hen­sive and ob­jec­tive un­der­stand­ing about China by a Euro­pean na­tive at that time.

“Pan­toja was a key fig­ure in help­ing the Span­ish to learn about Chi­nese cul­ture,” says Al­berto Carnero, the Span­ish am­bas­sador to China.

“It was due to his ef­forts that Span­ish peo­ple be­gan to de­velop a di­rect knowl­edge of China.” Carnero says.


Span­ish mu­si­cians in Beijing give a con­cert that com­bines an­cient Chi­nese mu­sic with West­ern baroque mu­sic.

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