T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Handbook List   /   Guqin and Orchids My 五線譜 transcription and 錄音 recording   /   首頁
Secluded Orchid, in Stone Tablet Mode
- Jieshi mode2; tuning: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
碣石調幽蘭 1
Jieshi Diao Youlan    
The original You Lan tablature 3    
This melody, about 10 minutes long, is the world's oldest surviving substantial written melody:4 its preface suggests that it dates from at least the 6th century CE. The original manuscript copy, preserved in Japan,5 was uncovered in the 18th century by the well-known Confucianist Ogyu Sorai.6 It is a scroll over 4 meters long with the tablature written out in longhand; it has been authenticated as dating from at least the 7th century CE.7

In the fourth century Xi Kang wrote a poem praising the beauty of qin. The dating, sophistication and complexity of the present You Lan melody provide strong evidence that Xi Kang was describing music of a tradition recognizable in this melody.8

The title You Lan suggests a flower of such beauty that it stands alone.9 The melody is the earliest of a number of qin melodies on the theme of orchids. Some of these also have the name You Lan.10 Because the most famous orchid story is connected to Confucius, sometimes the same connection is made to any melody with orchids in the title, but most properly the connection to Confucius is with the version called Yi Lan (Flourishing Orchid).11

Also of value is a list of melodies, also apparently made during the Sui or Tang dynasty, appended at the end of the tablature.

At present the You Lan section here consists of:

  1. Secluded Orchid, in Stone Tablet Mode, a General Introduction,
    - includes a translation of the original preface
  2. Modality in Jieshi Diao You Lan
    - some preliminary comments based on direct observation
  3. Xu Jian's study of You Lan
    - translated from his Introductory History of the Qin
  4. Wusilan Finger Techniques (烏絲闌指法 Wusilan Zhifa)
    - with explanations from Wang Mengshu
  5. A typed and punctuated copy of the original You Lan longhand tablature
    - compare with the original manuscript, now in the Japanese National Museum, Ueno.
  6. The Qin Melody List appended at the end of the original You Lan longhand tablature
    - with transliterations
  7. My You Lan transcription (.pdf); each page is now separately linked online, starting here, together with my .mp3 recording
    - Small numbers in the transcription correspond with Chinese numbers in my computer-transcribed copy of the original manuscript

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. You Lan references
9411.431 幽蘭 says you lan is "an orchid growing in a secluded valley", "the name of a flower", and "the name of a qin melody". See also further references for You Lan as well as to varying meanings of the word "lan" itself.

In November 1999 a You Lan seminar was held in Tokyo (further). As of October 2016 all 14 papers from the seminar were archived in .pdf format on this Japanese website. Numbers 3, 7 and 9 are in Chinese, the rest in Japanese.

2. Stone Tablet Mode (碣石調 Jieshi Diao
See further.

3. Original You Lan manusript
The above image begins after the preface. For the title 幽蘭第五 see comment. For interpreting the two symbols after 耶臥中指 see further. Various websites have copies of the beginning of the original manuscript. The complete original is online at Japanese eMuseum website.

4. Most ancient music
There are some very minimal texts that seem to be notation from classical Greek times, but attempts to make music from this is extremely speculative. Thus the closest real competitor for antiquity is probably some of the music from China being reconstructed from documents connected to the original gagaku repertoire.

5. Date of the You Lan scroll
Two early scroll versions of this melody survive, one from around 600 CE and a later copy preserved in 彦根 Hikone. Modern commentary on these scrolls seems to begin with their discovery by 荻生徂徠 Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728) shortly before the year 1720. Sorai edited some related manuscripts, leading to confusion about their actual origin. For more on this see Yang, p.111ff.

6. Ogyu Sorai (Ogyū Sorai; 1666-1728; Wikipedia)
Ogyu Sorai (荻生徂徠 Disheng Culai, also known as Mononobe Noke (物部茂卿 Wubu Maoqing), was a well known Japanese Confucianist. He apparently believed that the true ancient Chinese music was preserved in Japan, especially but not exclusively in its gagaku tradition; the You Lan manuscript was presumably also a part of this argument. Again see Yang.

Of his You Lan manuscript and its discovery Van Gulik, op.cit., wrote as follows,

"The question arises whether Ogyu Sorai faithfully followed the Chinese original, or whether he wrote out in full a manuscript originally in (simplified tablature), for his own purposes."

Van Gulik's skepticism, along with the problem of the first two notes, are the main reasons I did not work on this melody for a long time. As it turns out, though, it seems that in fact Ogyu Sorai's copy was remarkably identical to the original and what he edited (re-wrote or simply re-arranged) was commentary on the manuscript and its finger techniques.

7. Date
The paper and ink have been carbon dated.

8. Dating the You Lan style
Claims have been made that a possible creator of the melody as well as lyrics was the 4th century poet Bao Zhao. However, there is no real evidence to support this claim.

9. lan
Though "lan" is almost always translated simply as "orchid", it is not certain how strictly one can define what this character meant in ancient literature as it may not have referred to flowers we know of today as orchids. For more on this see this footnote under Guqin and Orchids.

10. Later versions of You Lan
For a list of the later versions of You Lan see Zha Fuxi's index 19/181/--. At present only some preliminary comments are available for the first of these, the version in Xilutang Qintong (1525).

11. Another melody connected to orchids is Xiuxi Yin in Xilutang Qintong (1525) (Return)

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.