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31. Song of Yangguan
- tuning not given,2 but clearly ruibin (raised 5th strings): 2 3 5 6 1 2 3
陽關曲 1
Yangguan Qu
The parting: see larger image 3                      
Yang Guan Sandie ("Three Repetitions of 'Yang Guan'", not Yang Guan Qu, is the most popular title for settings of melodies based on the lyrics of Wang Wei's famous poem "Weicheng Tune: Seeing Yuan Er off to Anxi". These pieces, however, come in a variety of settings, from the earliest surviving one (dated to "before 1491"), which is a long melody with lyrics throughout but only a few partial quotations from Wang Wei's poem, to the third surviving version, dated to 1530, which has three sections each having Wang Wei's lyrics with relatively shorter additions to each verse; this latter one is very similar to the version popularly played today. The source(s) of these other lyrics are unknown: Wang Wei's original poem is included in Yuefu Shiji, Folio 80, but none of the other lyrics can be found there.

As can be seen from this Chart tracing Yangguan Sandie, most of the other surviving versions can be categorized as one of these two types, long and short; existing versions of both types added considerably to the lyrics of Wang Wei's original poem.

The present melody is thus almost unique in that it uses only Wang Wei's original lyrics (this version preserved in Japan also does so, including the lyrics only once), and is certainly unique in the way it repeats these lyrics over and over: here 13 times in all. Each of these 13 versions has a similar flavor, but melodically they are all somewhat different from each other and all are noticeably different from the melodies of the other surviving early versions.

Note, however, that although the present version uses only Wang Wei's original lyrics, in addition to each repetition of the lyrics having a somewhat different melody, in each repetition often several words of the poem are repeated, either being written out or indicated through a repeat sign.

The reasons for the present arrangement, as well as its uniqueness, are thus very much open to question. My own understanding is hampered by not fully understanding the 1511 preface, given next. My understanding is also colored by my belief that the qin song tradition was even more strongly an oral tradition than the instrumental melody tradition. Songs were quite possibly much more social, with qin lovers getting together and playing/singing from both versions they had in print and from versions they had simply heard or were making up on the spot.

Thus, according to my current imagination, these 13 variations on Yang Guan could either have been created by Xie Lin himself in order to give students and others and idea of the parameters within which one might play this melody; or it copies down versions Xie Lin may have actually heard at one or more gatherings of qin players.

Original 1511 preface 4
This translation is quite tentative:

According to the lyrics of "San Die" (Three Repetitions), they began with what Wang Wei wrote, i.e., "The morning rain at Weicheng...." Some spoke (sang? said there should be?) all the phrases three repetitions, some spoke only using the third phrase three repetitions (? representing the wine offered up three times?). Now when making the lyrics, some have qingshan (green mountains) countless times, baiyun (white clouds) countless times, (or) qianshui luhua (shallow waters and reed flowers) countless times. This adding one more change and making lyrics for San Die, later people used this as the basis for making versions of it for wind and string music.

(??? I am not yet clear on several points here. It seems as though the author is commenting on phrases popularly added to Wang Wei's lyrics, saying that these were used for making related ensemble melodies. However, existing qin versions also created expanded lyrics this way, though none of the existing versions repeats the third phrase three times or uses any of the other three examples. Nevertheless, if this interpretation is correct, then perhaps this suggests that the present 1511 version, and/or its preface, was/were made prior to the other qin versions: at first only the Wang Wei lyrics themselves were repeated, and only later was other text added. See further comment.)

1511 Music and lyrics (timings below follow my recording: listen with transcription) 5
As lyrics the 1511 tablature repeats 13 times the famous farewell poem originally written by Wang Wei. This naturally gives the melody 13 sections. Originally unnumbered, with numbers they are as follows:

  1. 00.09
  2. 00.40
  3. 01.19
  4. 01.53
  5. 02.28
  6. 03.06
  7. 03.44
  8. 04.18
  9. 04.53
  10. 05.27
  11. 06.00
  12. 06.35
  13. 07.12
    07.56 (曲終 melody ends)

The text of the poem is as follows:

Wei Cheng zhao yu yi qing chen,
The morning rain at Weicheng dampens the light dust,

Ke she qing qing liu se xin.
At the inn the lush green color of the willows is renewed.

Quan jun geng jin yi bei jiu.
This moves the gentlemen again to offer up a cup of wine.

Xi qu Yang Guan wu gu ren.
Going west through Yangguan there will be no old acquaintances.

