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Transcriptions and recordings 1 五線譜和錄音
Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid 2 碣石調幽蘭
  Towering Rock Mountain today? 3      
This page was begun in the summer of 2020, right after my first recording based on the revised transcription I had just completed of the 7th century (or earlier) tablature 碣石調幽蘭 Jieshi Diao You Lan. This new version is epitomized by the new translation of the title: "Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid" evokes the story of the conquering warlord Cao Cao climbing Towering Rock Mountain by the sea in what is today Hebei Province to view all around him.4 Whether there is historical justification for making a connection between this story and the surviving melody is open to questions, but thoughts such as this do inform my own understanding.

The original preface with the melody says little about what the music is trying to convey, but the title, Secluded Orchid in Stone Tablet Mode, is generally thought to focus on the orchid part of the theme,5 evoking the well-known story (see the 1525 You Lan) of a lofty recluse encountering a secluded orchid in a field of plain grass. Here later commentators have connected the melody to Confucius who, having failed to find a worthy lord to advise, encounters and compares himself to a fragrant orchid in such an empty field: unappreciated but maintaining his essential value. When I completed that earlier version in 2004 I had that story in mind. In this new interpretation the melody is basically the same, but the feeling is different.

One aspect of this new version immediately to be noted is the opening two notes, discussed in detail here, but there are also several other significant differences. To follow more easily such musical structures in the current interpretation, viewers should take note of the stave numbers, the section numbering system above the staves and the bar number references below the staves.6 This has the aim of helping anyone interested in connecting the actual music to the original score via this typed and punctuated version, as well as anyone wishing to examine the present understanding of the melodic structure as discussed here in some details.

The recording and transcription links (includes a page by page transcription)
These begin with links to both my new and my old interpretations. As I do more recordings of the new version these will also be linked here. Note that these and the linked transcriptions by other people all have marks put there to help connect their work to the original score. All this is intented to encourage people to work out their own versions based on the original score rather than simply on pre-existing reconstructions, as well as to help achieve a better understanding of this amazing, as well as amazingly old, musical creation.

  1. Timings follow my 2020 recording; transcription: with video; page by page; pdf 7
    Structural details; the four "movements" may suggest a connection with Cao Cao.

    00.00   1.
    02.08   2.
    04.55   3.
    07.43   4.
    09.20   End

  2. Listen to the old version; 2004     pdf of old transcription 8
    -the old version is also on YouTube and BiliBili.

Recordings and transcriptions by others 9
The pdfs here were all copied from 古琴曲集第一集 Guqin Quji 1 (1982) except the one of Wu Wenguang (2001). With a red pen I have used numbers to indicate the phrase endings as marked off by the characters "一句" in my typed copy of the original, with stars/asterisks (*) added to the transcriptions to indicate further phrases as I understand them.

  1. 管平湖 Guan Pinghu (mp3)     transcription (pdf)
  2. 姚丙炎 Yao Bingyan (mp3)     transcription (pdf)
  3. 徐立孫 Xu Lisun (mp3)           transcription (pdf)
  4. 吳振平 Wu Zhenping (mp3)    transcription (pdf)
  5. 喻紹澤 Yu Shaoze (mp3)         no transcription (?)
  6. 吳文光 Wu Wenguang (no mp3)    transcription (pdf) (see in Bilibili)

See below for further comments about these recordings.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Transcriptions and recordings
My recordings and transcriptions are either also on YouTube and BiliBili, or will be put there in the near future.

2. Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid (碣石調幽蘭 Jieshi Diao You Lan)
Commonly "Jieshi Diao" has been assumed to be a mode with uncertain characteristics but in some way associated with the Confucian theme commonly ascribed to orchid-related melodies.

3. Towering Rock Mountain today? (historical relevance)
The actual location of the specific spot that apparently inspired Cao Cao is unknown. It is said to have been in the area of the modern Jieshi Mountain. The above image, copied off the internet, is from that area. Nearby is a 碣石國家公園 Jieshi National Park.

4. New interpretation: the bottom line
Since the manuscript's original preface says virtually nothing about what the melody was intended to convey - even its mention of Yi Lan as an alternate title is somewhat inscrutable - it seems quite natural to question the standard interpretation that associates the melody with Confucius.

Here, inspiration from 曹操,碣石篇 the Four Towering Rock Stanzas of Cao Cao has led to suggesting the following movement by movement connection with the You Lan melody:

  1. Encountering a mountain, visualize climbing it as the notes ascend, then looking out to see and feel the magnificence of nature.
  2. Imagine the interactions of people after the harvest: rhythmic passages hint at coordinated entertainment such as dancing or perhaps more rowdy activities.
  3. Feel how the uncommon harmonics evoke a bleak though perhaps also magical landscape of ice crystals, snow and empty fields.
  4. Realize that as brave people get older they think not just of the end but of their experiences and accomplishments. The parade of immortals then leads to the further realization that it is all a matter of attitude.

