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XLTQT / ToC   /   Evening Talk by a Guest's Window 聽錄音 Listen to my recording with transcription
42. Evening Talk by a Snowy Window
- shang mode,2 standard tuning played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
雪窗夜話 1
The Xie family praises snowflakes 3        
This is one of two "evening talk" melodies to appear in the first part of the Ming dynasty.4 The other, Evening Talk by a Guest's Window, is connected to Liu Ji, an advisor to the founder of the Ming dynasty. The present melody, though in its earliest surviving version it evokes the well-known story of a woman's comparison of snow with willow catkins, in the next version it recalls the meeting of an advisor with the man who was to become the founder of the Song dynasty. Other versions have similar themes within this range, though perhaps more general in their evocations of nature or serious conversation on Confucian philosophy. Knowing the details of these stories can enrich one's appreciation of the melody, but in addition it is also quite possible that the surviving versions come from a lost prototype that originally had no specific explanation, or that was simply inspired by, or intended to evoke, an image such as that of two friends having a quiet conversation by a window on a snowy evening.

Versions of Xue Chuang Yehua were apparently quite current in the 16th century, as at least seven publications of it survive from the present one, published in 1525 (see chart) to the last one, dated 1596.5 However, after this the melody seems suddently to have disappeared. Though related, all versions are quite different and two have lyrics. In addition, the only surviving version of Chang Ce, published in 1525, is clearly another version of this same melody.6 However, none of these has any apparent connection with the music or lyrics of Evening Talk by a Guest's Window.7

The Xue Chuang Yehua in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539), the second surviving version, has lyrics and section titles but no preface.8 The lyrics, which may not have been intended for singing,9 do not mention proper names, but they clearly tell the story of a snowy evening conversation between a ruler and an advisor, connecting it to the story, told with at least one later version of the melody, of Zhao Kuangyin (927 - 976), first emperor of the Song dynasty, visiting his trusted advisor Zhao Pu,10 on a snowy evening. This story and its lyrics make the theme of that version of the melody solidly Confucian: the snowy setting simply emphasizes the devotion of the two men to Zhao Pu's Confucian principles of government.

On the other hand, the earliest actual commentary on this melody focuses on snow and the beauty of nature in winter. This comes in the afterword to the earliest surviving version, the one featured here, from Xilutang Qintong (1525).12 Here the afterword refers to a completely different story, one focused on the beauty of snow as described by a famous female scholar, Xie Daoyun.13 This story was also very well known, and its ramifications reveal much about the lives of women in imperial China:14 one evening the Jin dynasty literatus and official Xie An (320-385),15 was discussing snow with his nephew Xie Lang,16 and his niece, the aforementioned Xie Daoyun. Xie An took great pleasure in his niece's comparing snow to willow catkins blowing in a breeze.17 The 1525 section titles also emphasize nature. In addition, throughout this version there is a musical motif that may suggest snow whirling upwards then settling down.18

The preface in the 1585 version, which has related music but completely different lyrics from those with the version published in 1539, attributes the melody to Zhao Pu himself. Again, there is no indication of the source of the lyrics.19

The variety of the seven versions (plus the version called Chang Ce) as well as the preface in the 1552 handbook Taiyin Chuanxi all suggest that there were even more versions available at that time, some perhaps unwritten, some in unpublished handwritten copies.20 A comparative study of these versions could provide valuable information on how qin music was developing at that time. However, as of 2020 there seem to be no other transcriptions, recordings or studies of this melody available, other than the one here.21

Afterword (1525)22

Xie Anshi together with his nephew 謝朗 Xie Lang and niece Xie Daoyun were writing poems about snow. Xie An said, "A great snowfall has myriad flakes going in all directions. What does this resemble?" Xie Lang said, "Throwing salt into the air is rather like it." Daoyun said, "It more resembles willow catkins wafted by a breeze." Xie An was very pleased with this response, and so this melody was named. Looking carefully at the meaning behind this melody, it truly has the appearance of a family and its father intimately together by a quiet window. People in former times were so lofty that they not infrequently had such thoughts.

Music (1525; see my transcription; timings follow my recording: __ listen 23)
Ten Sections 24

00.00   01.   同雲蔽天   Gathered clouds obscure the skies
00.31   02.   積雪盈野   Collected snow fills the wilderness
01.00   03.   虛窗下榻   By an empty window resting on a couch
01.39   04.   小閣縣燈   In a small room suspending a lamp
02.10   05.   聲寒折竹   Sounds in the cold of chopping bamboo
02.57   06.   影亂飛花   Shadows of randomly flying blossoms
03.45   07.   吟安景象   Intonation as peaceful as the surroundings
04.36   08.   句就推敲   Phrasing carefully considered
05.08           泛音           (Harmonics)
05.21   09.   呼童掃雪   Calling to a boy to sweep away the snow
05.25   10.   熱鼎烹茶   Heating the cauldron and boiling tea
07.22           泛音           Closing harmonics
07.36           曲終           Melody ends

