Cantonese music

Cantonese music
(Guangdong yinyue)
The term ‘Cantonese music’ (Guangdong yinyue) refers to the instrumental version of a genre called xiaoqu or ‘short songs’, which began in the Pearl River Delta as instrumental interludes during performances of Cantonese opera (see Yueju (Guangdong, Guanxi opera)) and narrative singing (quyi), and gradually merged with music from other regions in the early twentieth century.
Cantonese music is usually performed by small Silk and Bamboo (sizhu) ensembles of string and wind instruments, dominated by the Cantonese two-stringed fiddle (yuehu or gaohu). The music is fluid, natural and lively, often with flowery ornamentation and a wide ambitus or register between notes. The repertory, consisting of some five hundred tunes, keeps being enriched by musicians and composers who arrange existing tunes or compose new pieces.
Most notable is Cantonese music’s facility of adaptation to modern urban life.
In its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, it prospered in Hong Kong and in treaty ports such as Canton, Shanghai and Tianjin, and also among overseas Chinese communities, where it is still played today. Played as incidental music for operas or silent movies, or as music in dance halls, it has had broad commercial success, relayed by modern media and transmitted by amateurs practising in specialized societies. Cantonese music’s ability to assimilate Western and jazz instruments (including the saxophone and jazz rhythm section) and popular tunes, and to experiment, explains its continuing popularity. While some pieces composed in the 1930s and 1940s have been criticized by the current regime for their decadence, Cantonese music is largely supported by the authorities. Its orchestration has become a model for professional folk music in contemporary China.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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