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On Phoenix Terrace Recalling the Playing of a Flute
- Standard tuning2 : 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
鳳凰臺上憶吹簫 1
Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao  
Playing the xiao flute to attract a phoenix3    
Qinqu Jicheng has two settings of these lyrics. The earlier one is for a melody published in 1609 (not in 1589), where it is called Gui Yuan Cao. The present one, a completely different melody, is #15 in the Japanese handbook Hewen Zhu(yin) Qinpu (Wabun Chuyin Kinpu [?]).4 There a comment at the end of the song says "revisions were made by the hand of Toko Etsu".5 This may suggest that Shin-Etsu brought the melody with him from China in 1677. However, the melody itself is not known to have been preserved in China.6

Although the source of the melody is unknown, the lyrics are by the famous woman poet Li Qingzhao (1084 - ca.1151).7 It is a sad poem about a lover who is about to depart.

The title Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao comes from a ci pattern of this name;8 this title is thus not directly connected to the story told by Li Qingzhao's poem, though knowing the story connected to the title might enhance one's appreciation of Li Qingzhao's actual lyrics. The ci title presumably came from a song, since lost, that was connected an old story about Xiao Shi and Nong Yu,9 who fell in love through the sound of a flute.10 Xiao Shi was impoverished but highly skilled (other versions say he was a deity). Nong Yu was a daughter of Duke Mu of Qin (reigned 659-621). When playing the flute Xiao Shi was able to attract phoenixes by imitating the sound of their calls.11 Nong Yu fell in love with him and eventually they married. He taught her also to play the way a phoenix calls out. After several decades of this, real male and female phoenixes would come down in response to the sounds. The duke then built a Phoenix Terrace, where the couple would spend their time. Several more years later Nong Yu got on a phoenix, Xiao Shi mounted a dragon, and the two of them ascended into immortality.

This old love story was once very well-known. Images of Xiao Shi and Nong Yu could often be found in temples. There at one time there were many old Fenghuang Tai all over China.12 And the Jade Maiden Shrine on Jade Maiden Peak in the middle of the Huashan Mountain Range is sometimes said to commemorate Nong Yu herself.13

The poem by Li Qingzhao reflects the thoughts of a woman whose lover has gone away. As a ci poem it was set to the character per line count of the above-mentioned earlier song, the lyrics and melody of which were apparently lost in Li Shanglin'sown day. To distinguish her Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao from other poems using the same structure (of which there are many) her poem is sometimes called Separation, to the tune Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao. The absent lover presumably reminds the narrator of the famous old love story, but there are no specific statements about or allusions to it.

There are several published translations of the poem into English. And the original Chinese text is online in several places. For example, see an online facsimile edition.

The Chinese text accompanied by the qin melody played on a xiao flute may sometimes be heard online.14 It follows not the published transcription by Wang Di,15 but the transcription of a reconstruction by Yao Bingyan.16

Original preface

Music (Timings follow my recording: 聽錄音 listen)
Two sections (in tablature written as one; a mostly syllabic setting of Li Qingzhao's lyrics17)
        - compare my recording of Gui Yuan Cao

Opening: 00.00 (taken here from the closing line)
(Section 1: 00.17)
香   冷   金   猊,   被   翻   紅   浪,   起   來   慵   自   梳   頭。
Xiāng lěng jīn ní, bèi fān hóng làng,     qǐ lái yōng zì shū tóu.
Incense cold (in my) gold lion (-shaped censer), quilt ruffled (like) red waves,
      I arise and carelessly comb my hair.

任   寶   奩   塵   滿,   憑   他   日   上   簾   鉤。       (1609 Gui Yuan Cao: no 憑他)
Rèn bǎo lián chén mǎn, píng tā rì shàng lián gōu.
I've let my valuable dressing case (become) dust covered,
      and (as usual that) sun has risen to the level of the curtain hooks.

生   怕   離   懷   別   苦,   多   少   事,   欲   說   還   休。       (1609: 怕的是離愁別苦)
Shēng pà lí huái bié kǔ,               duō shǎo shì,   yù shuō hái xiū.
Arisen are fears of parting emotions and separation blues,
      so many matters, I want to discuss them all but still I pause.

