Bai Xue
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30. White Snow
- Shang mode:2 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
白雪 1
Bai Xue
Bai Xue illustration from Kuian Qinpu 3        
As mentioned in the introduction to Yang Chun, both Yang Chun and Bai Xue have long been popular melody titles. In literature they have most commonly been paired;4 in addition, in many music repertoires there are melodies called Yangchun Baixue.5 And in the qin repertoire the titles Yang Chun and Bai Xue seem equally popular: versions of Yang Chun can be found in 38 surviving handbooks from 1425 to 1946, while versions of Bai Xue are in 39 handbooks throughout the same period.6 It should also be noted that the Yang Chun entries comprise two musically unrelated melodies (though only three of four are of the earlier version); and that whichever version of Yang Chun is being considered, in these qin handbooks Yang Chun and Bai Xue, while sharing similar commentary, are two completely distinct melodies and rarely paired.

This disassociation is also found in the Yuefu Shiji, where Bai Xue is in the section of qin song lyrics, but Yang Chun is included in the Jiangnan melody section of Qingshang lyrics.7

Further emphasizing the differences, the two melodies are in different modes: as stated in the original preface below, Bai Xue is in shang mode, while Yang Chun is in gong mode.8 And since Zhu Quan includes Bai Xue in the second folio, whereas Yang Chun was in the first folio, one might assume he obtained them from different sources.

In his preface Zhu Quan refers to commentary by Zhang Hua, author of the Bowu Zhi, and by the poet Song Yu. Zhu Quan's sources seem to be rather different from those quoted in the Yuefu Shiji entry for Bai Xue. (See also the YFSJ on Yang Chun.)

Other collections and historical records show that melodies on this theme have continued to be played since ancient times.9

When reading the stories of the origins of Bai Xue one should keep in mind that these are mainly for their literary and historical associations, and have little to do with the actual origins of any surviving melody. Of this we can only say that, whereas the Yang Chun published in 1425 CE was apparently copied from an earlier source, perhaps 13th century or earlier, this Bai Xue may also have an ancient source but Zhu Quan found someone (or more than one person) who actively played it. As for the transmission of Bai Xue, it does not seem possible to say with certainty what if any revisions might have been made between any possible earlier tablature and 1425, or what editing Zhu Quan himself may have done.

Shi Kuang (Master Kuang) was perhaps the most famous musician in ancient China, said to have been music master to Duke Ping of Jin in the 5th C. BCE. Huainanzi (a book attributed to the court of Liu An (d. 122 BCE), says that when Shi Kuang played Bai Xue strange birds descended, accompanied by wind and rain.

Zhu Quan's quote from Song Yu, an early Han dynasty poet, is given with Yang Chun.10 Also mentioned with Yang Chun is the common attribution of Yangchun Baixue to the 3rd C. CE Taoist doctor Liu Juanzi.

Bai Xue survives in 34 handbooks to 1878. There are CD recordings of reconstructions from SQMP by Guan Pinghu and Cheng Changlin.11 The Bai Xue recorded by Ding Chunyun (edited from Ziyuantang Qinpu) and Wu Zhaoji (similar source) are very different, but connections can still be heard.

Original Preface12
(Xilutang Qintong [1525] emphasizes that this is the sound of bamboo in the snow)

The Emaciated Immortal says,

this piece was written by Shi Kuang. Zhang Hua relates that the Celestial Emperor had Su Nü play the five stringed qin. She played Yang Chun and Bai Xue; so Shi Kuang was copying her when he wrote it. Yang Chun is in the gong mode, while Bai Xue is in the shang mode. Yang Chun has the meaning of the myriad objects responding to spring while its mild winds blow gently; Bai Xue has the sounds of snow-covered bamboo tinkling like jade in the cold clear air. Thus we have Bai Xue and the previously composed melody Yang Chun. These (two pieces) are probably what Song Yu was talking about when he said the loftier the tune the fewer are those who can accompany it.

Music (timings follow the recording on my CD; 聽錄音 listen with my transcription)
Nine sections, three with titles: 13

(00.00) 1.
(01.11) 2. Sound of bamboo snapping14
(01.59) 3.
(02.34) 4.
(02.58) 5. Sound like the shattering of jade15
(03.32) 6. (Bamboo) makes musical sounds16
(04.23) 7.
(05.20) 8.
(05.54) 9. harmonics
(06.28) -- Piece ends

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Tracing the title Bai Xue
白雪 23191.641 says "old melody, see Yangchun Baixue;" it then gives references to Wen Xuan, Lu Ji; Yuefu Shiji (mentions qin) etc.; see also .646 白雪曲 Bai Xue Qu ("qin melody", with references to Wen Xuan, Xi Kang, etc.) and .649 白雪陽春 Bai Xue Yang Chun (another Wen Xuan reference [宋玉,對楚王問], but its example is actually Yang Chun/Bai Xue). The title (but not Yang Chun) is listed as #7 in the Qin Cao Hejian Yage.

