MUSIC IN CHINESE FAIRYTALE AND LEGEND

FREDERICK H. MARTENS
1922 The Musical Quarterly  
INTRODUCTION '"T^HE fairytale of every land and race is a protest against the I material, a denial of the commonplaces of existence. It expresses that yearning on the part of the human soulwhether imprisoned in a white, red, yellow or black bodily envelope -for the vistas of the fantastic and supernatural opening out from Keats' "magic casements." And musical allusions are of frequent occurrence in the fairytale, for music is the most imaginative, volatile and immaterial of the arts. The halls
more » ... he arts. The halls of the trolls, whose golden splendors are hidden within Norse mountains; the crystalwalled dragon-palaces beneath the China seas, all those spreading kingdoms of fairytale which escape the limitations of finite geography, have their music, a superlative of that of ordinary life. And, since all fairytales hark back to the primitive in mankind, as the phenomena of necromancy is their diurnal incident, incantation one of their most accepted forms of action, the unreal and the magical their familiar ambient, it would be strange were musicwhich is of magic origin-not often instanced in various connections in these stories man's imagination has devised to voice dreams and aspirations discounted by materialism. In their love for music as well as in the richness of their literature of fairytale, myth and legend, the Chinese are surpassed by no other race. The magic fiddle of German and Scandinavian fairytale, is paralleled by the green jade flute which the Princess Toys-with-Jewels (in the Chinese story of "The Fluteplayer") plays in her lofty Phoenix tower. And the heroines who sing in the fairytales of China, have voices every whit as well trained-according to the traditions of Middle Kingdom bel canto-as any we may encounter in the fairytales of Ireland, Hungary, Italy or Spain. The Jesuit missionary Pere Amiot, who was a capable performer on the clavecin and the transverse flute, who studied Chinese music and talked with Chinese musicians during his long stay in the country, toward the second half of the eighteenth [588] at University of Sussex on August 26, 2015 http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/ Downloaded from Music in Chinese Fairytale and Legend 529 century, tried to charm them by his performances of Rameau's les Sawaget and les Cyclopes, and the moat melodious flute compositions from Blavet's collection, but all in vain. He was told that The airs of our music pass from the ear to the heart, and from the heart to the soul. We feel and understand them: those which you have played for us do not produce this effect upon us. The airs of our ancient music were quite another matter; it was enough to hear them in order to be enraptured. The degeneracy from ancient musical tradition to which allusion is made in this remark of an eighteenth-century Mongolian music-lover is not, perhaps, to be taken too seriously. We may consider it one of those truisms of all contemporaneous criticism, which regrets the glories of a distant golden age whose perfection seems the more perfect the farther it recedes into the mists of legend and myth. No doubt but what, even at the period of the great Hoang-ti, who is supposed to have reigned 2700 years B. C, learned musicologists of his time shook their heads over the decay of their art, and sighed for good old times even more ancient, before the modernisms of their own day had tampered with the heritage of their ancestors. The standard of present-day Chinese popular music, the music of the streets, is musically as low as our own, and textually probably more objectionable in some respects, though it could not possibly be so in others. But there is temple music, there are occupational songs, and folk-songs in the truest sense, whichespecially in such Indo-Chinese lands as Annam and Java-are melodicajly quite lovely, even to our ears, though a rhythmic rather than a tonal harmony, the peculiarities of oriental vocal tone-production, and the exotic character lent by the use of the five-tone scale and bizarre instrumental timbres foreign to our ears, may obscure their charm. Then, too, with regard to Chinese music as alluded to in the fairytale, we must remember that all fairytale employs the superlative degree. Its jewels are larger, more radiant, than those of actuality, they are endowed with mystic properties and magic powers; its gold is the gold of enchantment, its springs are the fountains of youth, its medicines are productive of miraculous cures, its birds are rocs, its fishes human beings who languish beneath a spell, its beasts are werewolves and dragons. It is peopled by magicians, king's sons, heroes who are changed from beggars to possessors of untold wealth in the twinkling of an eye, by princesses of devastating beauty, by ghouls, at University of Sussex on August 26, 2015 http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/ Downloaded from 580 The Musical Quarterly vampires, ghosts, corpses that are quick, gods, fairies and phantasms. Hence the music spoken of in the Chinese fairytale is sweeter than that of ordinary life. Just as the fairytale in its most characteristic moments is raised to a plane of glamor and poesy far above earthly levels, so its music approaches the music of the spheres, has a subtler charm, a more eloquent loveliness than any springing from a