Ting Qin Fu
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29. Rhapsody on Listening to a Qin
- Standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
聽琴賦 1
Ting Qin Fu
Boya plays qin on a boat (see full image) 3    
The tablature in Taigu Yiyin (1511; repeated 1539) divides the melody into five sections, adding running commentary before each one. Taken together these recount one version of the legendary meeting between the master qin player and refined scholar Bo Ya and a woodcutter named Zhong Ziqi.4

Ziqi, it turns out, is the "perfect listener". Until then Bo Ya had never met such a "zhi yin":5 someone who could truly understood his music and by extension fully appreciate him as a person. As a woodcutter (also: fuel gatherer or woodsman), Ziqi represents an ideal popular amongst the Chinese literati: a person who has learned the Dao not through book studies but by living in nature. The most popular version of this story, associated with the instrumental masterpieces called High Mountains and Flowing Streams, seem to focus on Boya's musical skill in portraying mountains and streams on the qin: whether Boya's qin play describes one or the other, Ziqi could see exactly what Boya depicted. They become "qin friends" and agree to meet again the following year. However, when Boya arrives he learns that Ziqi has died, so he either breaks the instrument or his strings, and never plays again.

According to the present running accunt, one evening Boya (said here to have the proper name Yu Rui) was playing the qin on a boat on the Qing River (or on a clear river6) while on his way to Changzhou7 when Zhong Ziqi happens along. This meeting has been connected with a variety of places, perhaps most commonly Shandong Province (as in the more famous account), but the stories that have Boya and Ziqi meeting by a riverbank seem most commonly to be associated with the Han river where it passes through what is today the city of Wuhan (see Yu Boya of Chu).

In the present accoung, although high mountains and flowings streams are mentioned in passing (as is Moon over Guanshan) the only melodies specifically mentioned by name are Clear River Prelude (Qing Jiang Yin),8 in Section 1; Wind in the Pines (Feng Ru Song),9 said to be the melody of Section 3; and Cranes Piercing the Heavens (He Chong Tian),10 said to be the melody of Section 4.

Taigu Yiyin also has another melody related to this story, Boya Mourns Ziqi (Boya Diao Ziqi). Both Ting Qin Fu and Boya Diao Ziqi are included in the section of Taigu Yiyin otherwise devoted to melodies connected the Jin dynasty (365-420 CE). Boya is most commonly associated with the much earlier state of Chu, thus living some time between 722 and 484 BCE. Commonly he is said to have spent much of his life living north of Chu, in the state of Jin (same character as Jin dynasty). I do not know the source of this confusion.12

The five sections of the present melody are unnumbered. I have not been able to trace the source of the lyrics, which are not in Yuefu Shiji. The lyrics of the second and third sections are used again, with changes, for the fourth and fifth sections of Jiang Yue Bai (1525). The lyrics of the second section here are almost the same as the lyrics for Section 4 there, while the lyrics of the third section have many differences with the lyrics for Section 5 there. (Compare originals.)

The title Ting Qin Fu survives only here and in Feng Xuan Xuan Pin (1539), which has identical words and music. In four later handbooks there is a piece called Ting Qin Yin, but it is a different melody, set to a poem by Han Yu.13

Original Preface (中文)

The Taigu Yiyin commentary is divided into five parts, one at the front of each of the five sections of the melody. The opening commentary begins by introducing Boya himself. It then continues with the first section of what is in fact a running commentary. The original commentary and its translation are here organized likewise.

Music, Commentary and Lyrics 14 (transcription; timings follow 聽錄音 my recording)
Divided into 5 sections, each with a preface. It is a largely syllabic setting following the poetic structure (indicated below for each section). The commentary is not set to music.

  1. (解題 Commentary:)
    It is thought that this fu poem was created by Boya. Boya's surname was Yu and his given name was Rui (
    Duan?). He studied qin from Master Cheng Lian, achieving such marvelous skills that he became the world's greatest qin master.

    On the way to take up duties in Changzhou (the district near the Yangzi river in Jiangsu province?) his boat stopped along a clear riverway. With breezes fresh clear and the moon bright, he played on his qin a melody whose lyrics were as follows:

    歌詞 Lyrics             (5+5) x 4

    Jiāng méi chā dǎn píng, chén shè fén ní dǐng.
    River plum blossoms stuck into a vase;
        heavy musk burns in a lion-shaped ding.

