T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
SQMP  ToC From my CD listen to a recording 聽錄音   /   首頁
04. The Ancient Style
- Gong mode(?):2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
古風操 1
Gufeng Cao
Gu Feng Cao3  
Gufeng Cao praises the ancient way of doing things, suggesting that it is doing so in the manner of the 12th C. BCE prince Wen Wang, founder of the Zhou dynasty. The melody survives only in the four qin handbooks dated 1425, 1539, 1670 and 1876; none has lyrics.4 Although the attribution to Wen Wang5 is certainly fanciful, the great similarity of all four versions (although the latter two divide the piece into seven untitled sections) together with the fact they were published only in these four handbooks, reinforces the belief not only that the melody was no longer in the active repertoire in 1425 but also that it quite likely was copied there from tablature of a melody no longer in the active repertoire in the 13th century.6

SQMP and the later handbooks include Gufeng Cao within the gong mode but, whereas the other standard tuning pieces in Folio I do fit the gong mode as used in Folio II (tonal center on 1 [do/gong/3rd string], secondarily on 5 [sol/zhi/1st string]), Gufeng Cao fits better into the yu mode (tonal center on 6 [yu/la/2nd string], secondarily on 3 [jiao/mi/5th string] somewhat like the Western A minor mode). The two most likely reasons for including it with gong are, first, simply that all standard tuning pieces in Folio I are in gong mode; next, that in the last phrase of the main melody and then in the harmonic coda the tonal center changes suddenly from 6 (with 3) to 1 (with 5). There is no way to know if this was added to justify the mode. Zheyin has the same modulation from 6 to 1 at the end of its pieces in yu mode.7

The yu mode is the standard tuning mode closest in modality to that of the non-standard yellow bell tuning (huangzhong diao). In SQMP and elsewhere pieces which have themes from Central Asia generally use the yellow bell tuning. Notes to the recordings of Gufeng Cao by Gong Yi (with the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra, adding harmonies) and Yao Gongbai (following his father Yao Bingyan's reconstruction8) both say the piece has the style of music of the non-Han peoples of western China. Yao Bingyan said that according to the title he originally thought the piece was boring old ritual music. Eventually, however, he decided Zhu Quan had probably changed the title and it was actually a dance from western China.

There are certainly some sounds here not typically heard in modern Chinese music. However, the tonality is not that unusual for Shen Qi Mi Pu, and the yellow bell mode in particular is also used for pieces with classical titles such as the present one as well as #48 Epic Virtue and #14 Amidst Mountains Thinking of Old Friends. In addition, the yu mode has no known non-Han connections, and its special flavor can probably best be explained in terms of its antiquity. The attempt to connect the present melody to Central Asia thus seems speculative at best.

The tonality in one passage is particularly worthy of comment. Near the beginning of Gufeng Cao the tablature indicates a diad which, if played as written, produces a strong dissonance (sol and fa sharp, i.e., 5 and 4#). The diad is repeated ten times: nowhere else in the early qin repertoire have I seen a dissonance such as this. In his orchestral arrangement Gong Yi uses the instruments of the orchestra to accentuate the dissonance. More common is the interpretation of Yao Gongbai, who eliminates the dissonance by moving the finger position on the second string from 8 up to 7 8 (between 7 and 8), giving an octave on 5. My own understanding is not that the finger position is in error, but the actual string numbers are in error: the Chinese numbers 1 and 2 look very similar to the number 3, and I eliminate the dissonance by changing the strings played from 1 and 2 together to strings 2 and 3 together, making it an octave on 6 (la).9

Original preface:10

The Emaciated Immortal says

this is a very old piece, created by Wen Wang. Its intention is to follow the purest ancient style of doing things, which is not to control them, and yet not have disorder; not to say anything and yet be believed; not to give instruction and yet to get things done. How vast it is: people cannot describe it at all. As for the worldly aspect, it is like happily ascending a terrace in springtime. They used Dao to preserve life, and used virtue to control their actions; these people all ate whatever was available and lived contentedly, loving their land and respecting life. Their actions were done openly, and their hearts had no likes or dislikes. They could hear each other's chickens and dogs, and yet during their whole lives not visit each other. Not having likes or dislikes, and not having evil addictions, had been something commonly seen during the time of the Great Simplicity (Tai Pu11) and it was now seen again.

