Wu Ye Ti
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43. Evening Call of the Raven
- Yu mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 )
烏夜啼 1
Wu Ye Ti
  "There is nothing blacker than a raven"3    

Versions of Wu Ye Yi survive from over 30 qin handbooks published between 1425 and 1910.4 As for the earliest of these versions, although Zhu Quan included its tablature in Folio II of Shen Qi Mi Pu, it has some of the archaic characteristics found in Folio I melodies; these characteristics include some of the fingering symbols, repeated phrases and perhaps modality. Zhu Quan suggests that he considered the melodies of Folio I to be the oldest because he could find no players for them so he just copied out the old tablature. Could Wu Ye Ti then have been a piece for which he had tablature that was in fact as old as some of the Folio I tablatures, but he found someone or some people who played from the tablature?5

With regard to this, Wu Ye Ti is one of the most ancient qin melody titles, included as #56 in the qin melody list at the end of the You Lan manuscript, and the last title in the Hejian Yage list found in one version of Cai Yong's Qin Cao (it is not in the Hejian Zage list). In addition, it is specifically mentioned in Tang poetry as a qin melody;6 and the Yue Fu - the official music bureau of the Han dynasty and later, one of whose functions was to collect music current among the people - has Wu Ye Ti lyrics in Folio 60 (see below), part of the qin melody section. However, none of the prefaces to existing versions of the qin melody Wu Ye Ti refers to the story in Folio 60; instead the only stories referenced come from Folio 47, which has lyrics for a Xiqu Ge (Western Tune) named Wu Ye Ti.7

Wu Ye Ti was one of the most widely published qin melodies between 1425 and 1600, and a study of the various versions from that period might help determine what the specific early characteristics of this melody were. However, at present there seem to be only three versions of this melody available through recordings and/or transcription. The largest number are those based on the version published in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425), reconstructed in the 1950s and now published in a variety of interpretations, including my own; the version from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu, recorded only by myself, with transcription; and the ones based on the version published in Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802). This latter version may have been passed down to the present from teacher to student, but this is not completely clear (see the analysis in QSCB): this title was seldom published during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today the raven is generally considered unlucky. However, in many early poetic texts such as those collected by the Yue Fu it is not uncommon to find the theme of a woman at home hearing a raven call out as she wonders about a son (or man) who is away, and considering the call lucky. The raven can symbolize fidelity to family, but it can also suggest freedom to travel. It can bring a divine message, but it can also be an omen of death. Whether the call of the raven is considered an omen of ill fate or a sign of good luck may depend on the time of the call: an early evening call may be lucky, a late evening call unlucky.8

The story associated with the Wu Ye Ti in the qin melody section of Yuefu Shiji, Folio 60, #2, has a raven appear as a lucky omen to a daughter of He Yan (190 - 246).9 The preface10 to the lyrics, here called Wu Ye Ti Yin, says that when He Yan was in prison, two ravens came to his daughter's cottage. She considered this a lucky omen that her father would be released, and so she "selected" this melody. There are then lyrics by Zhang Ji; these concern a young wife hearing the call of a raven while her husband is imprisoned.11

As mentioned above, the story introducing the qin melody Wu Ye Ti in Shen Qi Mi Pu and later handbooks comes not from the qin melody section of Yuefu Shiji but from Folio 47, which has Xiqu Ge (Western Tunes);12 this includes 21 Qiqu Ge associated with Wu Ye Ti.13 The story told there also has the raven as a lucky omen. The story is set in the Liu Song dynasty (420-479), centered at Nanjing. The persons mentioned are the emperor, Liu Yilong (407-453),14 a son of the founder of the dynasty; another son, Liu Yikang,15 then prince in Yuzhou, an old name for Nanchang; and Liu Yiqing,16 a grandson of the founder and at the time regional inspector in Jiangzhou, modern Jiujiang, about 100 km north of Nanchang. Liu Yiqing was said to have been a good writer. Perhaps when the raven calls it is in the early evening, since it turns out to be a good luck omen.

None of the lyrics in Yuefu Shiji seems to mention this story. Neither do the lyrics with the only surviving melodies to have them, dated >1505 and 1585. In selecting this story to explain the piece, perhaps it is significant that Zhu Quan was prince in Nanchang, and was also often in fear of keeping his position. All later handbooks with commentary relate this same story.

