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The Jinghu: Peking Opera’s Traditional Stringed Symphony

Last Updated on 2023/11/29

The Jinghu: Its Role and Significance in Traditional Chinese Music.

The Jinghu (京胡) is a traditional Chinese string instrument, pivotal in Peking Opera. Its development in the late 18th century, around the Qianlong era of the Qing dynasty, was closely tied to the formation of Peking Opera. The Jinghu, with over 200 years of history, is derived from the Huqin family of instruments and has become a mainstay in the musical accompaniment of Peking Opera.

Historical Development

The earliest Jinghu was relatively small, both in the length of the neck and the size of the resonator. Initially, it was played with a soft bow (not tightly strung), capable of producing high pitches and covered with python or snake skin. The 19th century saw the introduction of the hard bow, marking a significant change in the instrument’s sound – from the softer tones of the soft bow to the more robust and resonant sounds of the hard bow. Today, regions like Anhui, Shandong, Henan, and Sichuan still preserve the tradition of playing with a soft bow, noted for its unique fragmented bowing effect and softer timbre.

By the early 20th century, as Peking Opera performers gradually lowered their pitch and emphasized a more rounded vocal style, the structure of the Jinghu evolved accordingly. Its neck and resonator were lengthened to accommodate these changes. By the 1930s, a golden era for Peking Opera, the production of Jinghu experienced a boom. Instrument makers, often associated with Peking Opera, began crafting Jinghu with refined techniques, including replacing waxing with polishing agents for a finer finish.

Structure and Design

The Jinghu comprises several parts: the neck, resonator, tuning pegs, bridges, strings, and bow. The resonator, cylindrical in shape and made from bamboo, is the primary resonating body of the instrument. The vibration of the strings, transmitted through the bridge to the resonator, creates the Jinghu’s distinctively clear and bright sound. The instrument is traditionally played with the resonator resting on the left leg, the left hand pressing the strings, and the right hand drawing the bow across the strings.

Over time, Jinghu makers and players have experimented with various specifications to suit the evolving needs of Peking Opera music. Modern composers in China have created numerous solo and concerto pieces for the Jinghu, elevating its status from a mere accompanying instrument to a soloist’s choice.

Variants and Tuning

The Jinghu comes in various types, including the Purple Bamboo Jinghu, Dyed Bamboo Jinghu, and White Bamboo Jinghu. The instrument has developed different specifications for various styles within Peking Opera, such as Xipi and Erhuang, with enlarged lower-pitch models to meet the demands of the opera’s music evolution.

Materials and Craftsmanship

The making of Jinghu involves selecting the best materials – bamboo for the neck and resonator, python skin for the resonator’s surface, and wood like datewood, boxwood, or rosewood for the tuning pegs. The strings, traditionally made from silk but now often replaced with steel for better sound quality and durability, play a vital role in the Jinghu’s sound production. The bow is crafted from flexible bamboo with horsehair.

Playing Techniques and Repertoire

The playing techniques of the Jinghu are diverse, including various bowing and fingering methods. It is primarily used in Peking Opera but also features in other genres. The repertoire often includes pieces derived from Peking Opera, like “Xiao Kai Men” and “Ye Shen Chen.”

Purchase and Identification

When purchasing a Jinghu, attention should be paid to the quality of sound, materials, and craftsmanship. A well-made Jinghu should have a clear, bright, and pure tone, with a well-dried, solid bamboo neck and resonator, and a resonator skin that is crisp and black. The construction should be precise, with well-fitted parts and a neat appearance.

Source: Baike Baidu

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