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09. Riverside Purification Ceremony
Yu mode (standard tuning):2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
臨河修禊 1
Lin He Xiuxi  
  First page of the original tablature 3        
In this piece, published only here in Qinxue Xinsheng (1664), Zhuang Zhenfeng has set to music Wang Xizhi's preface to the poems written for the Xiuxi (Spring Purification Ceremony) held along a winding stream by Lanting Pavilion just outside Shaoxing in the year 353 near the beginning of spring: specifically near at the beginning of muchun: the third ten-day period of the third lunar month.4

The poems, of which 41 survive, are said to have been written by 26 of the 42 scholars recorded as having attended this gathering. However, the meeting became famous not through those poems but through the preface by Wang Xizhi, who organized the event. And this preface is famous mainly because of Wang Xizhi's calligraphy, said to be the best example ever of "running script" (xingshu) style.5

There is no record of any of the 41 poems having been set to music, and this 1664 setting is the only known example of a musical setting for the preface. This does not mean any of these was never sung with qin, only that if such melodies were ever written down the documents do not survive.6 This musical setting also does not mean that the melody was intended to be sung: it is also very effective to have the words to Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface read while the music is being played.7

On this website there is related commentary on several other pages, two of them being other existing melodies on this theme:

  1. Xiuxi Yin (Purification Ceremony; from 1525)
    Refers to the same ceremony as here, perhaps same occasion, but no musical relationship

  2. Liu Shang (Floating Winecups; only 1525)
    Directly refers to the same Xiuxi, but musically related to the melody Jiu Kuang (Wine Mad; 1425)

  3. Fuxi Yin (Purification Ceremony)
    Old melody title, perhaps on the same theme but no longer extant

  4. Lanting Scroll
    Further commentary on the event, on Wang Xizhi's calligraphy, and the related poems.

Further details about Wang's preface are easily found on other websites (details).

Preface by Wu Wenqing 8 Preface by 吳雯清 Wu Wenqing    
The original (at right) is in a form of "grass writing" calligraphy.

As the year was drawing to a close and I was peacefully residing in Xiling (Hangzhou), doors closed and embracing the cold, the sound of people scarce, Master Zhuang Diean (i.e., Zhuang Zhenfeng) carried his qin over to see me, and show me the tablature he had written. (The music of this tablature) is quite unique and marvelous, the legacy of high antiquity.

Although I am not very familiar with this sort of learning, Diean's use of his riverside preface (music, i.e., his setting for qin of Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface), playing it once and then again for me, made me feel embraced by the greatness of the music that comes between mountains and seas. It actually made me feel so happy that I wanted to sing (the lyrics?), yet so emotional that I also wanted to cry. The sound of the qin and that of everything else became one.

The venerable (Su) Dongbo once said (source [中文]),

If you say music comes from qin strings themselves,
If you put it in a case why do they not still sing?
If you say the sound comes from your fingers,
Why from your fingers do we hear no ring?

Amidst such spiritual marvels, how can it be easy to speak? But Diean's marvels do not end with this. Whenever I come back to (this melody) "Riverside Purification Ceremony", I can just sense it. Diean's profundity becomes my own emotion.

In 1666 on the 15th day of mid-winter in Xiling 第(?) Wu Wenqing wrote this on the Whistling Snow Veranda

Music and lyrics9 (see 五線譜 transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音)
The lyrics here are Wang Xizhi's original Lanting Preface arranged into five sections. It is a largely syllabic setting, with the last phrase played in harmonics as a coda. Fluent online and offline translations are readily available (some of them are listed below). The lines below follow my understanding of the phrasing and, as part of my effort to reconstruct this melody, I made a translation that as much as possible is word for word; although the result is rather awkward, it did help me gain my understanding of how the flow of the music fits the flow of the words. It is included here not as a substitute for the more fluent translations, but as a guide for someone who might wish to sing the text as set to the qin melody. There is also further comment here about various ways of rendering qin melodies with lyrics.

  1. 00.00
    Yǒnghé jiǔ nián, suì zài guǐ chǒu, mùchūn zhī chū,
    Eternal Peace ninth year (353 CE), 60 year cycle's 50th year, "spring end"'s beginning.

    Huì yú Kuàijī shān yīn zhī Lántíng, xiū xì shì yě.
    We have met by
    Kuaiji mountain's south side at Lanting for the xiuxi events.

