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Chapter Five: Sui and Tang dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp.59-64 2
Part Two (Qin melodies) :

1. Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia 3 (for Song dynasty see Chapter 6b1-2)

The "hujia" was originally a wind instrument from minority ethnic groups in the northern parts of our country. During the Han dynasty it was transmitted into the (Han regions) and developed into the Tang-dynasty bili and today's guan. Due to its loud volume, it was used in martial music to raise morale. "The old Han-dynasty 'Record of Zheng (zither) and Di (flute) Melodies' (Zheng Di Lu) included this melody." (Song Shu: Yue Zhi) During Jin dynasty ceremonial music, when carriages stopped, Xiao Hujia was played; when carriages departed, Da Hujia was played (Song Zhi referring to Jin Xian Can Yi Zhu). During the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Da Hujia Ming and Xiao Hujia Ming included in Xianghe Qu were played with qin, zheng, sheng, zhu (flute), and other instruments. Shen Family Sounds (Shenjia Sheng) and Zhu Family Sounds (Zhujia Sheng), popular in the early Tang dynasty, were represented by the melodies Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia (Guoshi Bu). Because at the time, "only qin players still conveyed the old sound of Chu and Han", it is possible that these two melodies were kept out of Xianghe Qu. Through the dispersion of the houses of Shen and Chu, and especially the organization and teachings of Dong Tinglan during the peak of the Tang dynasty, they became popular in qin circles. Tang-dynasty poets vividly illustrated its artistic expression and many qin musicians considered it a mandatory melody, thus rendering it the most representational melody of Tang dynasty.

The content of Da Hujia is in accordance with Cai Yan's Beifen Shi (Poem of Angry Grief). During the chaos of war near the end of Han dynasty, (hist daughter) Cai Yan stayed with the Southern Xiongnu for twelve long years. Though she married Prince Zuoxian, she still missed her homeland dearly. Yet when Cao Cao sent a delegate to bring her back to interior China, she was reluctant to leave the two children she had borne and raised there, thus her joy of returning home was submerged by her grief of parting with her family and she was endlessly ambivalent. The poet Li Qi, in his poem "Listening to the Great Dong Play Hujia", began by leading the reader into such a mood: "Miss Cai once created the sounds of Hujia, playing it altogether in eighteen sections. The Hu dropped tears on the grass and the Han delegate grieved for the returning guest." Her sentiment at parting deeply touched the Hu but also brought grief to the Han delegate sent there to bring her home. 戎昱 Rong Yu, in "Listening to Du Shanren Play Hujia", also grasped this most contradictory and penetrating scene: "looking south to see the Han moon, one'e eyes brighten; yet caring for the Hu child kills the heart inch by inch." Returning south is clearly what she has looked forward to for a long time, but looking at the child she was about to abandon, she felt great emotional pain. There is no doubt that music's expression of this complicated emotion is especially touching.

Based on this understanding, Liu Shang of Tang dynasty wrote the long poem Hujia Qu. In his preface, he wrote "The Hu recalled Wenji in admiration and made a jia out of reed leaves to express their grief. Later on, Dong (Tinglan) created the sound of Hujia with qin in 18 sections that are now called the Hujia melody." He believed that in the beginning, "the Hu recalled Wenji with admiration" and created this, reflecting the friendship between these two peoples. Regarding the belief that this was expressing friendship between the two ethnic groups, Liu Shang and Li Qi had a consensus. Yet, he never mentioned the story of Cai making the Hujia sounds, instead returning credit for their creation to the Hu people. The two poets differ on this point. Who is correct? It seems that in the Song dynasty Zhu Changwen was correct in Qin Shi: "the sound of Hujia that has been passed down through generations was created by Wenji; this is its essence."

Liu Shang in his poem preface wrote, "Later on, Dong created the sound of Hujia with qin in 18 sections that are now called the Hujia melody." This is also basically in accord with the truth, because the popular Hujia melody then really was organized and written down by Dong Tinglan. He elevated a "sound" to a "melody". However, it is not appropriate for those later on to believe that Dong was the creator. This is because Dong Tinglan inherited the Shen family sounds and Zhu family sounds, thus it would be more historically accurate to say that he was a combiner.

