Travel to China

Travel to distant countries was complicated, expensive, slow, and often outright dangerous during the eighteenth century. The voyage to China would take the better part of a year, and it was riddled with countless perils, of which pirates and scurvy are only the most obvious. And likewise, among the very few Chinese individuals who came to Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—and who unfailingly caused a sensation—there were no musicians. Chinese musicians would not be heard in Europe until well into the nineteenth century, when the World‘s Fairs began including cultural products such as music in their international displays.

Up until then, only a handful of Europeans who had traveled to China could claim to have any first–hand knowledge of Chinese music. Most of these were missionaries, and they knew when they arrived in the Middle Kingdom that their sojourn would likely span the rest of their life. Of these missionaries it was especially the Jesuits whose missions were especially attuned to their cultural environments. They wrote long letters and reports on what they saw, heard, and experienced, and sent their new–found knowledge back to Europe, where it was disseminated. One of the few ways in which Europeans could gain knowledge about music from China was by means of this kind of musical transcription.

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Jesuit Missionaries

The transcription

 

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