新   來   瘙,   非   于   病   酒,   不   是   悲   秋。       (1609: 如今新來 and 不是悲愁。)
Xīn lái sào,         fēi yú bìng jiǔ,         bù shì bēi qiū.
I have newly become thin, not from craving wine,
      and not the sadness of autumn.

(Section 2: 01.24)
休,休!   這   回   去   也。   千   萬   遍「陽關」,   也   則   難   留。       (1609: 回歸去也)
Xiū, xiū!   Zhè huí qù yě.   Qiān wàn biàn "Yáng Guān",   yě zé nán liú.
Stop, stop! This time (when you) returned home,
      there were 10,000 parting songs, yet it was difficult for you to linger.

念   武   陵   人   遠,   煙   鎖   秦   樓。
Niàn Wǔlíng rén yuǎn, yān suǒ qín lóu.
I think of (my) man amongst immortals far away,
      (while I remain in) a mist-locked family tower.

惟   有   樓   前   流   水,   應   念   我   終   日   凝   眸。
Wéi yǒu lóu qián liú shuǐ, yīng niàn wǒ zhōng rì níng móu.
There is only, in front of my tower, a flowing stream,
      to reflect memories of me and my everlasting vacant stare.
(02.10 泛音 harmonics)   (does not have the coda of 1609)

凝   眸   處,   從   今   又   添,   一   段   新   愁。
Níng móu chù, cóng jīn yòu tiān,   yī duàn xīn chóu.
This vacant staring: from now there is added
      a new period of fresh sadness.

End: 02.30

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao (QQJC XII/196)
47631.131 鳳凰臺上憶吹簫 has this as both a 詞牌 cipai and a 曲牌 qupai (for the terrace itself, see below). The former quotes a story from 列仙傳,拾遺 Lost Records of the Liexian Zhuan. The latter mentions 李清照 Li Qingzhao and 香冷金猊 Xiang leng jin ni, the first four words of her poem; qupai suggests a connection with Yuan dynasty opera.

As a cipai it is said to have 95 characters (baike.baidu.com).

2. The handbook calls the mode 商音 Shang Yin. (Return)

3. Image: Playing the xiao flute to attract a Phoenix (吹簫引鳳 Chui Xiao Yin Feng) (expand)
This painting, by 仇英 Qiu Ying, in the National Palace Museum, Beijing, seems to be connected to the story of 簫史弄玉 Xiao Shi and Nong Yu. The seated woman facing the gentleman on the upper terrace seems to be playing a 簫 xiao flute.

4. Zha Guide 35/--/505 and QQJC XII/196. (Return)

5. What did Toko Etsu revise?
東皋越杜多手校; 東皋越 Donggao Yue = Toko E(tsu); 杜多 duduo = monk (from dhuta [sanskrit]). "revised by hand" (手校 shoujiao) ignores the issue of of what was revised.

6. Although the old tablature was apparently preserved only in Japan, modern transcriptions from the Japanese tablature have been published in China. The transcriptions by Wang Di and Yao Bingyan are discussed below. The latter is apparently the source of modern attempts to revive this qin song.

7. 李清照 Li Qingzhao (1084 - ca.1151; 14819.1038)
Li Qingzhou was born near Ji'nan in Shandong province but spent much of her live in the area around Suzhou and Hangzhou; see further details. Of particular note, in addition to the poem set to Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao (Guiyuan Cao), is one of her poems to the tune "Washing at Creekside" (浣溪沙 Huan Xi Sha, which includes the line "倚樓無語理瑤琴 High in my chamber and without a word I play (lit. 'arrange') my jade (-studded) qin." This may suggest she herself played it.

8. Ci structure
See below for a brief analysis of this ci structure and information on how to see copies of poems that use it. It must be emphasized that there is no evidence suggesting survival of any of the original melodies on which ci poems were based. In fact the ci structures do not necessarily follow the melodies, only the lyrics: the number of characters per phrase should remain more or less faithful to what it was in the original lyrics. However, as can be seen from a transcription of the Fenghuang Taishan melody here, although the melody largely follows the lyrics with one character (syllable) for each note, sometimes a character has more than one melodic note, and the ornamentation indicated also suggests the note values do not remain the same. For this and other reasons the rhythm of the melody is very much open to question. For more on this see my comments on pairing ci lyrics and music.

