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Elegant Chinese Melodies of Springtime and Love
Silk-string guqin music celebrating love and springtime; concerts have taken place during:
Chinese "Spring Festival" / Valentine’s Day / a Chinese spring ceremony / springtime in general 1
|"Playing" #4 Zhi Zhao Fei in Kun opera 2|
Guqin Silk-string Zither (絲絃古琴)
Guqin (“goo chin”) was the Chinese literati’s musical equivalent to their classical painting, poetry and calligraphy; as such it has a timeless beauty and corresponding sophistication. From ancient times it was considered the “instrument of Confucius” and so it was important to write down its music. The music is written in a tablature that details tuning, finger positions, stroke techniques and ornamentation, but not rhythms. Finding the structures in the music enables bringing it to life. In 2003 UNESCO nominated the guqin part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, leading to a major revival of interest in the guqin as a musical instrument as well art object.
Performer: John Thompson (唐世璋)
Through over 40 years playing the guqin, John Thompson has become the best known player doing Historically Informed Performance of early guqin melodies. His website, www.silkqin.com, is generally acknowledged as being the most detailed source of information on early guqin music. He lived in Hong Kong for 24 years, working as Artistic Consultant to the Festival of Asian Arts, but now lives in the New York area.
1. Yearning for Spring (Spring Thoughts: 春思
Chun Si, 1525)
"Chun Si" often evokes images of a woman longing for an absent lover, but this upbeat melody has subtitles that bring forth positive images of the coming spring, such as a woman happily looking forward to the return of an absent lover. The associated commentary begins, "Knowledgeable men of elevated stature cherish living in solitude, feeling the harmony of a fragrant springtime...."
All 12 section titles are as follows:
2. Springtime River Melody (春江曲
Chun Jiang Qu, 1511)
This piece, from the earliest surviving collection of guqin songs, has three sets of lyrics, two of them concerning lovers. However, the melody works equally well as a purely instrumental piece. The lyrics are:
At homes on the bank of the river in spring,
travelers of all ages go by.
If they don't know about the tidal waters reliably,
by the end of the day they run into a sand bank.
There is morning mist at the south river crossing,
uneven and repeated waves flow sideways.
The island in front: where is it?
In the fog, wild geese call out.
3. Spring River Evening View (春江晚眺
Chun Jiang Wan Tiao)
Although published in a different handbook, this melody uses and expands upon a number of motifs from Springtime River Melody. It has six sections, as follows:
|1. 鼔枻安流 Gu Yi An Liu||Beating the oars with the current|
|2. 維舟晚渡 Wei Zhou Wan Du||Tie up the boat for the evening ferry|
|3. 涵空望遠 Han Kong Wang Yuan||Looking afar at the sky reflected in the water|
|4. 長天澄碧 Chang Tian Cheng Bi||All day there is a clear blue sky|
|5. 落日流紅 Luo Ri Liu Hong||As the sun sets it flows red|
|6. 垂波蕩漾 Chui Bo Dang Yang||Nearby waves ripple|
4. Spring Dawn Intonation (春曉吟
Chun Xiao Yin, 1525)
As published here this melody is a prelude to Pheasants Fly in the Morning (next).
5. Pheasants Fly in the Morning (雉朝飛
Zhi Zhao Fei, 1425; image above)
In the well-known opera scene 琴挑 Qin Tiao a man courts a woman with this piece. It describes a male and female pheasant flying happily as a pair. A man approaching middle age, seeing this, observes that in nature most creatures pair off, but he has not yet found his mate. Associated poetry suggests that this event took place in spring.
Section titles (from the identical music in 1491) are as follows:
6. Cry of the Osprey (關雎
Guan Ju, ca. 1491)
Guan Ju is the title of a poem in the ancient Classic of Poetry; the lyrics tell of a gentleman unsuccessfully pursuing a beautiful girl. In later versions such as this one the man is King Wen and he succeeds more because of his virtue than his ardor.
The 9 section titles are as follows:
7. Sunny Spring (陽春
Yang Chun, 1525)
The earliest surviving version is this one; it is musically unrelated to the version in Shen Qi Mi Pu. THE 1525 version has 10 sections, titled as folows:
1. A fine, elegant day
2. Beautiful fragrant flowers along the purple-flowered pathway
3. Bird calls penetrate the woods (begins with harmonics)
4. Falling petals are shaken from the sleeves
5. A flute plays Fallen Plum Blossoms20 (harmonics)
6. A golden bell protects the moon (during an eclipse)
7. A wanderer drums and pipes
8. Gulls splash in the light ripples
9. Swallows chatter amongst the carved beams
10. A rope swing in the courtyard
8. A Male Phoenix Searches for his Mate (鳳求凰
Feng Qiu Huang, 1525)
The famous lyrics of this melody, dated from the Han Dynasty, are said to have been sung by Sima Xiangru to seduce the lovely Zhuo Wenjun (compare #5 above).
(Sung during Section 8)
Lady phoenix, lady phoenix: come with me and nest,
be supported, breed with me, forever be my wife.
Exchanging affection in a physical way will harmonize our hearts;
at midnight if you follow me who will know?
Our wings together will rise, fluttering as high we fly.
If you are unmoved by my feelings, it will cause me misery.
There are quite a few other melodies that could also be included in such a program.3
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
Elegant Chinese Melodies of Spring and Love
Versions of this program have taken place on a number of occasions.
In addition, the pages with Spring and Passions of the Literati list other melodies that could be added to or substituted for other programs with a similar theme.
Image: Playing #4 "Zhi Zhao Fei" in Kun opera
Copied from a blog of the Shuimo Kun Opera Troupe, Taiwan (shuimokun.pixnet.net; English info). In this scene, described elsewhere, the man plays "Pheasants Fly in the Morning", after which the lady says, "You are not really so old." Qin melodies "performed" (never for real) in opera often concern love and/or seduction (see Qin in Popular Culture.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese lunar year begins with the new moon closest to the day on the Chinese traditional solar calendar called "Start of Spring" (立春 Lichun), equivalent to 4 or 5 February on the Western calendar. The previous month, "Major Cold" (大寒 Dahan), usually begins on the first new moon after the winter solstice (Dahan begins on the second new moon during the years when an intercalary month must be added to make up for the fact that 12 lunar months have closer to 354 days than 365 days).
4. Other melodies that have or can be used for this program
Mulberry Lane (陌上桑
Moshang Sang, 1597)
This melody is set to ancient lyrics, though again they need not be sung. They tell of the beautiful Luofu, who picks mulberries along the roadside. A wealthy lord comes along and tries to seduce her, but she rejects him, saying she loves only her husband. The full lyrics are as follows:
Coda: Repeat previous line.
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