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Qin in Pipa Ji 1
(from Story of the Lute2)
Cai Bojie plays qin by the lily pond 3        
Pipa Ji, an opera in 42 scenes written by Gao Ming (ca.1305-ca.1370),
5 tells one of the most popular and enduring Chinese opera stories. The qin connections begin with the name of the male lead character, Cai Bojie, which is the same as the style name of the famous scholar official (and qin master) Cai Yong, who also lived around the same time in Chenliu, near Kaifeng.6

Here Cai Bojie and his wife Zhao Wuniang are happily married, but his father compels Bojie to go to the capital, Luoyang, to take the imperial exams. He comes in first place, then must stay in the capital to marry the daughter of Grand Councillor Niu. Some trickery keeps him out of contact with Chenliu, where Wuniang is trying to protect his parents during a famine. Five years later the parents have died and Wuniang goes to the capital to find him, taking along her pipa lute in order to make some money. After many trials she is happily reunited with Cai Bojie.7

Although the pipa is the featured musical instrument in this drama, the qin also plays a significant role, emphasizing the refinement of the leading personae.

Thus, the scene Strong Emotions in the Boudoir includes four verses used later as lyrics for the qin melody Feng Yun Hui Si Chao Yuan.8

Then, in a scene called Appreciating the Water Lilies,9 Cai Bojie plays a qin10 by a pond (see illustration at right) in the home of his second wife, expessing his resentment at the lack of news about his parents and first wife. The melodies he plays all concern separation; this and the way he plays them reveals his anguish to his new wife. The melodies include Si Gui (Yin ?), Bie Gu (Cao ?), Feng Ru Song and Zhaojun (Gong?) Yuan.11

The novel Hong Lou Meng says that in a sequel to Pipa Ji someone plays Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Reed Pipe (Hujia Shibapai). I have not been able to find such a sequel, nor have I found mention of the melody in Pipa Ji itself.12

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Pipa Ji 琵琶記
For the instrument called "pipa" see the next footnote. As for the play (LXS, p.224), there are at least two English language versions.

  1. Jean Mulligan (complete translation): The Lute. New York, Columbia U. Press, 1980
  2. Wang Jianping (adapted into a narrative), Paul White (transl.): The Story of the Lute. Beijing, New World Press, 1999. (Bilingual)

Pipa Ji is often said to be a Southern Drama (南戲 Nanxi; Wikipedia), and the story perhaps originated in that Song dynasty proto-opera form. However, by the time of Gao Ming (early Ming dynasty) 傳奇 Chuanqi (marvelous/romantic tales) was apparently a more prevalent form; perhaps Pipa Ji formed a bridge between the two, but now it seems to be best known as Kunqu (Wikipedia). One can read that Gao Ming "composed" the music for Pipa Ji and that its music was very popular. However, Kunqu is an opera form that only developed towards the end of the Ming dynasty. Its development thus took place during the lifetime of Zhang Tingyu, whose qin melody Feng Yun Hui Si Chao Yuan was published in 1618.

This history is significant in trying to ascertain whether the music of the qin melody Feng Yun Hui Si Chao Yuan had anything in common with existing 17th century opera performances: as Pipa Ji became a Kunqu staple it is difficult to say how much the music in particular might have changed from its earliest forms, or how much variety there was then in specific Kunqu melodies.

For possible connections of Pipa Ji to a modern film (and mention of a 1939 costume drama) see A Spring River flows East.

2. Pipa (p'i-p'a) 琵琶
The pipa (Wiki) is a popular Chinese plucked lute whose form and playing style have evolved considerably since it was introduced into China through Central Asia. Note that while it is correct to translate "pipa" as "lute", the word "lute" is actually a generic term that also includes a number of other Chinese stringed instruments. Note also, however, that although the guqin is often called a lute, this is strictly speaking incorrect.

3. Image
A print from 張國標 Zhang Guobiao, ed., 徽派版畫藝術 Art of Woodcut of the Huizhou School, 安徽省美術出版社 Anhui Publishing House, 1995, p.105.

5. 高明 Gao Ming (ca.1305-ca.1370)
For a short biography of Gao Ming (46302.348 平陽人字則誠號矛克) see ICTCL, p.473. ICTCL says he was from 瑞安溫州 Rui'an in Wenzhou district of Fujian, associated with the birth of the southern drama form called 南戲 nanxi. After passing the jinshi exam in 1345 he held a series of official positions, but eventually retired in disillusion over the actions of his Mongol superiors. He wrote Pipa Ji while in retirement at 櫟社 Lishe. He did not have a biography in the official Ming history, and in general there seems to be little biographical information about him (the ICTCL references are all to Pipa Ji, not to Gao himself).

6. Cai Yong vs Cai Bojie
The preface to the qin melody Feng Yun Hui Si Chao Yuan (see below mentions 蔡邕 Cai Yong, whose style name was 伯喈 Bojie. Pipa Ji is clearly taking advantage of this connection, but does not suggest they are the same person.

7. Proper names mentioned from Pipa Ji
蔡伯喈 Cai Bojie; 五娘 Wuniang; 陳留 Chenliu; 牛承相 Grand Councillor Niu

8. Strong Emotions in the Boudoir (臨妝感歎 Lín zhuāng gǎn tàn)
Some editions of Pipa Ji, and the qin melody setting lyrics from the scene as well, make no mention of this title; in the only qin handbook to have this melody, Li Xing Yuan Ya (1618), it is called Feng Yun Hui Si Chao Yuan. There are no studies of its possible musical connections to the opera as ever performed. This may also be the earliest known setting for qin of opera lyrics.

9. Appreciating the Water Lilies (賞荷 Chang He)
Also called 琴訴荷池 Plaint of the Qin (by a water lily pond). Compare Pipa Ji Scene 22 (of 42) in CText with this version from wagang.econ.hc.keio.ac.jp.

10. Although in operas it is not uncommon for a woman to be depicted playing a qin, it is much more conventional that a woman would play another instrument (such as the pipa), while it would be a man (specifically, a scholar) playing the qin.

11. Other qin melodies mentioned in Pipa Ji?
Regarding this question see, for example, 13929.139/2 斷猿 Duan Yuan (Bereft Gibbons), which says it is 琴曲名 the name of a qin melody, quoting 琵琶記,琴訴荷池 the aforementioned chapter of Pipa Ji as follows, "似寡鵠孤鴻和斷猿 Like Gua Gu, Gu Hong, and Duan Yuan." Duan Yuan is mentioned in the third section title of Cangwu Yuan. However, the definitions of Gua Gu (寡鵠 7444.74) and Gu Hong (孤鴻 7111.216) make no mention of qin.

12. Sequel to Pipa Ji
Online I have seen some scripts of a scene called 雪夜燕投懷 Xueyue Yan Tou Huai (example), also involving Cai Bojie and Wuniang and mentioning playing 別鶴怨 Bie He Yuan (= Bie He Yuan?) as well as Hujia Shibapai(actually 禿頭胡笳十八拍 Bald Head Hujia Shibapai [?]).

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