9. 簫史 Xiao Shi and 弄玉 Nong Yu
27100.3 says 秦穆公時人 a man at the time of Duke Mu of Qin, giving as its earliest reference a poem by Bao Zhao.

10. xiao flute
27100 has only images of panpipes. Today the word 簫 xiao refers specifically to a bamboo end-blown flute, but in the past the word could also have referred either to the 排簫 paixiao panpipes (somewhat resembling the modern 笙 sheng mouth organ), or to the side-blown bamboo flute now called a 笛子 dizi. Some versions of this story have Xiao Shi playing the xiao and Nong Yu the sheng. (Her name means "Play Jade"; she was so named because she liked to play with jade as a child; perhaps she also had a jade sheng.)

11. 鸞鳳 Luan feng; luan seems be used here like 凰 huang: female phoenix. An expression for happy marriage is 鸞鳳和鳴 "luan and feng call out together". (Return)

12. The reality of Phoenix Pavilions (鳳凰臺 Fenghuang Tai)
The question is not whether there is a specific Phoenix Pavilion that was historically connected either to the story of 簫史弄玉 Xiao Shi and Nong Yu or to any of the Phoenix Pavilion poems; it seems, in fact, that at times people did try to make such connections. The real questions concern the stories behind such connections. How strong are any traditions behind such stories, and where are they simply modern stories aimed at the tourist trade?

47631.130 鳳凰臺 gives few historical details in mentioning the seven such pavilions:

  1. 在山東省台安縣北 (Shandong Tai An)
  2. 在河南省溫縣西 (He'nan, Wen district's west)
  3. 在河南省溫縣北 (He'nan, Wen district's north)
  4. 在江蘇省南京市南(李白,登金陵鳳凰台詩) (Nanjing; Li Bai poem reference)
  5. 在湖北省鄂城縣東(明一統志) (Hubei, E district)
  6. 在湖北省薪春縣東北 (Hubei, Chunxin district)
  7. 卽甘肅省城縣東北之鳳凰山 (i.e. a mountain in Gansu, Cheng district)

The entry makes no mention of the story of Xiao Shi and Nong Yu or of Li Qingzhao.

Further Phoenix Terraces found online include ones at in,

As yet it is not clear whether any of these places, and if so how many, were ever in the past associated with this story or specific versions of this poem. Their possible connection to these melodies is also open to conjecture.

13. 21296.29 玉女 Yu Nü has a number of entries, but none mentions Nong Yu.
    /.36 玉女峰 Yu Nü Feng (Jade Maiden Peak) also makes no mention of Nong Yu. (Return)

14. Performance online
I once heard it online here but the link is gone. The performer was not identified. The use of the xiao is of course appropriate to the title, but without explanation people may think this melody was originally for flute, whereas there is no actual evidence of what or where it was before being written in the Japanese handbook (see next footnote).

15. Wang Di's transcription of Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao
Wang Di's transcriptions are published in several places, most notably her Qin Ge and Xian'ge Yayun (which also have her transcriptions of Ziye Wu Ge). The former uses staff notation, the latter number notation; otherwise the two are the same as each other. However, whereas in Qin Ge the source of the present melody is identified as "東皋琴譜 Toko Kinpu", in Xian'ge Yayun it is identified simply as "抄本琴譜 hand copied qin tablature." This is presumably to account for the sudden change in the middle of the piece: at the words 生怕 shengpa Wang Di's transcription suddenly transposes the melody up a fifth (compare her two Ziye Wu Ge transcriptions: these are a fifth apart). There is no explanation - presumably it is to account for a perceived change in the modality of the original - and there is no such transposition in Yao Bingyan's transcription (see next footnote).

16. Yao Bingyan's reconstruction of Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao (online)
This version, as published in Zhongguo Gudai Gequ, was based on the tablature in the same Japanese qin handbook used by Wang Di (see previous footnote). It was apparently put into staff notation and perhaps arranged by someone else, 沈德皓 Shen Dehao. This perhaps accounts for at least one of the two deviations in the transcription from the original tablature.