There is a story about the early Ming dynasty qin master Xu Hezhong that concerns Wu Ye Ti.17 It was said that a contemporary of Xu, a certain Mr. Xue, was so devoted to playing Wu Ye Ti that he was called "Xue Wu Ye"; however, when this person heard Xu play it he immediately became Xu's disciple. Again, there is no information about which particular versions were involved in this story.

In Qinshi Chubian Chapter 4 Xu Jian writes that the Yu Shan school considered Wu Ye Ti, like Zhi Zhao Fei, too agitated. This apparently concerned a version of the melody by a player named Chen Aitong (see 1673).

In common with other early yu mode melodies, Wu Ye Ti has la as its main tonal center with mi as the secondary center. However, at the beginning and often throughout the melody the tonal centers change to do and sol. In SQMP the melody and harmonic coda both end on la. However, in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu the coda as written strangely centers on sol in spite of the piece being in la mode throughout.18

Original Preface19

The Emaciated Immortal says

This is perhaps a very old piece. The Music Record of the Tang Annals states,

"The Liu-Song dynasty's Linchuan prince (Liu) Yiqing wrote Wu Ye Ti. In (441 AD) Pengcheng prince (Liu) Yikang was banished to Yuzhang (Nanchang); Yiqing was then cishi (regional inspector) of Jiangzhou (Jiujiang). Meeting in the city20 they looked at each other and cried (about this situation). (Emperor) Liu Wen Di heard of this and, taking offense, summoned Liu Yiqing back to the capital, causing him great fear. (Liu Yiqing's) female entertainer(s) that night heard the (lucky) sound of ravens cawing, and banged on the doors of his apartments, saying, 'Tomorrow it must be that there will be an amnesty.' That year he was transferred to be cushi of Yanzhou, and so he wrote the melody Wu Ye Ti."(see below)

The tune which the Linchuan prince wrote belongs in the old Yue Fu, and was not actually a qin melody; but perhaps the one in Yue Fu and the qin melody illustrated the same ideas.

Nine sections; no lyrics;
21 (timings follow the recording on my CD; 聽錄音 listen with my transcription)
(Titles from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu; SQMP has one only for #7, Struggling for the nest)

(00.00) 1. The moon is bright, so the stars are indistinct
(01.01) 2. The small ravens fly south
(02.24) 3. "Ya ya" sounds in the cold
(03.07) 4. A solitary image of loneliness
(03.30) 5. Giving one's own food to parents out of love and compassion
(04.14) 6. Royal kindness provides a pardon
(04.48) 7. Struggling for the nest at midnight
(05.21) 8. Disgorging food to feed the chicks
(05.52) 9. Using something as an analogy
(06.57) -- play harmonics of the modal prelude
(07.11) -- Piece ends

Return to the Shen Qi Mi Pu ToC or to the Guqin ToC.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Evening Call of the Raven (烏夜啼 Wu Ye Ti) References
(Wu Ye Ti is also translated "Evening Call of the Crow", "Crows Cry at Night", etc.; wu is also translated as "rook")
19454.120 烏夜啼﹕樂府西曲歌名;琴操名;詞牌名;曲牌名 :

For wu by itself 19454 烏 first says "烏,孝鳥也 wu, xiao niao ye", i.e., "the wu is a filial bird"; it gives the Han dynasty Shuo Wen as its source. 19454.352 烏鴉 wuya (earliest reference 本草,烏鴉 Ben Cao, presumably referring to the Ming dynasty 本草綱目 Bencao Gangmu) is the most common name for the

2. For further information on yu mode see Shenpin Yu Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Nothing is blacker than a raven
The title with the image, 莫黑匪烏, is a line from The Book of Songs #41 (邶風 Airs of Bei), 北風 Northern Wind, where it says (Waley): "Nothing is redder than the fox, nothing is blacker than the crow". The image is from the Revised illustrations of Plants and Animals in the Mao [edition of the Book of] Poems.

4. Tracing Wu Ye Ti
See chart based on Zha's Guide 7/70/110.

Although Wu Ye Ti is included in over 30 surviving handbooks from 1425 to 1910, these are not evenly spaced. Most surviving tablatures through 1596 include it. In general, most of these 16 versions consciously preserve characteristics of the 1425 version more than is common with other melodies. Also, as with melodies from SQMP Folio I, the handbooks of 1546, 1552, 1557 and 1561 all copy the 1425 tablature quite closely, including archaic forms.

