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Modern History Sourcebook:
Père du Halde:
The Manchu Emperor and Chinese Music, c. 1680

THE Chinese like the European music well enough, provided that there is but one voice to accompany the sound of several instruments. But as for the contrast of different voices, of grave and acute sounds, they are not at all agreeable to their taste, for they look upon them as no better than disagreeable confusion. They have no musical notes, nor any sign to denote the diversity of tones, the rising or falling of the voice, and the rest of the variations that constitute harmony. The airs which they sing or play upon their instruments are got only by rote and are learned by the ear. Nevertheless, they make new ones from time to time.

The ease wherewith we retain an air after the first hearing, by the assistance of notes, extremely surprised the late emperor. In the year 1679, he sent for Père Grimaldi and Père Pereira to play upon an organ and a harpsichord that they had formerly presented him. He liked our European airs and seemed to take great pleasure in them. Then he ordered his musicians to play a Chinese air upon their instruments, and played likewise himself in a very graceful manner.

Père Pereira took his pocketbook and pricked down all the tune while the musicians were playing, and when they had finished, repeated it without missing a note, vhich the emperor could scarcely believe, his surprise was so great that the father had learned in so short a time an air which had been so troublesome to him and his musicians, and that by the assistance of the characters he could recollect it at any time with pleasure. To be more certain of this, he put him to trial several times, and sang several different airs, which the father took down in his book, and then repeated exactly with

the greatest accuracy. "It must be owned," cried the emperor, "European music is incomparable, and this father has not his equal in all the empire." This prince afterwards established an academy of music, and made the most skillful persons in that science membersof it, and committed it to the care of his third son, a man of letters and who had read much.

They began by examining all the authors that had written upon the subject, they caused all sorts of instruments to be made after the ancient manner and according to the size proposed. The faults of these instruments were discovered and corrected, after which they composed a book in four tomes with the title, The True Doctrine of Li Lu, written by the Order of the Emperor. To these four tomes they added a fifth concerning the Elements of European Music, made by P. Pereira.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, Volume I: China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), pp. 163-165.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, October 1998

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