The emergence of chordal accretions in the lute melodies of tōgaku and its implications for the historical development of the repertory

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Abstract

This article re-examines some arguments about the practice of adding orally transmitted arpeggio-like figures, which I term chordal accretions, to the lute melodies of tōgaku (literally ‘Tang music’), a repertory of secular music imported to Japan from China between the seventh and the ninth centuries AD, and performed to this day. Previous scholarship shows divergent ideas regarding the use of arpeggios in the lute melodies: while some researchers believe that, like the modern practice, orally transmitted arpeggios were inserted into the historical melodies, others argue that the modern practice has no precedence in antiquity. Citing examples from historical and musical sources on Tang-dynasty (618–907) secular music and Japanese tōgaku, I demonstrate that arpeggios do in fact have a strong precedence in the antiquity of lute performance in China, and that the Japanese, to a large extent, preserved the Chinese practice during the early transmission of tōgaku. However, these historical arpeggios were different from those used in modern performance in terms of structure, technique and transmission. It was probably the decline of the tōgaku tradition in the fifteenth century and the misunderstanding of some information in historical sources during the standardisation of the repertory in the early Meiji period (1868–1912) that resulted in a reinvention of the functions and structures of such chordal accretions in the lute music of tōgaku. Copyright © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-246
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Volume26
Issue number2
Early online dateAug 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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Citation

Ng, K.-W. (2017). The emergence of chordal accretions in the lute melodies of tōgaku and its implications for the historical development of the repertory. Ethnomusicology Forum, 26(2), 215-246. doi: 10.1080/17411912.2017.1350112

Keywords

  • Tōgaku
  • Tang
  • Heian
  • Lute
  • Arpeggios
  • Oral transmission
  • Notations