The Prehistory of Chinese Music Theory

Robert Bagley

in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 131, 2004 Lectures

Published by British Academy

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780197263518
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734021 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

The Prehistory of Chinese Music Theory

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This lecture discusses the prehistory of Chinese music theory. The earliest texts about the music theory in China are the inscriptions of the musical instruments found inside the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. The lecture describes these inscriptions and tries to identify what sort of musical development lies behind them. It determines that bells were the main influence on Chinese music theory. Bells introduced Chinese theorists to the chromatic scale and made absolute pitch important.

Keywords: prehistory; Chinese music theory; earliest texts; inscriptions; Marquis Yi of Zeng; musical development; bells; chromatic scale; absolute pitch

Chapter.  14471 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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