    Mèn kàn gǔrén shū, dú zuò yōu chuāng jìng.
    Sadly reading ancient people's books;
        sitting alone by a gloomy window in quiet.

    Chuāng xià fǔ yáo qín, yī qū qīngjiāng yǐn.
    Below the window someone plays a precious qin;
        the melody is Clear River Prelude.

    Dàn dào duàn zhǐ shēng, zhǐ xià cēncī lěng.
    Playing until the sound from the fingers breaks off;
        below the fingers it seems disjointed by the cold.

  2. (解題 Commentary:)
    The qin stopped. From the shore came the sound of footsteps approaching. Boya then played another piece. The lyrics were as follows:

    歌詞 Lyrics             (8+8) + (9+9) + (7+7) + 8

    Kǔ xīn láo lì xī láo qí shén, duō yán duō yǔ xī sàng qí zhēn.
    Bitter thoughts and weary toil weary the spirit;
        more words and more speaking destroy the truth.

    Rú cán zuò jiǎn xī zì chán qí tǐ, rú é pū dēng xī zì yǔn qí shēn.
    Like silkworms making cocoons, binding themselves up;
        like moths rushing to the lamp, destroying their own bodies.

    Qiū zhī dào xī bùzú yòng, Qiū zhī jiào xī bùzú zūn.
    The Confucian Way: it is not sufficient just to utilize it;
        Confucian teaching: it is not sufficient just to venerate it.

    Bù rú guī qù xī sì shuǐ bīn.
    These are not as good as returning from the Si Stream riverbank (where Confucius taught16).

  3. (解題 Commentary:)
    When the piece was finished the other man said, "Because by chance the wind brought me clear beautiful sounds, I came to listen." When Bo Ya thereupon played one more piece, he politely asked (the guest) what the melody was. The lyrics were as follows.

    歌詞 Lyrics             (8+8) x 3

    Yáng qì hé róng xī liǔ yáo jīn, táo huā bàn tǔ xī yìng rì hóng.
    Yang essence fuses, willows twist gold; (? 陽氣和融兮柳搖金。)
        peach blossoms are half open, the bright sun is red.

    Fāng cǎo qì qì xī pù jǐn xiù, huà qiáo chē mǎ xī rèn xī dōng.
    Fragrant grass is luxuriant, spread out in elegant colors;
        decorated bridges have carts and horses, serving west and east.

    Xì dié jiāo fēi xī fěn qiáng wài, yóu rén shuāng wǔ xī huà lóu dōng.
    Playful butterflies flit around, tiny outside the wall;
        two wanderers dance, east of a decorated tower

  4. (解題 Commentary:)
    The other man said, "That was
    Wind through the Pines." Startled, Boya said, "(You are) certainly a person who knows music." Then the guest honored him. (Boya) took his hand to help him onto the boat and asked his name. (The guest) said, "Zhong Ziqi." Boya once again played a piece. The lyrics were as follows.

    歌詞 Lyrics             (7+7) x 10, except 5th and 7th have 3+3 instead of 7

    Chǔ yāo xiān xì shí liú chún, shǒu bà yín zhēng jiǔ bàn xūn.
    The Chu physique is delicate, their lips (the color of) pomegrates;
        Hands grasp the silver zheng zither while half-intoxicated with wine.

    Xián jǐn rǔ yīng cái chū gǔ, zhù yí xiáng yàn yù guī yún.
    As the strings are tightened young orioles fly out from the valley;
        As the bridges are moved (also for tuning) soaring geese want to return to the clouds.

    Wǔ yīn liù lǜ xiāng hé lè, qí lín bǎi dòng huáng jīn suǒ.
    As the notes and the modality conform to the music,
        Unicorns file by, forming a golden chain.

    Hé chù cháo lián bái yù píng, shuí jiā mù juǎn zhū lián bó.
    In what place do they make connection with standing screens of white jade?
        In whose household do they in the evening role up hanging pearl door-screens?

    Yī shēng yǎ, yī shēng qīng, xiān hè fēi qǐ dá tiān míng.
    One sound is elegant, another sound is clear;
        Immortal cranes fly up and when they reach the sky they call out.

    Xiàng chuáng tuī luò shān hú zhěn, qǐ yán zhì suì liú lí píng.
    (From an) ivory bed throw down a coral pillow;
        (From a) silk mat fling a broken porcelain vase

    Yī shēng jué, yī shēng lián, xiāng chèn lú shān pù bù quán.
    One sound cuts off, another sound connects;
        Both praise
    Lushan's streams cascading down like calico.

