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Traditional pipa music

Chinese classical music often tells a story but has no lyrics, and traditional pipa music is no different. Traditional pipa music can be categories in many different ways based on tempo or structures. The most common classification is the one that based on musical style and artistic expression, and traditional pipa music is then divided into three categories, namely Wuqu (Martial tune), WenQu (lyrical tune), and WenWuQu (Lyrical and martial tune).


WuQu refers to music that depicts a story without lyrics. The characteristic of WuQu is that it often incorporates various fingering techniques that produce vivid sound effects to bring the audience to the story. Examples would be Ambush from All Sides and The Unarming Conqueror.

Here is the video of my performing The Unarming Conqueror at the Bowers Museum in 2011.


WenQu, as its English translation suggests, is music that are often lyrical and calm. Its focus, instead of telling you a story, is usually to express the feeling of the subject and paint an audio picture of the beautiful scenery. Examples would be High Moon and River Flowers in Moonlight.

Here is the video of my performing River Flowers in Moonlight with Ms. Jillian Liao (GuZheng) at the Bowers Museum in 2011.


WenWuQu, as its name suggests, refers to music that is a combination of WuQu and WenQu. Although it is also sometimes called DaQu(Grand Opus), the composition does not necessarily have to be long in length. The music is often refreshing and vivid because of its unrestricted uses of techniques from both WuQu and WenQu. An example would be Spring Sun on Snow

Audio file: Spring Sun on Snow

                              from album Restoration – Wan Yeung Pipa Music (2010)


Spring Sun on Snow is a famous piece of pipa WenWuQu (Lyrical and martial tune), which is unrestrictive on the techniques choices. Through its lively melodies and driving force of rhythm, the piece depicts the scene of spring reanimating the land.

The Unarming Conqueror

is a well-known pipa martial tune that depicts the defeat of XiangYu the Conqueror (202B.C.E.) at Gaixia. The sections are programmatically arranged to tell the story based on a historic battle fought between the Chu and Han Forces that took place in 202 B.C.E. from the Chu’s point of view. The Chu army was taken in ambush by the Han army. As Chu soldiers fled the battlefield, XiangYu’s concubine Yu Ji committed suicide in an attempt to reduce his burden. Shamed by his defeat, XiangYu subsequently committed suicide by the Wujiang River.

River Flowers in Moonlight

This music is a famous pipa lyrical tune. It was first called Xiyangxiaogu and later renamed Xunyang Pipa for the poem Pipa Xin. In the 1920s, it was named River Flowers in Moonlight. This music expresses a person’s love and passion for nature through depicting working people returning home on boats under a sunset. Its Eastern sounding and beautiful melody is characteristic of the Bamboo and Silk music style.