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao
Standard tuning is also considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. For further information on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Kuian Qinpu illustration (QQJC XI/16)
There is no inscription.

4. As can be seen from the Original Preface here.

5. 陽春白雪 Yangchun Baixue: see comments under Yang Chun.

6. Zha Fuxi's Guide 5/48/66 (for Yang Chun: 3/27/19). The chart below shows which handbooks have which of the two melodies.

7. Yuefu Shiji commentary and lyrics for Bai Xue
The Yuefu Shiji entry for Bai Xue is as follows.

齊·徐孝嗣謝希逸《琴論》曰: Qin Lun by Xie Xiyi (421 - 466) says,

"Liu Juanzi excelled at playing qin. He constructed the melodies Yang Chun and Bai Xue."

琴集曰:《Qin Ji says,

"Bai Xue" was written by Shi Kuang. It is a melody in the shang mode."

唐書·樂志曰:Tang Shu, Yuezhi, says,

"Bai Xue is a melody from the Zhou dynasty."

張華《博物志》曰:Zhang Hua, Bowu Zhi, says,

"As for Bai Xue, it is the name of the melody the Celestial Emperor (Fu Xi) ordered Su Nü to play on the 50 string se.

(郭茂倩曰:Guo Maoqian himself adds),

"In 657 CE the Great Regulations Department (Taichang) said that the qin melody Bai Xue was originally suitable for accompanying song; now in accordance with the old qin melody, the emperor made a Snow Poem to provide lyrics for Bai Xue. And the Old and New Music Bureau, (古今樂府; 3308.79 is 古今樂錄 Gujin Yuelu) after playing it as a regulated melody (without singing), also had it with lyrics appended. They had several several attendants together with the emperor and in accord with the poems use them as the appended lyrics, and this was done 16 times. Then in the second month of 661 Lü Cai made a qin song Bai Xue as a melody, and the emperor also made 16 sets of lyrics, all recorded in the Music Bureau.

This translation follows the punctuation of the modern edition of Yuefu Shiji; the information seems to have come from Xin Tang Shu.

Yuefu Shiji then includes two poems entitled Bai Xue Ge and one called Bai Xue Qu (compare Yang Chun lyrics). These are not yet translated:

Bai Xue Ge (白雪歌)

Xu Xiaosi of Qi (徐孝嗣)

願君早留(or 流)眄,無令春草生。

Zhu Xiaolian (朱孝廉)


Bai Xue Qu (白雪曲)

Monk Guan Xiu, (僧·貫休)


8. See also the comments under Yang Chun. The origins of this modal difference are not clear.

9. Details to be added.

10. See also Van Gulik, Hsi Kang, p.92.

11. Recordings of Bai Xue by Guan Pinghu and Chen Changlin
For Guan Pinghu see his Favorites CD 1, Track 8. I have not yet found a transcription, but from the recording it is clear that Guan changed most of the non-pentatonic notes prescribed in the orignal tablature. In particular he changed all the flatted thirds to non-flatted thirds: further research has shown the flatted thirds were typical of shang mode melodies published in the earlier handbooks from the Ming dynasty. The melody actually calls for about 10 flatted thirds; Guan also changes several flatted sevens.

As for Chen Changlin, see the 8 CD Chen Changlin Guqin Album CD 2 Track 1. Here Chen plays with metal strings but he keeps almost all of the flatted thirds. (Comparing from my transcription, see mm. 53-4 and 176, where he plays the natural thirds; he also does not flat the notes as done in my m.151 and m.166.)

12. For the original Chinese text see 白雪.

13. Music (for the original Chinese titles see 白雪)
Usually if a melody has section titles they have them for every section. With Bai Xue, however, according to the Zha Guide (which may be incomplete) two other handbooks have partial titles, 1589 and 1670, while two have full sets of them 1585 and 1618. section titles. In 1525 the section titles are:

  1. 八荒無塵
  2. 萬籟寂然
  3. 壓梅留意
  4. 虛齋尚白
  5. 狂風碎玉
  6. 皓月欺光
  7. 弄聲牕戶
  8. 積玉階除
  9. 曲高寡和

Not yet translated.

14. Sound of Bamboo Breaking (竹折聲 Zhu zhe sheng)
This is mentioned in the last line of a poem by Bai Juyi:

夜雪                     Night Snow
已訝衾枕冷,     Startled by the cold of my quilt and pillow,
復見窗戶明。     I turn and see the bright light through the window.
夜深知雪重,     Deep at night I know the snow is thick,
時聞折竹聲。     And from time to time I hear the sound of bamboo snapping.

Bamboo may bend to a snapping point when weighed down by snow.

15. Sound like the shattering of jade (碎玉聲 Sui yu sheng)
This is mentioned in a poetic essay by Wang Yucheng that also mentions qin (lines 6 & 7; q.v.):


There may be other allusions intended by the section title.

16. (Bamboo) makes musical sounds (弄聲 Nong sheng); 2/1315xxx; "弄 nong" is often used for playing a music instrument, so perhaps this suggests playing qin here. More likely, though, it is suggesting that the bamboo itself is making music-like sounds in the snow.