However, from 1596 to 1673 Wu Ye Ti appears only in Huiyan Mizhi. After this it is included in a further 13 handbooks through 1820, indicating a revival of interest, but it is then in only a further three until 1910. There seems to have been considerable variety in these later versions, but their overall motifs and structures still follows those of Shen Qi Mi Pu. As yet, I have not seen a careful analysis of the differences.

At least two versions of Wu Ye Ti can be found in the modern repertoire, one based on the Shen Qi Mi Pu version 1425, the other on the Ziyuantang Qinpu version (1802). The former is a reconstructed melody; as yet I have seen no commentary on the lineage of the latter. A third version, from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (>1505; see below, can only be heard on my CD, Music Beyond Sound.

  1. The 1425 version is quite popular today; as of 2005 at least 10 recordings had been made. Almost all, including those by his son Yao Gongbai and by Dai Xiaolian, follow or are descended from the version Yao Bingyan made in the 1950s (therefore using silk strings). I did my own independently, so the rhythms and some of the note interpretations are somewhat different.
  2. There are at least two recordings of the version in Ziyuantang Qinpu: the one by Guan Pinghu has a transcription in Guqin Quji, Vol. I, pp. 71-78; the source of the ones by Yang Xinlun and Xiu Daoxiu are not identified but they both seems to be from 1802.

A recording by Zhao Jiazhun says it is from Wuzhizhai Qinpu but it is actually from 1425.

5. Early characteristics of SQMP Folio I melodies to look for in SQMP Folios 2 and 3
Da Hujia, in Folio III, is often considered one of the earliest melodies in SQMPO, but its tablature does not have as many archaic characteristics as does Wu Ye Ti.

One of the most notable unusual characteristics of Wu Ye Ti is the longhand description near the beginning of the tablature explaining how to execute the opening finger strokes. This is found in several SQMP pieces, particularly from the first folio, which is supposed to have the oldest melodies. Such longhand descriptions are quite rare in later handbooks, but this one consistently shows up in the later versions of Wu Ye Ti (see chart).

Another characteristic shared with a few Folio I melodies is the use of repeat passages, the repeats indicated by words. Wu Ye Ti has four such passages. Thus, after tablature indicating three notes there is the character for "moon"; then after tablature representing about 30 more notes there is the character for "bright". Later in the melody there is the phrase "from 'moon' go to 'bright'", indicating the original passage should be repeated. The other three such repeat passages are "from 'stars' go to 'faint'", "from 'south' go to 'fly'", and "from 'return' go to 'feed'". This characteristic also shows up in later versions (again see chart).

6. 元稹 Yuan Zhen, 聽庾及之彈烏夜啼引 Listening to Yu Jizhi play Wu Ye Ti Yin
No translation yet available; note that "Wu Ye Ti Yin" is the title used in YFSJ, Folio 60.


7. As yet I have found no attempt to explain the reason for this. However, as will be mentioned further below, Zhu Quan (the compiler of Shen Qi Mi Pu) may have had a particular reason for preferring the story of an exiled prince. Perhaps Zhu Quan adopted this story for the qin melody and others simply followed him.

8. Raven associations
Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, pp.247/8, Raven (烏鴉 wu ya), relates the legend associating the raven with the sun (as the rabbit is with the moon). He says the raven bringing messages from the gods has three legs; some ravens are associated with temples. He says the raven call was generally considered unlucky, but that this might also be dependent on time: from 8 to 10 PM it is lucky; 10 - 12 PM unlucky.

A particularly famous poem mentioning a raven is Zhang Ji's Maple Bridge Night Anchorage.

9. He Yan (何晏; 190 - 246)
Giles: He Yan (489.217) was famous as a dandy with beautiful white skin. When young he attracted the attention of Cao Cao, but was sent home for petulance. He was later shunned by Cao Cao's grandson (Mingdi, r. 227 - 240) as effeminate. After Mingdi died He Yan became involved with Cao Shuang, and like him was eventually executed after some palace intrigue. He was also a noted for "pure talk" and his knowledge of Daoist classics.

10. YFSJ, 烏夜啼引 Wu Ye Ti Yin, Folio 60, #2, Preface (p.872)
This preface begins by quoting Qin Shuo by Li Mian, as follows.

Wu Ye Ti was crafted by a daughter of He Yan. At first, with He Yan in prison, two ravens stopped at the cottage (where his daughter lived). The daughter said, "Ravens make a lucky sound; it must be that my father will be released. As a result she 選 selected this melody."

(The editor [Guo Maoqian?] adds,)

Qingshang's Western Melodies also have a Wu Ye Ti by the Liu Song Linchuan Prince. It has the same 義 purport as here, but the affair is different.

