Tang Music and Dance

The Emperor Destroys the Formations (Grand Piece) 【Op.99】

  • Premiere: March 13, 1992. National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Dance Reconstruction: Liu, Feng-shueh; during 1984-1985 at Cambridge in Britain
  • Music Reconstruction: Dr. L. E. R. Picken
  • Instrumentation: Su, Wen-ching
  • Dancers: Tsai, Chia-rong, Tien, Pei-jen, Yang, Chun-mao, Wu, Chin-chi
  • Costume Design: Liu, Feng-shueh based on Chinese and Japanese historical texts
  • Stage Design: Chang, I-cheng based on literature on art in the caves of Tunhuang

The Emperor Destroys the Formations was not the original title of this ancient dance composed to celebrate the victory of the second Tang Emperor, Tang Tai Tsung, (Li Shih-Min) over his rival, Liu Wu-Chou, in 620. The Chinese title of the piece conveys lines of troops drawn up in battle against the Emperor, and it is referred to in English by several other names including The King of Chin Destroys the Formations, the King of Chin being Li Shih-Min’s title before he became the Emperor. In 627, at the beginning of the lunar year, Tai Tsung invited his courtiers and officials to a banquet at which the dance was premiered. He kept the notation for this dance and seven years later charged by Lu Tsai with teaching the dance to 120 dancers who were to perform it holding a chi, a weapon. Wei Cheng, Yu Shih-Nan, Chu Liang, and Li Pai-Yao were assigned to arrange the music and lyrics. From that time on, at every significant occasion, this dance was performed. In 651, it was even performed in a ritual.

During this period, music was categorized according to a system of ten divisions and Chang Wen-Shou, who presided over the placement of various kinds of music, put this piece in the first category, but altered it to be a composition of only four dancers, dancing without weapons. Then, when the music was categorized according to a new system of two divisions, the musicians stood when playing for 120 dancers with weapons, while the musicians were seated when playing for four dancers without weapons.

Unfortunately, in China, the notation for this piece was lost, but it was preserved in Japan. During Tang Dynasty, the Japanese took great interest in Chinese culture and 19 missions were sent to the Tang court. Students, as well as ambassadors Awatta no Mahito and musician Fugiwara no Sadatoshi, studied the dance. In addition, two Chinese Buddhist priests took several items of music and dance to Japan to promote Chinese culture and included the piece in their collection. In 701, the Japanese Emperor Mommei placed the work in the Gagaku notsukass, the Department of Chinese Music, to preserve it for performance. It was performed several times in the Japanese Imperial Court during the ninth century. The emperor also altered its name to “The Emperor Destroys the Formations.” Thus, 96 sections of the musical notation and 66 sections of the dance notation still remain in the library of the Royal Palace in Japan.

In 1965, Dr. Liu was able to obtain the notation of this dance from Japan and in 1983, the dance she found was reconstructed used staff notation by the Research Center for Tang Music at Cambridge University. The musical notation has been published by the Cambridge Press. This dance is reconstructed according to the above music and dance notation.

  • Dance structure: 1. Yu Sheng 2. Hsu 3. Ju Po Section I-VI