Bowed > Chordophones.
> Far East Asia.
Tuned in fifths in G D or A E.
Length 80 cm.
2003 to 2005.
The erhu [in Chinese 二胡] is a bowed member of the chordophone
family. In the Chinese system of classification the erhu belongs
to the "Yueqin" family bowed instruments it is also a member of
the "silk" family. According to the book of music or “Yue Shu” a
description of the musical instrument called a xiqin, as a two
stringed lute is mentioned. It is believed the xiqin may have its
origins with the Xi people. There is documented evidence of the
erhu since the Sung Dynasty (960-1270 AD). In Southern China
another name given to the erhu is “Nan Hu”.
the 1920's the current design of the erhu is attributed to Lian Tianhua
刘天华/劉天華; (b. 1825 d. 1932) who is a pioneering Chinese erhu and pipa
player who composed a total of 47 exercises, 10 solo arrangements
between 1918-1932. These pieces are considered core to the development
to the erhu as a solo instrument. His works for the instrument include Yue
(moon night) and Zhu ying Yao hong
Candles Flickering Red). and Hua Yanjun (b. 1893 d. 1950) a blind street
musician. Prior to the 20th century most of the bowed huqin instruments
used to accompany forms of Chinese, Opera, narrative and guoyue
“national music”. Instrumentation for a ”guoyue” or national music
ensemble may include the erhu, dizi, pipa, ruan and yan chin. Since the
foundation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 the education and
repertoire has improved greatly for more then half a century. Currently
the erhu enjoys its use in both inside and outside of China.
Compositions are arranged for the erhu as a virtuoso instrument include
a wide varieties of genres including symphonic orchestras, cinema, jazz,
mainstream pop and avant-garde.
The acoustic chamber or body of the erhu is
traditionally octagonal in shape having eight to nine sides, it is
common to see erhu's with circular bodies. To complete the acoustic
chamber snake skin usually Burmese Python [molorus bivitattus] is
stretched over and applied to the front. A neck or qin gan is is
inserted into the body forming the basic shape of the instrument. The
head stock or qin tou is either plain or ornamental. Two wooden friction
tuning pegs called qin zhou are inserted equidistant from each other.
On newer erhu's one will encounter machine gear tuners that look allot
like the original friction tuning pegs. Originally silk was used as the
strings for the erhu, although recently metal strings are the standard.
The first string closest to the player is usually tuned to a D4, it is
called a Nèi xián. The outside or outer string tuned to an A4 is called
the Wai xián. A small adjustable bridge fits underneath the the two
strings. The qian jin is a loop of string that is wrapped around and
has a whipped not to hold it in place, a close analogy could be an
“adjustable nut”. The methods of holding the bow and the construction of
the erhu bow does differ then the western violin bow. In playing the
erhu the bow goes through the strings rather then on top of the strings.
The bow is adjustable from behind.
Info: In 1988 China passed a law on the protection of
endangered species after ratifying the UN Convention of International
Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Thus making it illegal to use or
trade unlicensed Burmese pythons [molorus bivitattus]. The state
Forestry Administration introduced a scheme to certify the python skin
that goes through the trade between sellers in South East Asia and the
musical instrument makers in China. Recently as of January 1st 2005
new regulations require erhu's to have a certificate from the State
Forestry Administration that ensures the erhu is not constructed with
any wild python. Individuals are allowed to take up two erhu's out of
China when visiting. Commercial buyers do require additional export
certificates. Some erhu are made from recycled projects. Erhu
manufacturers are able to issue their own CITES licenses with approval
from the governments of their respective countries. These exports are
legal as long as they have been made from legally declared skin
sources. Some erhu are constructed from recycled instruments.
New Grove Dictionary of Music by Stanley Sadie, Page
717. Kao Tzu-ming: Xiandai guoyue present-day guoye] Taipei Taiwan 1959.
Zhang Yinshao: Erhu jiangzuo [lectures on erhu] Hong Kong, 1971. Tong
kin-woon: Zhongguo yinyue [Chinese Music] Hong Kong, 1980.