This is followed by the lyrics (see next footnote).

11. YFSJ, Folio 60, #2, 烏夜啼 Wu Ye Ti Yin lyrics (p.872)
The following lyrics, by 張籍 Zhang Ji (778 - ca.829), are the only Wu Ye Ti lyrics in the qin section of YFSJ:

秦烏啼啞啞,        夜啼長安吏人家。
少婦語啼烏,        汝啼慎勿虛,

12. 樂府詩集,西曲歌 Yuefu Shiji, Folio 47, Xiqu Ge (Western Tunes) come under 相和歌 Qingshang Quci (Songs in the tunes qing and shang [or: "Songs in the qingshang mode"]).

13. 21 Xiqu Ge with Wu Ye Ti lyrics
None of these Wu Ye Ti lyrics in Yuefu Shiji Folio 47 directly refers to the Liu Yiqing story. The original lyrics and their attributions are as follows,

  1. 無名氏 Anonymous: 8 lyrics (each is [5 + 5] x 2)

    1. 歌舞諸少年,娉婷無種跡。菖蒲花可憐,聞名不曾識。
    2. 長檣鐵鹿子,布帆阿那起。讬儂安在間,一去數千里。
    3. 辭家遠行去,儂歡獨離居。此日無啼音,裂帛作還書。
    4. 可憐烏臼鳥,強言知天曙。無故三更啼,歡子冒闇去。 (Translated by Holzman)
    5. 鳥生如欲飛,二飛各自去。生離無安心,夜啼至天曙。 (Translated by Holzman)
    6. 籠窗窗不開,蕩戶戶不動。歡下葳蕤籥,交儂那得往。
    7. 遠望千里煙,隱當在歡家。欲飛無兩翅,當奈獨思何。
    8. 巴陵三江口,蘆荻齊如麻。執手與歡別,痛切當奈何。

  2. 梁簡文帝 Emperor Jianwen of Liang: 1 poem


  3. 劉孝綽 Liu Xiaochuo (Xiaochao): 1 poem


  4. 庾信 Yu Xin: two poems




  5. 楊巨源 Yang Juyuan (Tang dynasty)


  6. 李白 Li Bai (699-762; p.692)

    This poem is translated in various places, e.g., Sun Yu, Li Po - A New Translation. HK, Commercial Press, 1982, p. 112. See also Xu Jian, pp. 45-49. It opens by relating the sadness of a young wife whose husband is off at the frontier. The lyrics then focus on the natural life of birds and the mutual devotion between parent and child.

  7. (顧況 Gu Kuang): 2 poems (p.693)




  8. 李群玉 Li Qunyu


  9. 聶夷中 Nie Yizhong


  10. 白居易 Bai Juyi


  11. 王建 Wang Jian


  12. 張祜 Zhang Hu


14. Liu Yilong 劉義隆 (407 - 453)
Liu Yilong (2270.918 劉義隆), according to Giles, was the third son of Liu Yu, whom he succeeded in 424 as third Emperor of the Liu Song dynasty. (Return)

15. Liu Yikang 劉義康
2270.916 劉義康 Liu Yikang says nothing about music or poems, (Return)

16. Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403 - 444)
劉義慶 Liu Yiqing (Bio/660) was 臨川王 Linchuan prince and Regional Inspector (刺史 Cishi) of 荊州、江州、南兗州 Jingzhou, Jiangzhou and Nanyanzhou. He helped compile Shishuo Xinyu

17. 徐和仲 Xu Hongzhong is also said in some sources to have created Si Shun. (Return)

18. See further comments on mode with #42 Zhi Zhao Fei. (Return)

19. There are four prefaces in Yuefu Shiji, Folio 47 (p. 690):

  1. 唐書,樂志 Tang Shu, Yuezhi (Music Chronicle from the Tang Annals)

    (Tang Shu, Yuezhi begins with the virtually identical passage as in SQMP. However, where the SQMP preface says, "and so he wrote the melody Wu Ye Ti," the Yuezhi says,)

    "And so he wrote a song. Its refrain (和) is as follows, (sometimes the lines are reversed, and some versions seem to omit "the raven cries at night".)

    Every evening I look for my gentleman to come,
    (The raven cries at night,)
    He knocks at my window, but the window cannot be opened.

    The lyrics transmitted here were probably not originally expressed by Liu Yiqing."