Da Hujia is a pure-instrumental piece that is not directly related to works of literature. The poems of Li Qi and Rong Yu only wrote of performance and never of singing. Liu Shang's long poem, though it was also 18 sections long, was only for reading and not singing, which is why Qinshu Daquan said that it was "popular everywhere; women and children could both recite it with familiarity." Surviving qin handbooks refer to Liu's poem lines as titles for each chapter, but only for reference regarding the understanding of the music, not because it is a qin song. Because the two differ too much in form, as Liu's poem lines are orderly while the melodic (phrases) vary in length, some paragraphs differing by five times. Thus they cannot possibly be sung in combination.

The tablature for Da Hujia uses Liu's poem for section titles, but this is not the case for the Hujia Shiba Pai (Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Reed Pipe) that was passed to later generations, because this piece had not emerged in the Tang dynasty, not even its name. Although Da Hujia had eighteen sections, it was called Hujia Sheng (Sounds of a Nomad Reed Pipe), Hujia Nong or Hujia Qu (Nomad Reed Pipe Melody). Liu Shang's poem at the time was only called Hujia Qu. As for Guo Maojing of the Song dynasty naming it Hujia Shiba Pai in Yuefu Shiji, that came later on.

The Hujia Shiba Pai that emerged in the southern Song dynasty had both lyrics and melody; it was an excellent melody while the lyrics were a good poem. The integration of the Hujia Shiba Pai lyrics and melody is fairly compact, which can be considered to have been influenced by Da Hujia. However, it is not the same piece as the Tang-dynasty Da Hujia and there were few similarities in musical structure or melodic style, thus they should not be confused.

The popularity of Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia during Tang dynasty had sophisticated social roots and a political background. After the division of the Northern and Southern dynasties, the people urgently wished for unity. As a result of the unified situation during the Tang dynasty, the peoples of various ethnic groups increased communication, through which their relationships grew more intimate and friendship grew. Li Qi and Liu Shang in their poems both illustrated this inter-ethnic friendship. After the Rebellions of An (Lushan 安祿山) and Shi (Siming 史思明), to borrow Uighur troops for recapturing the two capitals, the emperor ignored the plight of the people and insisted on using Luoyang's gold, silk, and women as payment. Rong Yu wrote in his poem, "The Uighurs spent several years to recapture Luoyang and all the Luoyang women drove away their generals. Does one not have parents or brothers? All who hear of this tragedy share the grief." As the situation had changed, the poet used history as a metaphor for the present, denouncing the suffering of the people. This was the situation for poetry as well as qin, which brought about the popularity of Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia.

Although Xiao Hujia was smaller in scale than Da Hujia, the general sentiment expressed in the two melodies is the same. Yuan Zhen described this in his "Preface to Xiao Hujia":

"The Hu geese swallow their mournfulness; the windlass around one's fingers is round. To swallow one's hatred and contain one's anger is too reckless; one's emotions of the mountains of his country are clear."

In accord with this content understanding, in existing tablature, the section titles of Xiao Hujia are:

Yan Gui Si Han (The geese are returning, so she thinks of China),
Chui Jia Su Yuan (Blowing on the reed pipe to express her grief),
Wu Suo Kong Su (She cannot control her words), and
Yang Tian Chang Tan (Offering up a great sigh to heaven).

This, too, expresses, through the returning south of seasonal geese, her longing for her country as she remains away. This not only characterizes Cai Yan but in general those who live on the frontier and their nostalgia. This is how frontier poetry took shape in music at the time. To some degree, one can see it as an accusation against "Emperor Wu's mind still remaining on warfare".

