The emperor himself was a lover of beauty and of the arts. He not only personally supervised the building up of vast orchestras in which traditional music was successfully blended with frontier and Central Asian music in which many types of instruments were involved, but also undertook the training of singers and musicians. For centuries, he continued to be known as the founder of dramatic music and entertainment, having himself not only written the words for some forty dramatic songs but also having arranged the musical scores for them. In many of these new musical compositions there was a great intermixture of what was know as barbarian and “narrow-alley” music.

This does not mean, however, that he was blind to the genius of superior poets or that his testes were confined to what was merely popular. Toward the end of his reign, according to one dependable record, he ascended the storied building labeled Ch’in-chêng Lou, or Attention to Political Duties, to admire the moonlight. As though obviously to forget the exhortation intended by the name of the building, he ordered his court musicians to present a few songs. One was the quatrain written by the outstanding poet, Li Ch’iao (644-713):

As the emperor was already advanced in years and felt touched by the message of the poem, he asked who the author might be. When he heard that it was Li Ch’iao, he could not refrain from weeping and rising before the music was ended and exclaiming, “Li Ch’iao is a real genius!” Even when the emperor was younger he had made the acquaintance of Li Po, a much younger poet than Li Ch’iao; but as Li Po was much addicted to drinking, his presence at court was irregular. Each time the emperor had completed a set of new musical scores he wanted to have the lyrics done by Li Po. Frequently when the poet was alerted by the imperial messenger, he was snoring in a wine shop.
Far from being displeased by this romantic conduct, the emperor would take special pleasure in seeing water splashed on the poet’s face and in seeing him, dash off lines of poetry rapidly after he had become clearheaded.



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