    Qiū fēng nuǎn rù fúróng zhàng, yè yuè liáng shēng dài mào yán.
    An autumn breeze comfortably penetrates a hibiscus curtain;
        A cool evening moon reveals the tortoise-shell mat.

    Shì lái mò guài chén yín jiǔ, sī xiǎng rén jiān gèng nàn yǒu.
    Just now it is not strange that these deep thoughts (low chanting?) last long;
        Such thoughts, among the people, are even harder to find.

    Yīn dòng zì zuò duǎn cí qǔ, wàngǔ liú chuán shǎng jūn shǒu.
    Diligently have I made the brief words for this song;
        Forever transmitting appreciation for a gentleman. (tentative translation)

  5. (解題 Commentary:)
    When the piece was finished, Ziqi said, "
    Cranes Piercing the Heavans. The focus was on high mountains, lofty like Mount Tai; and on flowing streams, swelling like the rivers and streams." Whatever was created on the qin, from the master it was marvelously elegant and thoughtfully graceful. Whenever (Boya) lowered his hands (to play), Ziqi never failed to comprehend its beauty. When Ziqi died, Boya broke his strings (and played no more), thinking that the world (now) had no one who understood music.

    歌詞 Lyrics             (3+7+7+7) x 8, then (7+7) x 5, except the 3rd is 5+5 (last two are harmonics)

    Qín shēng qīng, liǎng yú fēng sòng xiǎo yān qīng.
    When qin sounds are clear, it is like all the more breezes sending away the light dawn mist.

    Zhū hù yán qián diào rǔ yàn, lǜ yáng yīn lǐ zhuàn chú yīng.
    In vermillion doorways, in front of eves, young sparrows playing;
        In the shade of green willows young orioles warbling.

    Qín shēng qí, luò huā fēng lǐ dù juān tí.
    When qin sounds are mysterious, it is like flowers falling in the breeze as small cuckoos chirp.

    Qiào lóu xiǎo qǐ shù shēng jiǎo, yú dí wǎn lái sān nòng chuī.
    Around the watchtower as day breaks many sounds contending;
        A fisherman's flute in the evening bringing Three Playings (perhaps of
    Mei Hua).

    Qín shēng yōu, shí lǐ lú huā hóng yàn zhōu.
    When qin sounds are remote, it is like a 10 li long island of reed catkins and geese.

    Shuài xī guā kāi huáng jú de, zhè zhè gū tí pò bái píng zhōu.
    The clamor of crickets coming up across the yellow-orange earth;
        The calls of partridges breaking through an island of duckweed.

    Qín shēng yǎ, jǐn zhàng luó qīn mián xiù tà.
    When qin sounds are elegant, it is like brocade curtains and gauze bedclothes while sleeping in an embroidered bed.

    Zhú cán mǎn jǐn dī tóng hú, xiāng zhuàn yān suǒ jiāo bǎo yā.
    Partially burned candles overflowing and dripping down the copper pot;
        with marked incense and trailing smoke roasting a precious duck.

    Qín shēng bēi, jiāng biān sǎ tì qì xiāng fēi.
    When qin sounds are emotional, it is like the unrestrained riverside weeping of the Xiang River concubines.

    Diàn hòu Zhāo Jūn cí hàn zhǔ, zhàng qián Xiàng Yǔ bié Yú Jī.
    Behind the palace Zhao Jun (see Zhaojun Yuan) leaving her Han lord,
        in front of the mat Xiang Yu parting from Yu Ji.

    Qín shēng qiè, tiān kuò fēng tíng chū jì xuě.
    When qin sounds are ardent, it is like the wind pausing everywhere as snow begins to clear.

    Gū hè lì pò chǔ tiān yún, bēi yuán hào luò guān shān yuè.
    A solitary crane's cry splitting the cloudy skies of Chu;
        a sad gibbon's call settling down from the
    Moon over Guanshan.

    Qín shēng jiāo, yù rén huí mèng chóu wú liáo.
    When qin sounds are delicate, it is like a lovely lady's returning dream of endless melancholy.

    Nòng zhú kòu chuāng fēng sà sǎ, cuī huā dī qì yǔ xiāo xiāo.
    Knocking bamboo against a window the wind resounds;
        impelling flowers continuously to drip from rain pattering down.