    Qún xián bì zhì, shǎo zhǎng xián jí; cǐ dì yǒu chóng shān jùn lǐng,
    All the worthies have finally arrived, young and old all gathered; this place has lofty mountains and steep peaks.

    Mào lín xiū zhú; yòu yǒu qīng liú jī tuān,
    Luxuriant woods with slim bamboo, also having clear flowing strong torrents,

    Yìng dài zuǒ yòu, yǐn yǐ wéi liú shāng qū shuǐ, liè zuò qí cì.
    (And) shining ribbons (of water twisting) left and right, drawing along floating wine cups in a winding stream,
              while in order we are seated one by one.

    Suī wú sīzhú guǎnxián zhī shèng,
    Although there is no silk and bamboo or wind and string's grandeur,

    yī shāng yī yǒng, yì zú yǐ chàng xù yōu qíng.
    One wine cup means one poem, and this is sufficient for cheerful talk and profound feelings.

  2. 01.25
    Shì rì yě, tiān lǎng qì qīng,
    This day, actually, the sky is bright, the air clear,

    Huì fēng hé chàng. Yǎng guān yǔ zhòu zhī dà,
    Pleasant breezes harmonizing our joy, looking up we see the world's vastness,

    Fǔ chá pǐn lèi zhī shèng. Suǒ yǐ yóu mù chěng huái,
    Looking down we examine all types in abundance, allowing our wandering eyes to open our hearts,

    Zú yǐ jí shì tīng zhī yú, xìn kě lè yě.
    And this was enough to cause great viewing and listening pleasure; trusting this we could really enjoy it.

  3. 02.03
    Fū rén zhī xiāng yǔ, fǔ yǎng yī shì,
    In all people's relationships, if you look through an entire generation,

    Huò qǔ zhū huái bào, wù yán yī shì zhī nèi;
    Some choose various emotional connections, getting meaning within just private conversation;

    Huò yīn jì suǒ tuō, fàng làng xíng hái zhī wài.
    Some give over to inclinations, giving way beyond wildness and objective existence.

    Suī qù shě wàn shū, jìng zào bù tóng,
    But although (our) interests house myriad differences, (our degrees of) calmness or impatience not the same,

    Dāng qí xīn yú suǒ yù, zàn dé yú jǐ, yàng rán zì zú,
    When in delight about what is occurring,
              at that moment we gain within ourselves arrogance about our self-sufficiency,

    (Harmonics begin) Bù zhī lǎo zhī jiàng (harmonics end) zhì;
    And we have no awareness of old age about to arrive.

    Jí qí suǒ zhī jì quán, qíng suí shì qiān, gǎn kǎi xì zhī yǐ.
    As for what we have been so earnest about, our emotions in accord with our affairs change,
              and then feelings of regret tie us down.

  4. 03.05 (泛起 in harmonics)
    Xiàng zhī suǒ xīn, fǔ yǎng zhī jiān,
    As for what was appreciated before, within the blink of an eye,

    Yǐ wèi chén jì, yóu bù néng bù yǐ zhī xìng huái;
    Already it is (just) a past vestige, (but) even now it cannot but arouse feelings (of regret).

    Kuàng xiū duǎn suí huà, zhōng qī yú jìn.
    Moreover the rising and cutting off (of life) always changes, but finally it always ends (in death).

    Gǔrén yún: Sǐ shēng yì dà yǐ. Qǐ bù tòng zāi! (harmonics end)
    The ancients say, "Death and life are both momentous". How is that not agony!

  5. 03.49
    Měi lǎn xī rén xìng gǎn zhī yóu, ruò hé yī qì.
    If one considers past people's deep (sad) feelings's sources, it accords with all their writings.

    Wèi cháng bù lín wén jiē dào, bù néng yù zhī yú huái.
    It is not that I do not share their writings' laments: I can not explain them in terms of (my own) feelings.

    Gù zhī yī sǐ shēng wèi xū dàn, qí péng shāng wèi wàng zuò.
    I certainly know (the idea of the) oneness of death and life is empty and absurd,
              similarly, for a someone strong to die prematurely (as though old) is against nature.

    Hòu zhī shì jīn, yì yóu jīn zhī shì xī,
    When later (generations) look back on today, it will still be as today's looking at the past:

    Bēi fū!
    How tragic!