  2. 教坊記 Jiaofang Ji (13546.33 Record of the Jiaofang [a sort of imperial court art academy], by 崔令欽 Cui Lingqin, 8th c.)

    (Retells basically the same story)

  3. 古今樂錄 Music Records Old and New

    Wu Ye Ti is an old dance for sixteen persons.

  4. 樂府解題 Yuefu Jieti

    There is also Raven Roosting Song (烏棲曲 Wu Qi Qu; this is the next melody in YFSJ, see p.695). It is not known if this is the same as (Wu Ye Ti).

20.zhen; Donald Holzman, Immortals Festivals and Poetry in Medieval China suggests "mountain top", i.e., nearby 廬山 Mount Lu. (Return)

21. Music
Compare the timings here with those of the version in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu. The lyrics of the latter are unrelated to the Yue Fu lyrics mentioned above.

Return to the top or to Tracing Wu Ye Ti

Appendix: Chart Tracing Wu Ye Ti
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's
Guide, 7/70/110.
See summary

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/156 [here])
9 sections; #7 entitled 爭巢 Struggling over the next
 Repeat passage indicators (RPI): 月-明,星-稀,南飛,反-哺;
  2.  浙音釋字琴譜
      (>1505; I/230 [details])
9T; lyrics; same preface but rather different music from 1425; same RPI, but no lyrics on repeats
Lyrics begin: 碧天夜如洗,月照黃雲城上,寒烏棲,啞啞枝上啼,牛女兮河漢明星稀。聽那....
  3. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/174)
11T, but compare 1425: same RPI; afterword ("嘗讀古樂為...."?) hard to read and not copied in Guide)
Has as its prelude Yu Shu Lin Feng
  4. 發明琴譜
      (1530; I/378)
9; compare 1425: seems somewhat like a copy by someone who didn't quite understand it
No RPI: writes out repeated passages
  5. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/284)
9; like 1425 but better copy
Same RPI
  6. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/446)
9; like 1425, with same RPI; it corrects some obvious errors; some of its changes may show that, with repetition, playing by memory naturally brings change (e.g., long sections not quite repeated)
  7. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/462)
9; identical to 1546
  8. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; III/299)
9, but #2 seems to be missing;
No RPI; repeats written out but many changes from 1425
  9. 太音傳習
      (1552-61; IV/148)
9; seems almost same as 1425
same RPI
10. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/385)
9; seems almost same as 1425
same RPI
11. 龍湖琴譜
      (1571; 琴府/265)
9 sections (titled as >1505, but without numbers);
RPI as 1425; music seems more like 1425 than >1505;
12. 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; #55)
9; see 1585
13. 五音琴譜
      (1579; IV/242)
9; similar to 1425; has longhand comments such as "作索鈴聲同前頭一段、二段。"
No RPI, but some passages written out in repeat
14. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/468)
9T; lyrics almost same as >1505, but music quite different
15. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/518)
9; very similar to 1425
Same RPI;
16. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/257)
9; like 1425 but with some mistakes
Last version to have RPI
17. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/186)
12; still related to 1425 but quite different: compare 1673
18. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X.2)
same as 1647?
19. 大還閣琴譜
      (1673; X/409)
10; still related to 1425, but really quite different. Closer to 1802, though sections are divided differently.
See comment: Was this a version played by Chen Aitong?
20. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/295)
10; more changes
22. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/526)
10; more changes
A recording by Zhao Jiazhun says it is from here, but it is actually from 1425
23. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/95)
24. 穎陽琴譜
      (1751; XVI/124)
12; still related
25. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/260)
10; "徐青山譜 tablature of Xu Qingshan": see 1673
26. 琴香堂琴譜
      (1760; XVII/130)
10; still related (see 1802)
27. 研露樓琴譜
      (1766; XVI/502)
10; like 1673;
28. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/435)
10; compare 1760; recording by Guan Pinghu;
    also a transcription (Guqin Quji, Vol. I, pp. 71-78)
29. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/347)
10; "same as 1689"
30. 琴譜諧聲
      (1820; XX/189)
10; "gong diao"; afterword
31. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/372)
10 sections plus a 收音 finale
32. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/315)
10; 角音,羽調,自遠堂譜 "= 1802"
33. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/259)
10; "= 1802", with rhythmic indicators. Was this from a reconstruction or a version actively played? Also, is the 1802 version played today passed down through here or reconstructed from here?
34. 虞山吳氏琴譜
Staff notation as well as tablature; based on 1425