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Qin recordings of Herbert Müller 1 休伯特•繆勒的錄音

Around 1990 the Museum for Folk Arts in Berlin (now the Ethnological Museum)2 inherited a very large collection of wax cylinder recordings dating from the early 20th century. They previously had been in storage in East Berlin and in the Soviet Union.

The original recordings are made on soft wax, and so one should avoid replaying them as they will quickly wear out. From these soft wax masters a mold was made, and from the mold the final hard wax cylinders were made. Most of these hard wax cylinders are apparently in very bad shape. A curator at the museum told me that a Japanese person had recently invented a laser mechanism for reading the reverse tracks on the molds without damaging them, but that the Museum had not yet had the opportunity to copy many of these cylinders onto tape/digital format. Perhaps if some interest were expessed to them in a particular cylinder, it would improve its chances for prompter recording onto a medium that would allow it to be heard.

In September 1997 I discovered in their catalogue mention of guqin ("old qin") recordings made on wax cylinders in 1912 by Herbert Müller. They also have a letter from Müller to Erich Von Hornbostel (Wiki), giving details of this recording.

Here is the relevant part of the letter:

24 July 1912

It's 1 o'clock (in the morning) but I must write to you my fresh impression, having just listened to qin music. The player, Xu Lüyuan,3 is the blind (former) director of the emperor's orchestra, so he is a man we can trust - we can believe he can play the instrument well. The qin was made in 1712 - there is an inscription on the bottom. Three of my Chinese friends listened as well - one with German education, one with English education and the third no European education; but all three were well-educated Chinese. None had ever listened to qin music before, (but) everyone told me about the wonderful strength of qin music. Maybe it is enough to say that the qin playing was a real disappointment for everyone. To convey the sense of qin music I would have to make not just a recording but a film. While the right hand plays, the left one is always sliding on the strings, sometimes varying the tone, sometimes without connection to the play and without influence on the sound. The left hand stops the strings to determine the tone, and sometimes doesn't influence the tone. Each of these movements has a name and is notated with a special character. It is the strangest music I have ever heard and seen in my life....
(The letter goes on to say he needs more cylinders and that he would like to make a film.)

The index indicates that the recording includes:

Pingsha Luo Yan
Gao Shan
Pu'an Zhou
Si Da Jing

To my knowledge, as of 2012 these had not yet been made available.4

Footnotes (Numbers refer to entries in Zhongwen Dacidian)

1. Herbert Müller Recordings
An online reference says a set of 111 "Berlin Demonstration Cylinders" includes recordings made in China and elsewhere between 1903-1913. "The East Asian recordings were made by Herbert Mueller in China." (See the Guide to ethnographic wax cylinder collections linked from the British Library website.)

2. Ethnological Museum (Ethnologisches Museen), Berlin
Part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, it was formerly called the Museum for Folk Arts. As of 2012 it was combined with the Museum of European Cultures and the Asian Art Museum to form the Dahlen Museum (Museen Dahlem). Its entrance is at Lansstraße 8, Arnimalle 25, 14195 Berlin (Dahlem is the district of Berlin).

3. Xu Lüyuan)
To my knowledge no one has yet published his name in Chinese.

4. Availability
For his comprehensive set of early qin recordings, called 絕響-國鵬輯近世琴人音像遺珍, 國鵬 Guo Peng obtained a recording from the Berlin archive said to be from Muller, but it is only 49 seconds long and the qin sound cannot be heard clearly. In Guo Peng's collection it is listed as "Hsüh Lü yüan-四大景-片段.mp3". It is the first piece on the first of 74 CDs, coming just before six recordings of Ma Shouluo (1869—1962).

Return to the Guqin ToC or to miscellanea.