First published in 1884 by the Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs in Shanghai, this work is probably best known as a source of musical material for Puccini's opera Turandot. It was reprinted several times and remained the primary source in a Western language of detailed information on Chinese music until the mid-twentieth century. Van Aalst, born in Belgium in 1858, spent his working life with the Imperial Maritime Customs Service where his ability as a musician was noticed by the Inspector General, Robert Hart. It is thought likely that the work was published to coincide with the London Health Exhibition of 1884 in South Kensington to which Van Aalst had been sent to lecture. Different types of music (ritual and popular), the range of instruments, and musical notation are all explained, the intention being to enable a better understanding of Chinese music by those in the West.
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Aalst according ancient music ballads bamboo bell bell-chime called castanets characters chiao chieﬂy chih chimes China Chinese music Chinese scale chromatic chromatic scale composed Confucian ceremonies Confucian temple CONFUCIUS corresponding dancers deﬁciency diameter diatonic diatonic scale drum dynasty earth eﬁ emitted Emperor feet ﬁﬁ ﬁg ﬁnd ﬁrst ﬁt ﬁve ﬁxed ﬂat ﬂﬁ ﬂute foreigners four-thirds frets FU HSI gamut give gong guitar half tones hall harmony heaven Heigh-ho holes HUANG hymn inches inﬂuence instruments intervals key-note kind Kung length middle ﬁnger musicians names notation notes number of strings octave ORCHESTRA perfect ﬁfths performed piece pien-chung pipes pitch played plectrum popular principle produced religious ceremonies ritual music Royal Asiatic Society sacriﬁce scientiﬁc semitones Shang shéng shih shomg side silk singing songs sounds stone stone-chime strophe suspended Temple of Confucius third tube tuned verse WANG Western music wood worship