The erhu is a traditional Chinese two-stringed instrument. It has a long vertical body with two strings that are played with a bow. The erhu produces a distinctive and haunting sound and is often used in traditional Chinese music as well as contemporary genres.
History of the Erhu
Thanks to its long standing presence in China, the erhu has become an integral part of Chinese classical music. As the development of Chinese opera and orchestras became traditional during the Han dynasty (202 BC - 219 AD), the erhu was adopted in traditional performances and compositions. It is thought that the erhu was first used as a solo instrument during the early 20th century when the development of ‘guoyue’ was devised. ‘Guoyue’ is an extension of Chinese traditional music that literally translate to “national music”. The use of Chinese musical instruments in these pieces enabled the erhu players to take on music composed solely for the erhu. During the post-war period and the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the erhu again gained greater popularity as composers and academics began studying the traditional arts and composing erhu music. Concertos and rhapsody became new forms of erhu music during the late 1970s. The erhu is still thought of as a culturally significant Chinese instrument that has found new forms of public performance over the course of the late 20th and 21st century.
Where to Buy
$100 - $500
Hear the Erhu
How to Play
A two-stringed bowed instrument from China, with a high, nasal tone. The player uses a bow to play the strings and can vary the pitch by pressing on the strings with their fingers.
In Popular Music
The erhu is most popular in China where compositions such as ‘Erquan Yingyue’ by folk erhu artist Hua Yanjun are among the most popular 20th century recordings. The erhu is a rare instrument outside of China but it may have been added to orchestral film scores for example 'The Karate Kid' and 'Kung Fu Panda' to create a culturally authentic sound to the films.
Ma Xiaohui, George Gao, Liu Tianhua
Video Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Understanding the Erhu