The following rhythmic outline hints at potential parallels between the rhythmic expression and the poetic imagery in these four movements:

  1. Grandly rhythmic phrases of differing lengths, often returning to a phrase solidly at home on the central tonic
  2. Vigorously rhythmic phrases subdivided into metered sections differing somewhat in tempi, each with a different feel
  3. Ethereally slow and free phrases, in spite of again being organized mostly in pairs of 4-bar phrases
  4. Sublimely rhythmic phrases; the metered section begins very strictly but then becomes more free; closes like others but an octave higher.

In fact, the casual listener may hear little difference between the 2004 recording and the new version. Emphasizing their similarity, the transcriptions follow each other measure for measure, and in only a few places are there significant note differences (see, for example, my new interpretationa of 再臑 zai nao and 作勢 zuo shi). But the first version was done without awareness of the Cao Cao poems, only of the likely connection between the melody and the story of Confucius encountering a solitary orchid flourishing in a field otherwise filled only with weeds. How is the melancholy of that theme affected by this new interpretation? Does the new version better bring out the exuberance (some might say violence) of the original?

When I prepared the 2004 version I felt little connection between the melody and any specific theme. Only in 2020 did I really became familiar with Cao Cao's Towering Rock Stanzas and their possible relevance to this melody. However, the changes I made in my 2020 revision did not result from details connected to Cao Cao, but from a direct re-examination of the tablature and its explanations. The resulting data, as outlined in the page on Structure and Mode, in particular the section on Overall Structure), came from direct examination of the music, not from studying literary references (for this see the General Introduction). Quite likely for many people, the differences the new version has in such matters as rhythm and dynamics may well be too subtle to be conveyed merely by the differences between the two transcriptions, or perhaps even by casually listening to the two interpretations.

The fact is, however, to me the new version is very different. Now, as I play my revised version, it is much more likely to bring to mind Cao Cao's encounter with Towering Rock than Confucius' encounter with the Secluded Orchid. Indeed, I often very much have had in mind Cao Cao's four Towering Rock Stanzas, wondering at their potential for perhaps an even fuller connection with the four movements of the old qin melody (most recently: questions about 太液池 Taiye Lake). These thoughts add considerably to my feeling for the music, how I play it, and perhaps even for my understanding of the music, though here I would not venture so far as to say, "Now I know what this music means", or even, "This is really what the music means to me." Music is music, and in the broadest terms, these are just some of the more prominent of the many images that come to mind as I play the music in each of the four movements.

The first two notes, however, set the tone: as just mentioned, it is usually interpreted as a fifth interval (perhaps sharpened or flatted, giving a dissonance), but if it is indeed an octave leap, repeated, it could represent the sudden encounter not with an orchid in a field but with a towering rock, a mountain from which to view the world. Then, near the end of each movement, a motif so solidly returning the tonal center to C, followed at the end of each by almost the same rising microtonal passage, both seem to echo the optimistic couplet at the end of each of Cao Cao's four stanzas.

This is discussed further in these comments on sectioning the melody and in these comments on the significance of Cao Cao's lyrics. However, all of this analysis and these comments reflect my personal feelings and hopefully other listeners will be able to add their own interpretations, not simply accept or reject the above.

As the poem suggests, all of the verses should end with singing of what is true to us.

5. Orchid theme
Focus on the orchid theme generally connects the melody to the story related above of Confucius coming across a fragrant orchid in a field of plain grass. However, another idea, would connect the melody with the five You Lan poems by 鮑照 Bao Zhao (ca. 414 - 466), translated here. Their contents may have something in common with the theme of the present melody, and it could add another level of appreciation to read them in connection with the melody: their content seems quite romantic, thus contrasting with the triumphant theme of Cao Cao and the disappointment theme of Confucius. However, there are five poems, not four, and thus any intentional connection seems quite tenuous.

6. Bar, stave and section numbers
In the transcriptions the bars are numbered in squares at the beginning of each line. In the original tablature many phrases end with the words "一句 one phrase"; these are unnumbered in the original, but ub the transcription numbers are added at beginning of that phrase; a letter is added to the number if the phrase has been subdivided here. Numbers below the staves beginning m.... refer to related note patterns elsewhere in the transcription).

7. Recording from 2020
Recorded in Weehawken, NJ; guqin made by Tong Kin-Woom; Marusan Hashimoto thick silk strings tuned to A on a piano See this account of the original recording.

8. Recording from 2004
The video was made in 2019 using the recording and transcription made in 2004.

9. Recordings and transcriptions by/of others
See here for further comments about these recordings.

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