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Appendix: Chart Tracing Bai Xue (see also the Yang Chun chart)
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 5/48/66 .

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information (handbooks with Bai Xue also have Yang Chun unless otherwise indicated)
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/144)
9 sections (no subtitles); 2nd and 3rd editions have punctuation
"by 師曠 Shi Kuang"; not connected to SQMP Yang Chun
   .  浙音釋字琴譜
      (<1491; I.8)
lyrics of 1585 don't fit 1425
neither do those for Yang Chun
  2. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/84)
9; music like 1425, including most flatted thirds; afterword emphasizes that, whereas Yang Chun has "群物融和之意 the idea of everything warming up", Bai Xue "為竹雪琳琅之音 is the sounds made by bamboo in the snow"
  3. 發明琴譜
      (1530; I/352)
9; almost same as 1425; no punctuation
No Yang Chun
  4. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/191)
9; related to 1425 but simpler (no flatted thirds)
  5. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/409)
9; related to 1425: perhaps a bit more elaborate but fewer flatted thirds
"Xu family tradition", but how old? (comment)
  6. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/453)
9; identical to 1546
  7. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; facsimile #9)
8T; similar to 1425
  8. 太音傳習
      (1552-61; IV/66)
9; similar to 1539: related origin?
Has both versions of Yang Chun
  9. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/334)
9; very similar to 1546
10. 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; #20)
9TL; same as 1585?
11. 五音琴譜
      (1579; IV/222)
16; related to 1425 but a bit more elaborate
12. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/392)
9TL; same preface as 1425, but many differences in the music
13. 玉梧琴譜
      (1589; VI/23)
9; related (omits minor thirds)
14. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/487)
9; related to 1546 (a few minor thirds: after this it is rare to see them)
15. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/221)
10; related to 1546
16. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/323)
9; same as 1589
17a. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589; VII/80)
12TL; titles for sections 1-4 only; lyrics different again;
Music related but quite different       (楊倫太古遺音)
17b. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; ???)
same as 1589 edition?
18. 陽春堂琴譜
      (1611; VII/382)
12; like 1589/1609 but without lyrics?
    . 松絃館琴譜
      (1614; VIII/--)
Has Yang Chun but no Bai Xue
19. 理性元雅
      (1618; VIII/220)
9TL; melody related to 1585
"its shang continues Yang Chun's gong"
21. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/426)
12; 商音; same as 1611; first handbook to put Yang Chun and Bai Xue side by side
Zha's index missed the Yang Chun here!
20. 太音希聲
      (1625; IX/147)
9; lyrics; fairly well related to 1425 in spite of lyrics
   . 古音正宗
      (1634; IX/--)
Has Yang Chun but no Bai Xue
   . 羲軒琴經
      (late Ming; IX/--)
Has Yang Chun but no Bai Xue
22. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/70)
10; related but many diff.
23. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X.2)
missing? same as 1647?
24. 愧菴琴譜
      (1660; XI/18)
10; related to 1425; has picture!
No Yang Chun
25. 友聲社琴譜
      (early Qing; XI/198)
5; lyrics; very similar to 1589
No Yang Chun
26. 臣奔堂琴譜
      (1663/5; XI/90
5; lyrics; very similar to 1589
Directly follows Yang Chun
27. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/336)
9; almost same as 1425
Has the 1425 Yang Chun
28. 大還閣琴譜
      (1673; X/357)
10; related to 1425 but often quite different
Has first 和陽春 He Yangchun as well as Yang Chun
29. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/227)
10; compare 1673 and 1623; recording by Ding Chengyun.
No Yang Chun
30. 德音堂琴譜
      (1691; XII/519)
9; compare 1673
31. 蓼懷堂琴譜
      (1702; XIII/219)
12; quite different from others
    . 誠一堂琴譜
      (1705; XIII/--)
Has Yang Chun but no Bai Xue
32. 一峰園琴譜
      (1709; XIII/528)
6; shortened version; paired with Yang Chun
(see afterword and 1623)
33. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/331)
10; like 1689; see recording by Ding Chunyun
No Yang Chun
34. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/212)
10; "from 1689"
   . 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/398)
Has Yang Chun but no Bai Xue
35. 小蘭琴譜
      (1812; XIX/435)
36. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/249)
11; like 1802
37. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/218)
10; "same as 1702", but many changes; also, 1702 has 12 sections: compare its Sec. 8 to 1876 8-10
(1702 Sections 8 + half of 9 are "no need to play"; 1876 diff. here)
38. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/missing)
10; 商
39. 沙堰琴編
      (1946; XXIX/353)
11; preface and afterword
40. 研易習琴齋琴譜
10; Afterword; 中呂均,徵音; precedes 和陽春 He Yangchun
No Yang Chun
   . 愔愔室琴譜
Yang Chun but no Bai Xue
41. 虞山吳氏琴譜
From 1802, with staff notation

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