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- The second emperor of the Song dynasty; Qin Shi #138
琴史 #138 2
Song Taizong, born Zhao Kuangyi (939 - 997), was a younger brother of Zhao Kuangyin (927 - 976), the first emperor. Taizong's activities related to the qin are discussed in Xu Jian's Qinshi Chubian, Chapter 6/A5.
The Qin Shi essay starts by mentioning the brilliance of Taizong in war and peace, then his research into correct musical tones. It then discusses his decision to "improve" the qin by adding two strings (more on this below) and also to make a 5-string ruan lute. It mentions his collecting qin melodies and ruan melodies into handbooks, plus lyrics. The following titles are then mentioned in this order:
Qinshu Cunmu gives some details of the first two of these works, in this order:
The only two melody titles that are named in the Qin Shi entry "萬國朝天 Wanguo Chaotian" and "平晉 Ping Jin"; they were also mentioned in the 宋志 Song Chronicles. However, these apparently have not survived, nor is there any particular reason to think any have survived. Thus, the 9-string melodies one can find extant in the 1618 handbook Lixing Yuanya are almost certainly unrelated to any earlier 9-string melodies.
Song Taizong and the 9-string qin
Song Taizong at one time ordered creation of a nine-string qin. Chapter 6/A1 of Xu Jian's history relates this story, which culminated in Zhu Wenji showing Taizong that the seven string qin could do everything the nine-string qin could do.7 To my knowledge no 9-string qin melodies from that time seem to survive in either name or tablature.8
Failure of the nine-string qin
The Qin Shi entry mentions the attempt to develop a nine-string qin but does not give details. For example, it does not mention tuning. The common assumption is that, as with the five 9-string qin melodies published in 1618, the tuning remained pentatonic, adding notes on top or bottom, rather than using these extra strings to create a diatonic tuning (perhaps the 7 note scale plus two octave notes). A related observation: with a nine-string qin tuned diatonically (e.g., 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2) it should still be possible to play open string octaves (on the 1st and 8th or 2nd and 9th strings, assuming one can make slightly smaller instruments for smaller hands).
The five 9-string melodies in Lixing Yuanya (1618; QQJC, VIII/318-332) are the only surviving tablature for 9-string qin. The only one of these 9-string melodies I have worked on so far is Jie Yu Ge, and I did that one because it can easily be played on a 7-string qin. Others do not seem to transfer quite so easily. For example, the first two phrases in Section 3 of Shu Dao Nan are a passage in harmonics containing octave leaps which extend beyond the range of a 7-string qin unless one plays it in a way that is both awkward and which alters the color of the music in a way that does not seem very natural.
The story of Zhu Wenji playing all the 9-string qin melodies just as well on the 7-string qin thus seems somewhat misleading. Instead it perhaps suggests that the nine-string qin failed largely because the aim was to make the new instrument play the old music better. Or to be more precise, there were certainly things one could do with a nine-string qin that could not be done with a seven-string qin but, at least from the viewpoint of the people at that time, what they did hear was not so dramatically different that it spurred people to want to play it. One might argue, though, that had it actually been dramatically different, quite likely they would have rejected it for that reason as well: it would not have been their language.
This in turn suggests that fulfilling the potential of a 9-string qin actually does require the developing of a new music idiom. Here it may be interesting to speculate why this did not happen.
But here, also, it might be interesting to speculate, had someone been trying to create a new idiom, what might that have sounded like? Would it have been a variation on known idiomatic styles, thus for example largely pentatonic? Or might they have tried something diatonic or even atonal or something else unknown and perhaps outside of the Western tradition?
And might further study of these five 9-string melodies yield some suggestions as to how today one might develop an expanded idiom that still had connections to the qin tradition?
Qin music has always been largely pentatonic; non-pentatonic notes, while more frequent in the surviving early repertoire (see especially modal details for Jieshi Diao You Lan), seem to be there largely for extra color rather than being structurally important: thus even there the melodies all remain primarily pentatonic.9 Furthermore, preliminary attempts to play melodies from the pentatonically tuned nine-string qin tablature from 1618 suggest that they can only be fairly easily adapted for seven-string qin in certain circumstances. This can perhaps be partially explained by showing the notes available in the most common harmonic positions (7th plus 5th and 9th hui) if a seven-string qin tuned pentatonically is expanded to be a nine-string qin:
Nine string qin tuned pentatonically:
As can be seen, the relative note 4 (fa) cannot be played here in harmonics. To play 4 in harmonics requires a string tuned to 4 played in the 7th position and/or one tuned to 7 played in the 5th or 9th position. This seems to demonstrate the difficulties of playing an interesting diatonic melody on a qin using pentatonic tuning, whether it has seven-strings or nine.
Does this mean that for playing truly diatonic (heptatonic) melodies one should try either a 7 string or a 9 string qin using a relative diatonic tuning. Since qin idiom strongly suggests that it sounds good to play octaves, for diatonic music one should perhaps first try a nine-string qin tuned diatonically. For example,
Harmonics are used in this analysis because they are such a strong part of the qin idiom. As a result, this preliminary outline shows not only why the seven-string qin has difficulty playing melodies based on a diatonic scale (common Western melodies, for example), but also why extending the qin to having 9 strings, even if tuned diatonically, might still not make it easy to play diatonic melodies and still take advantage of all the opportunities provided by a qin, particularly in terms of playing the extended harmonic passages.
Thus the main use of a nine string qin might be for trying to create a radically new idiom.
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
Song Taizong entry: 13 lines
Not yet translated.
Zhu Wenji 朱文濟
Qin Shi #142 tells of Zhu Wenji and the 9-string qin (see also the next footnote). Elsewhere, see for example in QQJC V/123 (translation), it has been written that Cai Yong actually played a nine-string qin, but no melodies have been mentioned in connection with that story.
Persistence of pentatonic qin melodies
This runs counter to claims often made today that old qin melodies were often non-pentatonic. For example, Jieshi Diao You Lan (mentioned above) is sometimes said to be nine-tone whereas actually it is basically pentatonic with much added color from non-pentatonic tones..