The earliest surviving Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia tablature are both found in Shen Qi Mi Pu. Da Hujia is arranged in the second folio of Xiawai Shenpin as one of the melodies that the editor personally learned. On the other hand, Xiao Hujia, along with Guangling San and other old melodies, is arranged in Folio I of Taigu Shengpin, as "secrets not passed down from the past". The tablature for the latter also lacks punctuation and had obviously not been played for a long time. Thus, its style of recording is more primitive, retaining more characteristics of Tang-dynasty music. There are three main points:

  1. The style of the tablature has kept traces of the transition from longhand tablature to shorthand tabalture. The symbols used lack standardization and the same fingering technique is often written in several different ways. The upward glissando, for example, sometimes uses the symbol |- (approximation), but sometimes it uses "从下(symbol for 卓)上". Also, the word 聲 is written as 聲, 声, and (bottom part of 声). Furthermore, many places in the tablature could have used abbreviated symbols, such as "从「(shorthand for 再)作", but did not. Many parts of the tablature use text to explain the technique. For example, when the last of a thrice-repeated finger pattern switches fingers for 掐起 the qiaqi technique, rather than writing 末声 "final sound" or 第三声 "the third sound", it uses (the more colloquial) 臨了一声 "follow on after the last sound", as if written in the voice of a commoner musician.

  2. In the qin tablature (for Xiao Hujia) the structure for dividing the melody is marked into three parts: 前敘 Qianxu (beginning narration), 正声 Zhengsheng (main music: "zhengsheng" is not mentioned at the beginning, but the fourth of the titled sections ends with 正聲畢"zhengsheng ends" ), and 後敘 Houxu (ending narration). This way of naming the body of the melody is very similar to that of Guangling San and may have been left over from the three parts of a Xianghe Qu: 艷 yan, 曲 qu, and 亂 luan. The section titles in the tablature are all concentrated in the zhengsheng area and the method of numbering sections is also identical to that of Guangling San, as both mark order after title, e.g. "Yan Gui Si Han, first (section)". Although the Qianxu and Houxu both form sections, they lack titles and sequential indication. The Houxu is larger in scale; it is longer than any section of Zhengsheng and uses much new material, some of which resemble the Luansheng and Houxu of Guangling San. The performance of this section requires a fast tempo, thus before the end of the melody, there are marks for "slower" and "decrease", so that the tempo can be reduced for the conclusion.

  3. During the progression of the melody, there are many uniquely-styled intervals and 取音 quyin (altered sounds?). For example, si going (back and forth) to do (i.e., between 7 and 1, as in my transcription mm. 268-270), the semitone going (back and forth) from fa# to sol (i.e., between 4# and 5: as in my transcription m.160); using fa# together with fa natural; using si and mi as main notes, and so forth. These (characteristics) are similar to those of the melody Jieshi Diao Youlan. Is this because both have kept characteristics of Tang dynasty music? Or is it because they both originated in the northwest, among minority ethnic groups? Regardless, this is a noteworthy phenomenon.

Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia are often discussed together in Tang dynasty. For example. Xue Yijian called them Hujia Liangben (Two Hujia Pieces)" while Chen Kangshi called them "Er Hujia (Two Hujia), as if they were twins. Apart from having the same origin and expressing similar themes, they are also musically similar in many respects.

First of all, they use the same mode, i.e. huangzhong, which requires the fifth string to be tightened and the first loosened. Its tuning is do, mi, sol, la, do, re, mi. This melody uses the yu modal style. Similar to Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia in tuning are Zhaojun Yuan and Huangyun Qiu Sai. Does this reflect the so-called "sound of Hujia"? This merits further study.

There is also similarity in structure. The beginning phrase of every section generally uses a similar tune.

Xiao Hujia has: (notation example not yet online; see my transcription mm. 38-40, 87-89, 137-9, 231-33 and 367-9)

Da Hujia has: (notation example not yet online; see my transcription mm. 50-53 and the beginning of 9 later sections)

The melody and its usage are very similar in both.

Also, both melodies often repeat short phrases, in this way much resembling Guangling San. When the same material reappears or is repeated, the repeat is often the same and rarely has new developments or changes. In performance, most variations come from right-hand plucking without many left-hand sliding sounds, a characteristic of older melodies, which have "many sounds and few nuances". All of these may reflect the contemporary style of early qin melodies.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. See footnote to the preface for details of the period covered (589 - 979).

2. Initial translation by Jin Qiuyu.

3. Transcriptions of my own reconstructions of these two melodies are included in the transcriptions accompanying my recordings.

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