purely mundane source. There is a sad little Teuton fairytale by Grimm called "The Singing Bone." It is the tale of a younger brother slain by his senior, who buried the body beneath a bridge which led over a stream. Years afterward a shepherd who was driving his flock across the bridge, saw a snow-white bone lying on the sand below, and thought it would make a good mouthpiece for his horn. So he whittled it into shape, fitted it to his horn and began to blow the latter. No sooner had he done so than the bone itself began to sing, to the shepherd's great astonishment, and told in its song the cruel and traitorous details of the murder. And again and again, when the shepherd put his lips to his horn, there came forth the song which denounced the fratricide, until it reached the king's ears, and brought about the punishment of the wicked brother. In essence there is only one Wunderhorn, one magic horn of fairytale, for all that its mouthpieces, which determine individual racial tone-color and quality, are many. Yet though it be by way of translation that we come to the Chinese mouthpiece which (as "The Singing Bone" is fitted to the shepherd's horn in Grimm's story) we here use for the purpose of giving an idea of the place occupied by music in the fairytales of the Middle Kingdom, its song is true to its own peculiar racial self, and its music not to be mistaken for any other. Music IN CHINESE MTTH Music, like so many other developments of Chinese civilization, has always had something of the immutable about it. It was systematized, crystallized in traditional forms, and, once fixed has seemingly been established for all time. Chinese theorists still classify musical sound according as it is produced by means of skin, stone, metal, clay, wood, bamboo, silk or gourd; they still retain the picturesque ancient names of the five tones of the scale: "The Emperor," "The Prime Minister," "The Subject People," "State Affairs" and "The Picture of the Universe." And we find numerous references to the celestial origin of music and at 532 The Musical Quarterly which so many maleficent examples occur in the literature of Greek and Roman antiquity, as well as in the modern tribal practice of peoples as remote from each other as are the negroes of the Congo and the North American Indians. In the white-jade palaces and the peach-gardens of immortality of Chinese myth, there is as much music to be heard as in the golden streets and temples of the Christian New Jerusalem; the divine Nu Wa, who first instituted matrimony, and also established the laws of music (is she credited with both accomplishments because, theoretically at least, they represent systems of purest harmony?), is, from a Chinese standpoint, quite as musical as Saint Cecilia. And of the Eight Immortals who dwell in the Chinese heavens, at least two are singers. One is' Dschang Go, reputed to have been a white bat before he turned into a human being, and acquired the hidden knowledge in primal times. When the Tang dynasty first came to the throne, Dschang Go appeared in various cities as a venerable white-bearded ancient, "with a bamboo drum on his back, riding on a black mule. He beat the drum and sang." Lan Tsai Ho, another of the Immortals, hung about the market-places in a torn blue gown and with but a single shoe, and sang a song of the nothingness of life. And in the story of the "Priest of Lauschan," in which a Taoist magician, at the request of his disciples, compels the Moon Fairy to appear, and dance and sing for them, "her voice was pure and clear as a flute." "Sky o' Dawn," a divine star-god who spent eighteen years on earth as the confidant of a Chinese emperor, ". . . . could whistle admirably. Whenever he whistled with full tones, long drawn out, the sun-motes danced to his whistling." And there is a Chinese fairytale called "Help in Need," in which a semi-divine princess, the daughter'of a Dragon-King, hard pressed by an unwelcome suitor of her own immaterial kind, appeals to a provincial governor for a loan of the souls of such of his soldiers who have fallen in battle, to aid her to withstand the hosts of her admirer. When they cannot make head against them under the ghostly leader who commands them, the governor burns incense before an altar, and lends her the soul of his best living general, whose spirit is thereupon translated to the city in which the princess dwells. The princess bids him to a banquet of honor:. "She sat there erect, surrounded by painted maid-servants of incomparable beauty. They plucked the strings and blew flutes . . . wine was served, and the meal was brought in to the sound of music." After he had defeated her foes, the distinguished captain's soul returned to the body which had been lying inanimate during the period of its at University of Sussex on August 26, 2015 http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/ Downloaded from at University of Sussex on August 26, 2015 http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/ Downloaded from J ictured all the conditions of the soul between immobility and movement, t sounded like talking and weaping. Ping Kung, in glad excitement, asked Kuang: "What is this mode called?" "It is called Tsing Schang" replied Kuang. "Tsing Schang is probably the saddest mode of them all," said Ping Kung. "Tting Schang is sad, indeed," replied Kuang,
doi:10.1093/mq/viii.4.528 fatcat:vszikows5nayzajusdzhwtgk64