  1. In the third line the note (c) assigned in the tablature to the first character of the second phrase (多 duo) has instead been assigned to the last character of the previous phrase (苦 ku). This change in phrasing perhaps resulted from Yao only playing the melody, not singing it.

  2. Just before the end of the first line of the second stanza, played in harmonics, the character 難 nan is given two notes: it begins on an eighth note d (re, as indicated in the tablature), it then goes down to c, which is held quite long. In the original tablature an extra note was written in the margin at this place, but it is a repeat of the cluster assigned to nan. Such marginal notes also appear elsewhere in the tablature. Usually (but not always: here see the marginal correction next to 應 ying in the third line of the second stanza) they are the same as the note they appear next to. This gives the impression that perhaps in an earlier edition they were a correction: usually the correction has already been made, but for conservative reasons the marginal correction is retained. Here perhaps Yao interpreted the marginal correction as a separate note, then played it down one string. The problem is that this is a deviation from the rule that only one right hand stroke can be assigned to a syllable (i.e., a Chinese character). If the note is a slide, that would fit the rule, but such can not be the case here, since the passage is played in harmonics.

This edition does not give the tablature or any indication of harmonics.

17. Li Qingzhao's original lyrics (translated above, but also see other translations)
Sometimes given the sub-title 離別 Separation, these are as follows (with character count; compare Gui Yuan Cao),

  香冷金猊,被翻紅浪,起來慵自梳頭。 4,4,6 (14)
  任寶奩塵滿,(憑他)日上簾鉤。 5,4    ( 9 [is the "憑他 as usual" added only for the qin melody version?])
  生怕離懷別苦,多少事,欲說還休。 6,3,4 (13)
  新來瘙,非于病酒,不是悲愁。 3,4,4 (11; total for verse: 47 [not counting the "pingta"])
  休休!這回去也。 2,4
        千萬遍「陽關」,也則難留。       5,4 (total of 15 for this line)
  武陵人遠,煙鎖秦樓。 5,4    ( 9; "武陵人 wuling ren": man amongst the immortals)
  惟有樓前流水,應念我(,)終日凝眸。 6,3,4 (13)
  凝眸處,從今又添(,)一段新愁。 3,4,4 (11; total for verse: 2 + 46)

The last line is in harmonics and there is no separate coda (compare Gui Yuan Cao).

Note: The McGill Ming Qing Women's Writing website's online original omits the 憑他 pingta that is here in line 2, and in line 3 of the second verse seems to have 終日 zongri instead of 終目 zongmu. So does another online version, which includes translation and analysis. The Xu Yuanzhang edition, which also omits pingta, has in the second last line zongmu instead of zongri; Xu also adds a second comma in each of the last two lines (as indicated above).

The McGill Ming Qing Women's Writing website includes 81 poems using the structure Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao. At least four of these are translated in Chang and Saussy and the present lyrics are translated in several places. From looking at the structure of the originals of the five translated poems, they are all quite similar. The main deviation seems to be in the line after the two character interjection beginning the second verse. This suggests that the last three lines of the second verse should parallel the last three lines of the first, and there should be the two character interjection between the verses. The first line of the first verse is always 4,4,6, but the first line of the second verse never is; usually it is 4,5,4, but there seem to be some variations here. (There is a similar first-line variation in Dongfeng Qi Zhuo Li.)

The four referenced translations in Chang and Saussy are of poems by He Shuangqing (p. 454), Gu Maoyi (p. 493), Shen Xiang (p. 543) and Jiang Zhu (p. 546). The originals of the five poems using this meter discussed here, together with a list of 76 others, can be found through the search page on the McGill Ming Qing Women's Writing website. To search, set the top box for "Poem Title", and search for "Feng Huang Tai Shang Yi Chui Xiao" (i.e., separate syllables). It should yield 81 such poems by women writers (I have no information on how often male writers used this form).

My own reconstruction of the melody tries to capture as much as possible the parallels between the first and second verses, but I cannot claim that this interpretation inevitably follows from rhythms best suggested by the existing arrangement of the tablature.

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