Xian Shan Yue
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03. Moon over the Immortals' Mountain
- jue mode2 ( 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 )
Xian Shan Yue
  Opening of the 1457 tablature 3        
This melody is the third of five surviving from Wusheng Qinpu (1453). The other melodies are all generally attributed to the handbook's author/compiler, known only as "Lan Xian", the "Lazy Immortal". This one, the only melody in Wusheng Qinpu (1453) to have been re-published elsewhere, suggests that it was revised from an older melody.

The only other publication to include Xian Shan Yue is Xilutang Qintong (1525). Its afterword says the following: 4

"Humbly looking at the Lazy Immortal's Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces, one can see that his learning is very abstruse and distinguished, not the sort of thing one can disdain nowadays. It includes the jue mode melody Xian Shan Yue in Nine Sections. This melody cannot be found in other new or old qin books, so it must be original. As a result I have included it here."

Although the Wusheng Qinpu afterword to Xian Shan Yue suggests that Xian Shan Yue was revised from an old melody, the Xilutang Qinpu afterword does not seem to accept this. However, simply saying this melody could not be found in other handbooks does not necessarily mean Lan Xian himself created it. Likewise, the fact that its commentary in Wusheng Qinpu singles out Xian Shan Yue as an old melody says nothing about whether none, any or all of the melodies in Wusheng Qinpu were revisions from older melodies or tablature.5

In a few places the Xilutang Qintong tablature is different from that here in Wusheng Qinpu (single clusters, not whole phrases or more; compare the tablatures).

In 2022 the Tianjin-based qin player Shi Yu published a CD with a transcription and recording (using a qin with composite strings) of each of the melodies in Wusheng Qinpu. His recording of Xian Shan Yue has almost the same notes as here but quite a different rhythmic interpretation.6

Original Afterword
There is no preface, but there is an afterword that says:

This melody should be transmitted personally, and cannot be learned without much effort. It is an old jue mode melody here newly revised. Its beauty is beyond the mere fingering.

Music8   (see my transcription; timings follow my recording)
Nine Sections (untitled)

  1. 00.00 (harmonics)
  2. 01.00
  3. 01.50
  4. 02.36
  5. 03.18
  6. 04.31 (harmonics)
  7. 05.44
  8. 06.43 (first part: harmonics)
    07.20 (second part: harmonics have ended)
  9. 07.46
    08.40 (harmonic closing)
    08.56 (End)
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. Xianshan Yue 仙山月 references
391.33 仙山 mountain where immortals live:
1/1140 same, with more references but also nothing about the moon.
"Xianshan" often refers to the three "islands of immortals" in the east: 蓬萊 Penglai, 方丈 Fangzhang and 瀛洲 Yingzhou.

"Enchanted mountain" is the translation in the 11th section of this rendering of 白居易,長恨歌 Bai Juyi's Song of Everlasting Regret (total size 15 x {[7+7]x4}). The whole line is,

Then he heard an enchanted mountain at sea, Floating in the mist that no one could see.

Another reference is to Gao Lian's Story of the Jade Hairpin (高濂,玉簪記,幽情), which has "xian shan" in this line sung to the tune "黃鶯儿 Yellow Oriole":「芳草掩重門。住仙山欲避秦。」)

2. Jue mode (角調 jue diao)
Jue mode melodies generally consider their relative tuning as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, one of the two common versions of standard tuning. Other melodies in this mode generally have the relative pitch 1 (do; C in my transcription) as their main tonald center: this is the pitch of the open third string, called the jue string. These melodies will, perhaps more often than with melodies in other modes, use the note 3 (jue as a secondary tonal center: these two jue then combine to give the mode its name. Here the note jue seems in fact sometimes to be a tonal center (e.g., beginning of Section 2; phrase endings in Sections 5 and 7).

Generally speaking, though, the jue credentials of Xian Shan Yue seem a bit weaker than those of other jue mode pieces. It also seems more modally adventurous than other melodies, mainly by making sudden and unexpected modal shifts. Not having examined the other melodies in this handbook closely enough it is difficult to say whether the creator of the melody did this intentionally to express something about jue mode. (See also the comment below about "strange" notes.)

The modal complexity of Xian Shan Yue can perhaps be seen in the following chart giving the melody's note and pitch counts section by section:

   \ Pitch
Section \
A B♭ B C C♯ D D♯ E F F♯ G G♯ Total
1 14 4 11 17 6 15 1 68
2 21 8 14 8 1 20 3 4 3 81
3 12 2 17 1 33 8 10 83
4 21 8 5 21 16 1 9 82
5 15 2 7 13 37 29 4 4 9 120
6 29 8 8 29 16 1 19 1 111
7 24 14 21 14 19 1 9 102
8 21 3 6 2 25 11 23 91
9 15 1 2 20 30 14 1 3 13 99
Coda 1 3 3 2 2 18
Total 173 3 56 118 3 217 1 141 8 10 113 5 848

As can be seen from the bottom line of the chart, the most common notes are from the pentatonic scale 1 2 3 5 6 (relative pitches but transcribed here as C D E G A). Xian Shan Yue being in jue mode one might expect the note jue (transcribed here as E) to be the primary tonal center, but it is not: the primary tonal center is the "jue string": the third string, tuned here to do (1, transcribed as C). In fact E is moderately strong: sometimes it is played repeatedly but it almost never ends a phrase. D and A are the most common phrase endings as well as the most common notes, but C is the most common note for ending sections: 6 of 9 as well as the melody end (4 ends on D, 6 on A, 8 on G). Sometimes, as at the end of Section 5 the change to C is quite sudden.

Also notable is the fact that the relative pitch transcribed here as E is often followed by the relative pitches transcribed here as B/B# as well as the fact that all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale make at least one appearance here.

For further information on jue mode see Shenpin Jue Yi as well as Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image: Page 1 of 1457 tablature Compare opening of the 1525 tablature    
The complete tablature for the 1457 Xian Shan Yue is on pp. 178-181 of this complete pdf of the 1457 handbook. To compare that complete version with the version from 1525 see this pdf of the complete 1525 tablature. For a quick comparison of the beginning of the two versions open the above pdf from 1457 and the one from 1525 linked at right side by side. Most of the differences are also noted in my transcription.

From my understanding, this tablature has many uncommon (strange) notes but very few obvious mistakes: notes which simply cannot be played as writting (e.g., "slide up from the 7th position to the 8th must be a mistake because from the 7th to the 8th position would be going down, not up. The most common strange notes result from shifting tonal centers. After that are harmonic notes played at one of the just intonation positions (hui): some interpreters wish either to change or gloss over such notes (details); my tendency is to assume they are intentional and so to highlight any "strangeness".

4. 仙山月 Xian Shan Yue 1525 afterword

5. Singled out for inclusion in 1525
For example, "old" could mean Lan Xian had created it many years earlier. Likewise, if someone found old tablature, could find no one else who could play it and also found it difficult to play as written, but then they themselves went ahead and played it and wrote new tablature based on this interpretation, might the tablature of the resulting interpretation be considered as a new melody or as the re-interpretation of an old one?

6. Recording by 石玉 Shi Yu
The 2022 CD by Tianjin qin player Shi Yu, 五聲琴譜樂詮 Wusheng Qinpu Yue Quan, is discussed here.

7. Original 1457 afterword

8. Music
Comment to be added.

Return to the Wusheng Qinpu ToC or to the Guqin ToC.