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Chapter Five: Sui and Tang dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp.73-75 2
Part Two (Qin melodies) :

6. Yangguan Sandie 3

The lyrics are the work of Wang Wei (AD 701-761), a poet at the peak of Tang dynasty. He was very proficient in music, and served as Assistant Chief Musician (within the Ministry of Rites).4 At the same time his attainments in calligraphy and painting were very high. Especially noteworthy was: In writing poetry he had the highest accomplishemnts. In later years, he "played qin and wrote poems, living freely without being restrained by social norms".

Wang Wei's original (Yangguan) poem was entitled, "Seeing off Yuan Er to Anxi", which was written when he bade farewell to his friend Yuan Er, who was going to Anxi. Anxi was a military district west of Yangguan, in what is today Xinjiang SAR. The lyrics are simple as plain words but full of emotion, and the song is a popular song for parting. The fresh scenery of a Weicheng inn provides relief against the poet's unwillingness to part with his friend and their deep friendship.5

The Yue Fu Songs take Wang Wei's original poem and call it "Weicheng Qu".6 The Tang-dynasty poet Bai Juyi wrote,7

"The high pitch of the guan blows with a distinctive sound,
    and drags out slowly the lyrics in order to sing Weicheng".

Liu Yuxi also has,8

"of all the old friends, He Kan is the only one left,
    and so very attentively we sing Weicheng".

Such poetical phrases described the circumstances under which the song was sung. There were also several ways of singing (this melody) during the Song dynasty, with Su Shi known to have sung it. Of surviving handbooks, there are still several versions of Yang Guan, some of which have as many as over ten sections while others only have three. The currently prevalent version can be found in Qinxue Rumen (AD 1864). It is (almost) exactly identical to the version in Yang Lun's Ming-dynasty Taigu Yiyin (AD 1609), but it is superior in its treatment of the lyrics.9

The qin song Yangguan Sandie repeats Wang Wei's original poem three times, which is why it is named "sandie three repetitions". The entire melody can be found in Guqin Quji. Below is the first section; lyrics outside the parentheses are from the original poem while those inside are added to accommodate for singing:

(Staff notation example not yet online10)

The original poem has only four phrases, and the melody fitted to it is also relatively simple, seeming to be in shang mode. However, after being augmented and rearranged, with the addition of the beginning phrase and the developing part in the last half of the section, it becomes yu mode.11 The new lyrics are appropriately integrated with the original lyrics while the melody, too, is a successful combination. This strengthens the expression of the artistic conception of the original piece and more fully reflects the sentiment of unwilling parting. The lyrics in each of the three repetitions are augmented on the basis of the original poem and the music of each section is also different. This is especially true of the third section as the melody in repetition gradually leads to the climax of the entire piece. At the end is a concluding section that returns the music to the original shang mode with unbroken sentiment that inspires in one lasting emotion. This conclusion is below:

(Staff notation example not yet online12)


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. Yangguan Sandie 陽關三疊
There are long versions and short versions.

4. Dayue Cheng 大樂丞
Dayue is the same as 太樂 taiyue, which is the same as 大司樂 dasiyue: musician-in-chief; a 丞 cheng is an assistant, so: Assistant Chief Musician (see Hucker 457 and 6056).

5. Weicheng was a river port for Chang'An

6. Weicheng Qu 渭城曲
See in YFSJ, Folio 80.

7. This is the third line of 白居易 Bai Juyi's poem 南園試小樂 Nanyuan Shi Xiaoyue (2798.602 only 南園, no connection made to Bai Juyi). 銀字 yinzi are silver characters written on aerophones such as the guan, a reed instrument, indicating to the player which ones to close in order to play the correct pitch. The whole poem is:


8. 劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi (772 - 842)
2270.283 唐中山人,字夢得 Tang poet from Zhongshan, style name Mengde. ICTCL pp. 592-3 says he passed his jinshi exam in 793, was exiled several times, was a friend of Liu Zongyuan and Bai Juyi, and was an innovative poet whose "most essential contributions to Chinese poetry are his political poems and his poems written under the influence of non-Chinese folk literature". Of 何戡 He Kan Bio/1085 says only that he was 善歌 a good singer, citing the present poem. The complete original poem (全唐詩,卷365_43 《與歌者何戡》) has,


9. "而且在歌辭加工方面更為出色". Personally I prefer the 1530 lyrics. No one has ever suggested that any of the added lyrics improve on Wang Wei's original, but I have not yet found a suggestion that one should sing only his lyrics. Almost all qin songs have lyrics throughout.

10. Compare my transcription from the beginning of the Yangguan Sandie in 1530, the earliest handbook to include the short version. (Original in QQJC I/369.)

11. Yangguan tunings and mode
Modern versions all use ruibin (raised fifth string) tuning; early tablature usually uses qiliang tuning (raised second and fifth strings), but also used ruibin. As for mode, the tonal centers seem to be primarily re (shang) and la (yu). This is in accord with Xu Jian's analysis. See also my further comments on mode.

12. Compare my transcription from the end of the Yangguan Sandie in 1530. (Original in QQJC I/371.)

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