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A Chime of Bells Dating Back to the Warring States Period

The chime of bells is a wonderful work of art in Chinese bronze culture and a crystallization of ancient civilization of mankind. Under the ritual and musical institutions in ancient times, this percussion instrument was a symbol of the owner's rank, power and position and transcended all other musical instruments. Its design, making and uses embodied the cream of culture in those days. The ancient chime of bells serves as an important material evidence for people of today to study history from a different angle.


A chime of bells and a set of musical stones were unearthed from the tomb of the Marquis of Zeng at Leigudun, Suizhou, Hubei Province in 1978. The chime of bells consisted of 65 pieces, including 19 pieces of niuzhong (a bell with a semi-circular knob on top) and 45 pieces of yongzhong (a bell with a cylindrical handle on top) bells and a bo (a large bell). They were suspended from a stand in three tiers and nine groups. The whole chime of bells weighed more than 2,500 kilograms. Each bell bore gold-inlaid inscriptions about events, notes and temperament. Each bell could produce two notes three intervals apart. With three and a half octaves, the yongzhong bells on the middle tier had a wide range and clear timbre, playing the major role in a performance. The big and thick yongzhong bells on the lower tier produced a deep and long sound, creating harmony and enriching the atmosphere. The niuzhong bells on the upper tier could be used as a supplement to the yongzhong bells on the middle tier.


The set of musical stones consisted of 32 pieces, laid out on two tiers. Most of them were made of limestone (bluestone) and the rest were made of marble. The musical stones bore inscriptions of temperament. With a range of three and a half octaves, they produced clear and melodious sound.

The chime of bells and the set of musical stones at the Big Bell Temple Museum were reproductions made in 1990. Based on the twelve - tone equal temperament, the chime of bells is tuned to the international standard notes. The inscription on the upper part of a bell indicates the temperament of the note produced from the front of the lower part of the bell, and the inscriptions on the front and side of the bell indicate the notes produced from the front and side of the lower part of the bell respectively. The reproduction embodies improvements on the original chime of bells.


1. In the original chime of bells, the niuzhong bells and the yongzhong bells were different in the temperament and gong (a note of the ancient Chinese five- note scale, corresponding to 1 in numbered musical notation). The reproduction has adopted the same temperament, pitch standard and musical alphabet, making it easier to play the niuzhong bells and the yongzhong bells in unison and improving the musical property of the whole chime of bells.


2. The reproduction has reduced the repetition of the same notes produced by the original chime of bells and retuned some of the bells producing the same notes so that they can produce other necessary notes, thus enriching the rendition of music.


3. The note produced from the front of the lower part of a bell is naturally superior to the note produced from the side of the lower part of the bell. So the reproduction has made it possible for the various notes in the note row to be produced from the front of the lower part of bells with a view to facilitating the balance of the notes in the course of rendition, especially after a modulation of the modes of ancient Chinese music.


4. The reproduction has restored the original composition of the second and third groups of bells on the upper tier before they were buried in the earth, making it easier to play the reproduced chime of bells.


The reproduced chime of bells has a range of five and a half octaves and the whole of twelve semitones, so it can play ancient and modern melodies, Chinese and foreign.








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