Undivided; here arranged as seven sections based on Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian (1670)

(00.00) 1.
(00.49) 2.
(01.27) 3.
(01.58) 4.
(02.33) 5.
(02.59) 6.
(03.43) 7.
(04.12) -- harmonics
(04.23) -- End

Return to top

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. The Ancient Style (古風操 Gufeng Cao)
The translation here comes from Zhu Quan's preface to the melody. Dictionaries have only gufeng, no cao. 3308.238 古風﹕古人之風尚也 : customs of the people of antiquity (nothing about music). 3/23 same but adds more references, but there do not seem to be any from the early classics. Gu feng is also the name of an old poetic style, used by Li Bai in his 59 poems under this title; see Cooper: Li Po and Tu Fu, p. 141, "poems based on classical sayings and stories". Sun Yu, Li Po, has several (pp. 54-64 and 324-29), translating Gu Feng as Atmosphere of Old. 古風光 ?). Note also that the biography of Chen Kangshi has him speak of melodies with a gu feng.

Note that the expression 古風表演 gufeng biaoyan (ancient style of performing) is a possible translation for Historically Informed Performance.

2. Gong mode?
There is no separate title here in Folio One for the seven pieces here said to be in gong mode: it is written under the title for only this first piece Gufeng Cao. There is more about gong mode under Shenpin Gong Yi. In fact, though, as the comments there and above show, Gufeng Cao actually seems to fit better in yu mode (see Shenpin Yu Yi).

For more on mode see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. The characters 古風操 Gu Feng Cao (說文 Shuo Wen script)
In order to represent an ancient style, these three characters are here reproduced as they can be found in the second century publication 說文解字 Shuowen Jiezi (see Wiki). These and other forms of the characters can also be seen at the front of their entries in the 中文大辭典 Zhongwen Dacidian. The classical explanation of the origin of these three is: "gu" ("old") shows 十 ten 口 mouths, representing 10 generations; "feng" ("wind", then by extension "customs") has the sun in the middle and movement around, suggesting that it is the sun that causes air to move; cao (melody) has on the right a tree with three birds singing on the branches; the radical element on the left shows a hand. Perhaps appreciating this old way of writing is akin to appreciating an old form of musical expression.

4. Tracing Gu Feng Cao
Details, based on Zha Fuxi's Guide 2/20/-- , are in the appendix below.

The original 1670 commentary is as follows:

Preface: 按「琴史」是曲文王所作。其為義也,追太古之淳風,民不治而不亂,不言而自信,不化而自行。蕩蕩乎無能名焉。是故其民熙熙然以道存生,以德安形,甘食而樂居,懷古而重遷,形有動作,心無好惡,此太樸之俗也。

Afterword: 茲集選載曲操,文理精密,有起有承,有正有引,有呼喚,有照應,有過節,有頓,有放,有收束,首尾前後,緩急輕重,位次佈置,井然不紊,學者切不可輕為改節換句,一有差失,迷謬甚矣。蓋凡我之所欲為者,古已為之,我但未窺其奧耳。我初時看譜,彈不快意,亦有欲改,及久而反覆之,而始知其妙,不 勿改也,是知吾心之私意,所當急去也。

5. Attribution to Wen Wang
1670 says this attribution comes from Qin History, but the section on Wen Wang (Folio 1) doesn't mention Gufeng Cao. In Qin Shi and Qin Cao he is associated with the melodies 拘幽操 Ju You Cao (also called 離憂操 Li You Cao), and 文王思士 Wen Wang Si Shi (see Si Shun; this concerns Wen Wang persuading Lü Shang to be his minister), but there is no mention of a Gufeng Cao. Perhaps the connection is Wen Wang's praise of ancient rulers such as Shun.

6. Antiquity of Gu Feng Cao
It seems quite likely that much of the tablature Zhu Quan collected was tablature from Hangzhou at the end of the Song dynasty (1280), and that this included both melodies actively played and melodies that had been copied from earlier sources and were probably no longer actively being transmitted. See further details.