Structure of the song setting Each repetition has a largely syllablic setting of the 4 line 7 character poem. Here now is some further comment on the structure of the musical setting:

Traditional qin tablature never gives a direct indication of rhythm. As with qin music in general my interpretation is that the basic melodies are not free rhythm; rather they rhythmic, but the rhythms are freely interpreted. Thus, I interpret each of the 13 repetitions of Wang Wei's 4-line poem as being accompanied by a melody of 4 measures of four bars each, all in 2/2 time. However, not only is this rhythm freely interpreted, phrases are often repeated, but there is no overall pattern to these repetitions.

To my mine this lack of an overall pattern reinforces my understanding that qin tablature was a description of how a melody from an oral tradition was played on one occasion; it was not a composition showing how it should always be played (except perhaps by a student).

The following structural outline shows the variations used here in the 1511 tablature for Yangguan Qu. To me these variations suggest that there was at the time a basic four bar melody for Wang Wei's poem, but with many variations (and quite likely no agreement that one version was the "true melody"). This melody was then, at times, sung over and and over, each time somewhat differently, either in the melody itself or in the way parts of the melody were repeated. Rather than seeing this as a song in 13 sections, one should see it as an example of how the melody was once done in 13 sections: on other occasions one might perform the same song in fewer or more sections, with other melodic variations of different phrasal repetitions. For repeated lyrics, perhaps a second singer could have done these as an echo.

As the outline shows, in the present version although each section has 4 phrases of 7 characters each, none is described as simply 7+7+7+7. The variants are:

This hopefully explains the following structural outline of the 1511 version, as indicated by the tablature:

1. (7+R) + (7+3) + 7 + 7 (Should the last phrase be 7+R? Sections 2 - 12 all end with repeats.)

2. (7+2) + (7+3) + 7 + (7+R)

3. (7+R) + (7+3) + 7 + (7+R)

4. (7+2) + 7 + 7 + (7+R)

5. (7+R) + 7 + (7+R) + (7+R); (the third phrase as written specifies playing the note sequence 6 7 1 1 2 2 2; this is odd enough that, assuming it is correct, my inclination sometimes is to emphasize it by repeating the whole line, not just the last three notes)

6. 7 + 7 + 7 + (7+7); (the last phrase was written out again, with new music)

7. 7 + 7 + 7 + (7+R); (the last phrase has three 搯撮 taocuo, here interpreted as 搯撮三聲 taocuo sansheng)

8. 7 + (7+R) + 7 + (7+R)

9. (7+R) + 7 + 7 + (7+R)

10. 7 + 7 + 7 + (7+R)

11. (7+2) + (7+3) + 7 + (7+R)

12. 7 + 7 + (7+R) + (7+R); (notes are same as Section 5 except that in first two phrases stopped sounds are an octave higher; these are also the only two sections that have repeats in phrase 3)

13. (7+R) + 7 + 7 + 7 (harmonics)

My personal inclination when playing this is, when there is a repeat during the first two or three lines of a 4-line stanza, to follow the example of written out repeats (7+2 and 7+3) and so repeat only the last two or three characters of that line (note the exception in Section 5), but when there is a repeat at the end of the last line of a section to follow the example of Section 6 and repeat all seven characters (7+7). In both cases I usually change the rhythm somewhat during the repeat.

To emphasize it once again, there is nothing in qin literature that discusses how to deal with these repetitions, and it is quite possible either that something different was intended, or that these specifics didn't really matter: qin tablature is not a written out composition, as in Western music of the Common Practice Period ("classical music"); instead it is a transcription of how someone played a melody. That person might in fact not have played the melody the same way each time. In theory one should sing during all the repeats but my inclination is not to do so (there was even at that time criticism of the idea that all qin songs had to be sung all the way through). As suggested by the comment with the 1511 preface, the Wang Wei lyrics came to be expanded in many different ways.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Yangguan Qu 陽關曲
See Yangguan Sandie

2. Tuning and mode
Taigu Yiyin does not group pieces by tuning or mode. Some other early Yang Guan melodies used qiliang tuning (raised 2nd and 5th strings): 2 4 5 6 1 2 3 . However, the fact that the second string position is consistently played here at the 10th instead of the 11th hui clearly shows that ruibin is intended here.

3. Illustration
Used with Yangguan Sandie

4. Original preface

按三疊之詞,始於王維渭城朝雨之作也。或云句句三疊,或云只用第三句三疊。 今之為是詞,如曰青山無數,白雲無數,淺水蘆花無數。是又一變而為詞中三疊也。後人以此被之管絃者本此。

5. Original lyrics
The original Wang Wei lyrics by themselves are as follows.


The last line, "Going west through Yang Guan", emphasizes that the destination was the military district of Anxi, west of Yangguan. The full title of the poem mentions Anxi ("渭城曲:送元二出便安西 Weicheng Tune: Seeing Yuan Er off to Anxi"), and this is picked up in expanded forms of the poem used with other qin settings, e.g., in ca. 1491 and 1530.

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