    Qín shēng xióng, hōng léi chèdiàn hǒu kuángfēng.
    When qin sounds are heroic, it is like the force of thunder and lightning with the roar of a mighty wind.

    Tà suì yù lóng fēi cǎi fèng, dùn kāi jīn suǒ zǒu jiāo lóng.
    Whipping up fragments as jade dragons fly with colorful phoenixes;
        suddenly opening a golden lock allowing scaly dragons to part.

    Qín shēng, qín shēng qīng ěr mù; zhì shí zhèng yīn tiān xià qū.
    Qin sounds, qin sounds clear the ears and eyes; they regulate the world, and organize the sounds of earthly melodies.

    Nán jiāng qiān gǔ shèng xián xīn, chuán hé sān chǐ kū tóng mù.
    It is difficult to take the hearts of a thousand old sages, and transmit this onto three feet of dried wood (

    Xià zhǐ tán xū yì, rén lái tīng què nán.
    When putting down the fingers to play one is at ease; and yet people who come to listen find it difficult.

    Yè jìng yù qín sān wǔ nòng, qīng fēng dòng chù yè guāng hán.
    The night is calm, the jade qin plays several times; a clear wind moves along as the evening is bright and cool.

    Chú fēi zhǐ shì zhī yīn tīng, bù shì zhī yīn bù yǔ dàn.
    Only someone who understands music would have stopped and listened;
          if he had not been someone who understood music I would not have played for him.

    曲終 Melody ends

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Ting Qin Fu references
聽琴賦 29852.xxx (no 聽琴). The melody and lyrics here were copied in 1539 but are unrelated to those of Ting Qin Yin (1589 and later).

2. Tuning and mode
Taigu Yiyin does not arrange melodies by mode. My reconstruction uses the relative tuning 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 (do re mi sol la do re). The tonal center most often is on 5 ("徴 zhi"), the relative pitch of the open 4th string (also called "徴 zhi"). The secondary tonal center is 2. This is all characteristic of melodies in the zhi mode.

3. Image (Original: 61 x 23 cm)
Regarding this image, I originally saw it as Lot #186 on an online auction page (now removed) for an auction in Hong Kong dated 2 March 2002.

4. 俞伯牙 Yu Boya and 鐘子期 Zhong Ziqi
The surname Yu is rarely applied to Boya. It is not mentioned at 538.18 伯牙 or included at 1482.0 俞.

5. Perfect listener 知音者
Compare "an audience of one". For more on zhiyin see here.

6. Qing Jiang or Qingjiang 清江
18003.91 清江 lists numerous Qingjiang, but says it can also mean simply a river with clear water. See also the next footnote.

7. 常州 Changzhou (常州守 Changzhou District?)
(9138 says 常 is the name of a 州 but without saying where, and 9138.40 does not have it as a place name!) This location of Changzhou (repeated in the next melody) is rather problematic. Stories most commonly associate Boya with the Chu region, in particular the area around Hanyang. However, the preface to the melody Boya Mourns Ziqi says he had served as an official in Changzhou, which today is best known as a city near the Yangzi River in Jiangsu province, midway between Nanjing and Suzhou. There were numerous 清江 Qingjiang but none mentioned near Changzhou. One (also called 夷水 Yi Shui) was in western Hubei, but qingjiang can also simply mean a clear river.

In northern Hunan is the city of 常德 Changde (9138.xxx), known by this name since the Song dynasty (it has also been known as 朗州 Langzhou, 鼎州 Dingzhou and perhaps 武陵 Wuling). I have not yet seen it referred to as Changzhou.

8. Clear River Prelude (清江引 Qingjiang Yin)
Qing Jiang is mentioned above with reference to the lyrics of Section 1 below. It is also the title of a melody published in 1585. 18003.94 says Qingjiang Yin was an opera or opera song title (曲牌名 qupai ming), but it does not mention the story and this title is not in LXS. Compare Clear Evening Intonation (清夜吟 Qingye Yin) under Jiang Yue Bai.

9. Wind Entering the Pines (風入松 Feng Ru Song)
There is no melodic connection with 1511 #28 Feng Ru Song Ge.

10. Cranes Piercing the Heavens (鶴沖天 He Chong Tian)
48157.42 and 12/1145 鶴沖天 (or 鶴冲天) say he chong tian refers to people who have become immortals in the form of cranes or flying into the heavens on cranes. It is also a 詞牌 cipai, especially one that is 雙調84字 shuangdiao with 84 characters. The present text seems connect it to high mountains and flowing streams, but I have not found this connection elsewhere. It has no apparent connection to the melody He Chong Xiao.

