“Fragment -Short Tune- Tiny Detail: Structural Approaches to Early Sino-Japanese Courtly and Buddhist Music Corpora” [Professor Elizabeth Markham]

Abstract. For the courtly culture in early Japan, where the composition, recitation and singing of both Chinese and vernacular verse were central, indeed where they served some of the functions of rhetoric in the ancient Graeco-Roman world (Denecke 2014), we are confronted with a fundamental question. What knowledge(s) and supports did generations of singers need to be able to fulfill these considerable tasks in a highly literate “bilingual” and musically “globalized” community – where court and temple boundaries were permeable, their common musical language acculturated but with much structurally sourced to borrowing from the Asian continent, where instrumental notations of Chinese origin survive from the eighth century on, but where written memory support as melodic notation specifically for the voice ostensibly enters the scene only hundreds of years later?

Continuing my long term concern to try to work as closely as possible with musical conceptions expressed at the time of extant notated musical witnesses to early song and singing (in contemporaneous treatises for example), my talk offers some tentative answers. My suggestions are based on tiny details of a specific but important temple repertory as documented in the late thirteenth century – – tiny but potent details that evidently mattered much for singer and listener. What I am (1) seeing there notated as graphics for the voice (neumes), (2) reading as expressed in an extraordinary analytical treatise of the time and (3) following as drawings in summary- diagrams point to a general linguistic and musical toolbox for “singing verse written in Chinese”. This toolbox is taking shape as shared by both Japanese court singer and Buddhist cantor alike for their evidently intricate and filigree specialist-work, but in its rudimentary set-up it seems to be equipped to service mode and melody widely across the musical board of the day.


Elizabeth Markham. Professor Emerita of Historical [Ethno-] Musicology in the Department of History, University of Arkansas. She holds a PhD in Music (1980) from the University of Cambridge, where she studied early musical sources for Japanese court song with Laurence Picken and also began her long-term commitment to the Cambridge Tang Music Project and its publication series Music from the Tang Court (Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1981). She is the author of a two-volume monograph Saibara: Japanese Court Songs of the Heian Period (Cambridge University Press, 1983/2009) and in her essays has addressed the interaction between early practical treatises and neumated sources for Sino-Japanese Buddhist chant. She co-authored with Naoko Terauchi and Rembrandt Wolpert What the Doctor Overheard – Dr. Leopold Müller’s Account of Music in Early Meiji Japan (Cornell University Press, 2017), which was awarded the Bruno Nettl Prize 2018 of the Society for Ethnomusicology. Her research continues to focus on musical thinking and the voice in early East Asian poetry, declamation, chant, and song, and she is currently working to complete a songbook and a collaborative musico-analytical study of the secular art-songs of Chinese poet and musician Jiang Kui (1127–1278).