    Gù liè xù shí rén, lù qí suǒ shù,
    Therefore I am setting out this account of contemporaries, recording what we have written,

    Suī shì shū shì yì, suǒ yǐ xìng huái, qí zhì yī yě.
    Although generations change and matters differ,
              the things that move us (to sadness): they amount to the same.

    04.53 (泛起 (Harmonic coda)
    Hòu zhī lǎn zhě, yì jiāng yǒu gǎn yú sī wén.
    (As for) people who later seize upon (them): (may they) also in future also be moved by these writings.

    05.12   End

The recording was made on an 20 April 2015 using a guqin made by He Mingwei and silk strings by Marusan Hashimoto. Open first string = B flat.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Riverside Purification Ceremony (臨河修禊 Lin He Xiuxi; QQJC XII/93)
By 莊臻鳳 Zhuang Zhenfeng, it is the 9th of 12 pieces in his Qinxue Xinsheng.

30756.71 is only 臨河 Lin He.

Online resources include:

Translations of the preface not online include H.C. Chang, Classical Chinese Literature, Vol.I (Columbia and Chinese University Presses, 2000; p.479ff); also has excerpts from the poems by seven of the 41 attending poets.

2. Yu mode (羽音 Yu Yin)
For more on this mode see Shenpin Yu Yi as well as Modality in early Ming qin tablature. In the early Ming dynasty yu mode melodies generally have yu (6; la) as their main tonal center and jue (3; mi) as the secondary center. Here this seems to be true only of Section 5. Sections 1 and 2 seem to have zhi (5; sol) as their main tonal center and shang (2; re) as their secondary center; Sections 3 and 4 may as well, though there often seems to be more emphasis on shang (2; re).

3. Image (complete pdf)

4. "暮春之初 Beginning of muchun"
A less formal name for this spring ritual (修禊 xiuxi) is "qushui liushang". Muchun, the third ten-day period of the third lunar month, usually falls at the end of April or early May of the standard solar calendar. (1 May 2016, when Yuan Jungping read the scroll while I played Linhe Xiuxi, fell during this period (details).

5. Running script" (行書 xingshu)
Also called semi-cursive script. Of this example a Chinese calligraphy page on the University of Washington website says:

The handwriting of the preface that Wang Xizhi wrote to accompany the poems collected from this event is praised for its spontaneity, lively rhythmic energy, and variation. The internal construction of his characters and his overall use of space is also highly admired.

There are further examples of Wang Xizhi's calligraphy here.

6. Existing tablature
There is some reason to believe qin songs were often performed impromptu, and so most were never written down. For more on qin songs, as well as on qin melodies with lyrics perhaps not intended for singing, follow links from here.

7. Reading the 蘭亭序 Lanting Xu to music
The content of Wang Xizhi's preface is poetic, but it is not in the form of a poem or song. Nevertheless, by pairing the text and music following the traditional formula, the melody succeeds in enhancing for me the feelings and thoughts of the preface. To this effect, in a presentation of this melody in Taipei in May 2016 Yuan Jung-Ping recited the lyrics while I played the melody (video excerpt: Section 2).

8. Preface by 吳雯清 Wu Wenqing
I am not sure of some characters in the original.

As for Wu Wenqing himself, it seems he was in Hangzhou taking a break from his responsibilities in the capital. Bio/1060 says he was 安徽休寧,初名元石,字方連,號魚山,順治九年,官至御史。有《雪嘯軒集》 from Xiuning in Anhui (near Huangshan)...achieved his jinshi in 1653 and rose in rank to imperial scribe; there is his "Whistling Snow Veranda Collection". At least one of his poems has been included in various collections of Yellow Mountain poems (黃山的詩詞、黃山古詩等), as follows:

No translation yet.

9. Music and lyrics
Here is further comment on words and expressions used in the preface:

To rephrase and expand upon what was said above about this translation, although various other available translations are probably more easily understandable than the present literal one, they do not always help understand how the words may have influenced the shaping of the melody. And although there still remain some issues with my literal translation, I do think it has helped me with my own interpretation of what the original rhythms of the qin setting might have been. This, of course, also assumes that Zhuang Zhenfeng was in fact trying to set the words to music following a manner we might be able to understand. This is not proven one way or the other, at least not consistently, but only by making such an effort on all his settings of text to qin melodies will we be able to come to an informed comclusion about this.

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