12. Confusion about Jin?
Both Jin are written 晉. See also the comments under the 1525 Boya Diao Ziqi.

13. Tracing 聽琴賦 Ting Qin Fu and 聽琴吟 Ting Qin Yin (tracing chart)
The chart below is largely based on Zha Guide 14/149/254 and 29/226/433 .

14. The original Chinese commentary and lyrics (I/290) by itself is as follows:

(一英文 按此賦,伯牙所制也。伯牙姓俞,名瑞(端?)。學琴於成連先生。得其奧妙,遂為天下絕倡。嘗赴任常州守,舟次清江,當夫風清月白之夕。援琴一曲。詞云﹕


(二英文 琴罷,岸有足音跫然,自遠而近。伯牙再操一曲。詞云﹕


(三英文 曲既終,其人曰,「偶因風送,清麗之音,特來一聽。」伯牙於是再鼓一曲。請問何曲。詞云﹕


(四英文 其人曰,「風入松也。」伯牙愕愕然曰,「誠知音也。」遂賓禮之。攜以登舟,得其姓名,曰鐘子期。伯牙再撫一曲。詞云﹕


(五英文 曲終,子期樂,「鶴沖天也。志在高山,峨峨然若泰山;在流水,洋洋然若江河。」凡琴中所制,與夫清奇幽雅,悲切嬌雄。落指之間,子期無不悉其妙。子期既死,伯牙絕絃,以為世無知音者。


15. "Not sufficient"
The literal meaning of 不足 buzu is "not sufficient", but some dictionaries say it means "not worth" (e.g., deFrancis), and in the example given at 1/414 不足道 buzu dao, from 陶潛,桃花源記, it seems to mean "no need to...." (Return)

16. Si Stream Riverbank (泗水濱 Si Shui Bin)
The Si Stream Riverbank (17681.3 泗上 Sishang: same as 泗水之濱 Sishui zhi bin; 孔子之學也) is so much associated with some stories of Confucius that it came to represent Confucian learning. I have not yet heard of any stories that connect this region to Boya, so this reference in the lyrics must be to Confucius.

As for the stream itself, 17681.4 泗水 Si Shui has several entries, including streams and districts on the north side of Qufu, Confucius' home town in Shandong province, then in 沛縣 Pei district and 宿遷縣 Suqian district near 徐州 Xuzhou, these latter in what is today northern Jiangsu province. These are all near what modern maps show as a river that begins north of Qufu, then flows southwest to a series of lakes going southeast towards Xuzhou; old maps seem to suggest that the Si River once flowed this same entire path.

"Return from" in the last line could also be translated as "return to", but to me this does not make sense within the context of the whole poem. Also the Chinese expression for "return" here evokes Tao Yuanming writing about returning home.

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Chart Tracing 聽琴賦 Ting Qin Fu and 聽琴吟 Ting Qin Yin

Further comment above; based mainly on two entries in Zha Fuxi's Guide:
      聽琴賦 Ting Qin Fu (14/149/254)
      聽琴吟 Ting Qin Yin (29/226/433)

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 謝琳太古遺音
      (1511; I/308)
5 unnumbered sections; transcription; has lyrics throughout and a running commentary at the front of each section
Also a preface; stanza 2 and 3 lyrics are like those of 1525 Sections 4 and 5
  2. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/153)
Almost identical to 1511, including the preface, unnumbered sections and running commentary
Mode still not indicated; one correction in tablature (九 for the 八 at 難 & 將 fourth line from end);
at least seven changes in lyrics ("焚" for "猊", "讀" for "看", "斷指" for "自然", "及" for "足", "藍" for "畫", "晚烟" for "曉烟", "鴻" for "鶴")
  3. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589; VII/77)
3TL; zhi yin; 聽琴吟 Ting Qin Yin (Intonation on Listening to a Qin);
Preface attributes Han Yu; music is set to his poem 聽穎師彈琴 Listening to Reverend Ying Play a Qin
  4. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/532)
3L; zhi yin; same lyrics and music as 1589;
(Omits preface and section titles)
  5. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/145)
3; shang yin; "from 1589";
Same section titles and music as 1589 but no lyrics
  6. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/456)
3L; zhi yin; seems to be copy of 1802;
Hard to read

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