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January 9, 2009

The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music

China's becoming a heavy player on the world stage again. Hyper-productivity, pollution, big brother, olympics, even their contemporary artists are attracting world-wide attention. It's not the first time China's been big: when Europeans were all living in huts and clubbing each other, China had a vast empire with thousands of years of written history, musical tradition, and scientific/philosophical development.

Though some of this music is thousands of years old, it sounds like it could have been written tomorrow. I'd say the Chinese discovered evocative dissonance about 2000 years before western composers did. You can bet John Fahey or Robbie Basho or any other western orientophile guitarist would have wet themselves to hear this stuff. It's esoteric blues and tone poems and narrative dramatic music, all wrapped in one. The evocative titles are brought to life through the dynamic interplay of tone, texture, melody, and movement instilled in the music.

This is traditional music played by the old masters of it (who were alive before the revolution), recorded at the end of their lives. Though there are some contemporary players with just as much (or more) virtuosity, the real tradition pretty much ended with these guys (I assume).

from Celestial Harmonies:

the project
Chinese classical music is a much larger field than Western classical music. It covers a huge geographical area as well as a time frame of thousands of years. Although some of China's musical instruments have changed very little in hundreds or thousands of years, others were adapted to Western standards under the influence of Russian musicians during the middle of this century. In some cases, frets were added to non–chromatic instruments and tonalities standardized. The liner notes of The Hugo Masters: An Antholgy of Chinese Classical Music (19901) contain extensive documentation of the various instruments used in Chinese solo and orchestral music, with descriptions of their history and modifications, as well as an essay to help Western listeners understand the background of Chinese classical music.

The instruments fall into four categories, each constituting a separate compact disk: bowed strings, plucked strings, woodwinds, and percussion. These disks are available individually or as a collector's series in a beautifully designed silk boxed set.

The music itself is highly varied and richly emotional. The music paints pictures of China's people, their culture and homeland, and their dreams and their despair. The Hugo Masters is a joint effort of the Hugo and Celestial Harmonies labels to bring this definitive anthology to listeners worldwide. This is the first time these recordings have become available to audiences outside of Hong Kong. For listeners unfamiliar with Chinese classical music, these works are a powerful and emotional awakening.

the artists
The Hugo Masters is an impressive collection which contains the treasures of China's vast musical tradition recorded and documented to the highest standards. It appeals as much to the casual fan of world music as to the serious student of Chinese music.

The name refers to the Hugo label of Chinese musician, producer and engineer Aik Yew-goh. This extremely talented young man spent years recording China's old master musicians, capturing their virtuoso talent with his scrupulously high quality recording techniques. In some cases, it was a last chance to gather such recordings.

China's classical music comes from an oral tradition, a tradition discouraged and very nearly wiped out following the 1911 Chinese Revolution. Mr. Aik searched the continent for musicians who were alive before the revolution and were still able to pass on their formidable knowledge.

The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music
Year: 1995
Label: Celestial Harmonies
4-CD Box Set

Disc 1: Bowed Strings

1 Night Thoughts 6'27"
2 Spring Morning in Suzhou 6'29"
3 Stroll of New Town 2'21"
4 Little Piece of Henan 4'44"
5 Listening to the Pines 3'28"
6 Crescent Moon at Dawn 4'57"
7 Zhong Hua Liu Ban 4'53"
8 Flickering of Candles 5'26"
9 Market Gathering 4'37"
10 Rains Patterning at Plantain Leaves 4'26"
11 Lament of Zhaojun 5'33"
12 Beautiful Scene of Spring 3'15"
13 Xiaoyao Ferry 9'44"

dance with the inhabitants.
mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 98mb

Volume 2: Plucked Strings

1 Ambush 7'09"
2 Like Waves Against Sand 4'12"
3 Sword Dance 6'47"
4 Moonlit Night of Stone Forest 5'09"
5 Petrel 6'13"
6 Beyond the Great Wall 10'36"
7 The Deafening Song of Chu 6'15"
8 High Mountains and Flowing Water 5'12"
9 Homeward Prose 4'01"
10 Parting at Yangguan 5'00"
11 The Broken String Effect of Zheng 0'55"

the real vol.2.
mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 96mb

This is Volume 2 of a 4-volume set. It's available from Celestial Harmonies, which is a great label for all sorts of eastern music. I highly recommend the other volumes if you like this one. [edit: having mistakenly uploaded the wrong album (vol.1), I uploaded the real vol.2. But I left vol.1, 'cause it's too good to take down. so lucky you. i've got the other two volumes... perhaps if Celestial Harmonies writes me to let me know how many people this blog has turned on to their music, I'd feel ethically ok about posting them...]

And yes, if you listen closely and do some homework you might get the information needed to figure out who plays on the Mystery CD.


Anonymous said...

I have to hand it you Irate Pirate this exactly why I enjoy your blog. We both have eccentric interest in music others rarely take notice of. I have to say what a unique posting. I can't wait to hear it later. I have all these 78 rpms recordings of world music. I need to sort through and put something up eventually. As, for Blind Cat West goes, he is taking a rest for now, but will be back sometime with some exciting lost treasured tunes. Thanks again for sharing and stop by often.

Joski said...

Hello Brother

I am happily surprised by this.I love it very much.

A long time ago (when I was in Ireland, of all places) I heard what the radioman called "Chinese Tea Music". I fell in love with these sounds ever since.

Thanks a lot

. said...

Ooooooo, many thanks. You don't happen to have any sheng music do you? I have a slightly busted instrument that has been breaking my heart for 10 years now, but have never gotten my hands on any recorded sheng music. Sorry for the request, you do too good work for that sort of behavior, perhaps more of an inquiry.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the music. But this link don't work: "Invalid" says Mediafire.

The Irate Pirate said...

i just tried the link and it seems to be working fine.

Bucket of Lies, by 'Sheng' do you mean the chinese zither instrument also known as "Zheng"? I do have some of that (there may even be some on this disc, in addition to the pipa)

Anonymous said...

The current link most certainly points to volume 1: bowed strings. Don't get me wrong, it's great, but it's not what it says.

The Irate Pirate said...

ah, silly me. here's vol.2, plucked strings:

Northing said...

Never been to Ireland, but have noticed shreds of melody and harmony that sound quite similar to these and other Chinese pieces. Hard to get my Western mind around some of the arrangements, but there's no denying the orchestral power and the heart-stopping percussion.

Anonymous said...

first have to thanx a lot for all those beautiful stuff taken
as Bumkuncha made post about your finish with blogging,
the more enjoyable just seeing there about new activity here again.
Looks interesting this Chinese collection, so will check it out.
Thanx in advance

. said...

Oh, just saw your reply. Sadly, no, the Sheng is the great granddaddy of free reed instruments, a multipipe mouth organ. When I was on your side of the atlantic there was usually a sheng player in parisian or london street performing circles.

They sound amazing, are a bitch to maintain, and apparently pronounced Soong.