Cantonese Music
2014-March-20 Source:
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Cantonese music is a kind of folk instrumental music popular in the Pearl River Delta. Despite a short history of over one hundred years, it has been well-received for its freshness, beauty, brightness, and boldness. The genre has been crowned as “transparent music” and “a pearl in the sea of oriental folk music.” Unlike other Guangdong Province art forms, Cantonese music originated mainly from alien cultures. Admittedly, compared with the cultures of the Yellow River Basin and the Yangtze River Basin, the Guangdong culture was relatively backward in ancient times. Historical records show that Guangdong did not have its own opera or any other folk art until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 ). However, the economy in the culturally backward Guangdong region was highly developed.

In the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911), as the economy in Guangdong witnessed rapid development, a large number of opera troupes including Kunqu, Yiyang, Qinqiang, Huidiao, Han Opera, and Qiyang from Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shanxi, Anhui, Hubei, and Hunan provinces respectively swarmed to Guangdong to stage performances, bringing in the ancient music of central China, the operas and melodies of south China, Kunqu Opera, and many other rhythmic styles from other provinces.


Particularly, the Yiyang Opera and Kunqu Opera were quite popular in the Pearl River Delta, especially among intellectuals. In the 17th century, local Kunqu Opera singers emerged and became well known. For example, Mr. Chen Zisheng, a renowned poet in the Lingnan region and Nanhai-born patriot, was also known as a famous musician and Kunqu Opera composer. He not only had a gift for playing the Guqin (Chinese lyre) , but was also familiar with the flute and chime strike. His compositions included “Kuang Cao”, “Han Shan Cao”, and “Shui Dong You”. The former two are no longer played, but “Shui Dong You” has been included into Chen Zisheng’s “Zhongzhou Cottage Heritage Collection”. Subject to the impact of local language and customs, the varied music and cultural forms from other provinces gradually integrated with local folk songs and eventually became a unique instrumental form that could be put on stage individually.

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Editor: Olivia
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