7. Modal change at end
This change in tonal center from 6 (la) to 1 (do) might be compared with modulating from a minor key to its relative major (Wiki). It is noteworthy that in early qin music the most common tonal center changes, as with modulation in the Western classical tradition, are to the relative fifth (and back) or to the relative major or minor, i.e., the most closely related keys (Wiki).

8. Version by Yao Bingyan
This is not included included in Bell Yung, Celestial Airs of Antiquity, but it is mentioned in his "Da Pu: The Recreative Process for the Music of the Seven-String Zither", in Music and Context: Essays in Honor of John Ward ed. Anne Dhu Shapiro, Music Department, Harvard University, 1985. See p.380.

9. Dissonance in Gufeng Cao
Very rarely do I change the tablature, but the dissonance near the beginning of Gufeng Cao (the original Shen Qi Mi Pu tablature is in QQJC I/107; in my transcription mm. 11 and 12), seems completely non-idiomatic. In constrast, there are somewhat similar dissonances in Yu Ge, Sec.14 (QQJC I/205; last measure in my transcription) and Da Ya, Sec. 9 (I/153; m.189 of my transcription), but I consider those intentionally dissonant notes leading to the unison which follows.

Specifically regarding the example in Gufeng Cao, the original Shen Qi Mi Pu tablature has the open first string played together with second string stopped in 8th position. As mentioned, this indicates a diad which, if played as written, produces a strong dissonance (sol and fa sharp, i.e., 5 and 4#). Some players today intentionally keep this dissonance. Others change "8" to "7 8", playing a unison on 5 (sol). I play open second string together with third string stopped in the 8th position, making it an octave on 6 (la).

The three later handbooks with this melody seemed to have dealt with this dissonance as follows:

  1. 1539 (QQJC, II/82) seems to have the third string stopped in the 8th position (the top stroke of 三 is longer than the middle stroke, suggesting it may actually say to stop both the first and second string in the eighth position, but it also says "open first string", so this is impossible). This suggests there was some confusion at that time about these notes. To my mind, for "first and second string together" to be a mistake for "second and third together" required no more of a copying error than mistaking "8" for "7 8" (between seven and eight), especially since the "8" is clearly written twice.
  2. In 1670 (XI/311) and 1876, after sliding up the second string to the 8th position, the left ring finger slides back to the 10th position, and the diads are played here, resulting in a fifth interval. This must be seen as part of a re-interpretation rather than simple re-editing, as there are also other changes made.

Tipping my choice towards changing the strings played rather than the stopped position is, in addition to "8" being written so clearly twice and the later handbooks revising this passage, is the fact that the resulting diad (open second string together with third string in the 8th position) is an octave on la (played 10 times); la is the tonal center of the whole melody (until the final few bars, when it changes to do). In contrast, sol in this melody almost invariably either goes directly up to la or down to mi.

10. Original preface
For the original Shen Qi Mi Pu text see 古風操. Compare the 1670 preface and afterword.

11. Great Simplicity
5965.177 taipu 太朴 ancient simplicity; gives a reference to Wen Xuan, not to Wen Wang. Zhu Quan also uses this expression in his Preface to Shen Qi Mi Pu.

Return to top

Appendix: Chart Tracing Gufeng Cao;
based mainly on Zha Fuxi's
Guide, 2/20/--.

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/119)
Not divided into sections; no phrasing;
Discussed further above
  2. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/84)
Same as 1425, including most of the apparent mistakes;
no sections, but adds phrasing; no commentary
  3. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/319)
7 sections, untitled, otherwise very similar to 1425 (QQJC copy not clear in places; diss becomes 5th)
See original comments: preface somewhat different, but still attributed to Wen Wang; afterword discusses playing the melody
  4. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/437)
"羽音,宮意 yu yin, gong yi"; "from 1670", but a number of editing changes
As in 1670, the diss becomes 5th (open 1st plus 2nd in 10th position)

Return to top, to the Shen Qi Mi Pu ToC or to the Guqin ToC.