Further recordings are linked below, including an earlier version and videos of the new interpretation.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Evening Talk by a Snowy Window (雪窗夜話 Xuechuang Yehua)
43160.169 雪窗 xuechuang ("snow window") is a short entry quoting the Tang poets 鄭谷 Zheng Gu and 黃滔 Huang Tao. 11/628 adds a quote from a poem (玉樓春) by 宴幾道 Yan Jidao (12th c.; Indiana Companion, p.922), but none of these seems particularly relevant to the stories directly associated with this melody. 雪窗螢火 or 雪窗螢儿 Snow(-lit) Window and Firefly (Light) tells of 孫康 Sun Kang (4th c. CE; Bio/775) and 車胤 Che Yin (d. 401 CE; Giles: Ch'e Yün; Bio/267) being too poor to afford a lamp, so they studied at night by a window from light reflected off the snow, or by the light of fireflies collected in a bag. Snow-lit Window and Firefly Light came to be a phrase for hard study, as in Chapter One of the famous opera 西廂記 Western Chamber Romance (see West and Idema, The Moon and the Zither, p.173), where the scholar Zhang uses this phrase to describe the difficult studies of his own childhood. But again, none of this seems particularly relevant to the present melody.

On the other hand, the Moon and Zither story does express a Confucian ideal similar to that in the story called Visiting Pu on a Snowy Evening (11/624 雪夜訪普 has a quote from 儒林外史 The Scholars [FLP, p.89]). According to this story, the first Song emperor 趙匡胤 Zhao Kuangyin met his advisor 趙普 Zhao Pu on a snowy evening to discuss affairs of state. Visiting Pu on a Snowy Evening later became a phrase referring to any such meetings. However, this story makes no mention of a window.

For "evening talk" see below.

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
Here standard tuning (5 6 1 2 3 5 6) is played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 . The main tonal centers are 1 and 5 (do and sol), written in my transcription as C and G. Shang (2; re) is a secondary tonal center, with prominence both as a leading tone down to do and as a fifth above sol. Sometimes (see especially Sections 8 and 9) the modality shifts from do/sol to la/mi. However, unlike with most early Ming shang mode melodies there are no occurences of flatted mi. For more details see Celestial Air Defining Shang Mode as well as Modality in early Ming qin tablature.

3. 錢慧安謝家永絮圖 The Xie family praises snow, by Qian Huian (1833~1911)
See also the image of Xie Daoyun below. For Qian Huian see, e.g., here. The image above was copied from ePaiLive.com, an online auction house. The inscription on the left, after the title, 謝家永絮圖, says 光绪十有八年壬辰春仲之吉。仿白陽山人筆。清溪樵子錢慧安並識於雙管樓。 Not yet fully translated, but it seems to suggest the painting was in the style of something by 白陽山人, which was a nickname for the Ming painter 陳淳 Chen Chun (Wiki).

4. Evening Talk (夜話 yehua)
5890.228 and 2/362 夜話 yehua (晚間敘談 "evening chat") have quotes only from Bo Juyi (招東鄰) and Su Shi (答周循州 and 二十年目睹之怪現狀 #45); none mentions snow.

5. Tracing Xue Chuang Ye Hua
Zha's Guide 15/160/348 lists six occurences of Xue Chuang Ye Hua; adding 1552 makes seven. In addition, Chang Ce (1525) is another version of the same melody. See next footnote and the chart below.

6. 長側 Chang Ce (Long Inclination; III/109; Guide 19/182/--; 42022.xxx; see also under Cai Yong)
Regarding “ce”, modern dictionaries all have "inclination" or the like. 893 and 1//1540 側 also give various other meanings including "伏 hidden" and "特 special" but this has not as yet helped me understand its significance here. Chang Ce survives as a qin melody only as #38 in Xilutang Qintong (1525), but it is clearly related to Xue Chuang. Besides the melodic relationship throughout, two versions of Xue Chuang (see 1559 and 1561 in the chart below) mark their Section 4 (comparable to 1525's Section 6) "長" (Chang) at the beginning and "側" (Ce) at the end; Section 10 is then defined as "長至側" (From Chang to Ce), followed by a short closing. The middle of Chang Ce Section 4 has the opening of the passage later called "From Chang to Ce", but this is only about 1/5th of the whole passage as found in versions called Xue Chuang; the rest seems to be missing.

The related afterword in Xilutang Qintong comes with #39 Duan Ce, but it applies to #s 36-39 :


7. Musical connections to other melodies
Three examples are as follows:

  1. This pdf shows the first section of the 1539 Xue Chuan Ye Hua (with lyrics); notes circled in red are not in the comparable passage at the beginning of the 1525 Xue Chuang Ye Hua.
  2. This pdf shows the beginning of the 1525 Chang Ce; it is related to though shorter than the beginning of the 1525 Xue Chuang Ye Hua.
  3. This pdf shows how the first 5 measures of Section 9 of the this Xue Chuang Ye Hua are related to the first five measures of the last section of the 1525 Han Gong Qiu.

Quite likely there are also others.

8. Xue Chuang Yehua in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539) Zhao Kuangyin visits Zhao Pu    
This version of the melody can be found in QQJC II/118. The image at right, 趙匡胤雪夜訪趙普 Zhao Kuangyin visits Zhao Pu on a Snowy Evening, can be found copied on a number of websites; the painter was 劉俊 Liu Jun (early Ming; dates uncertain). The original is in the 北京故宫博物院藏 Museum of the Forbidden City, Beijing, where it is officially named 雪夜訪普圖 Visiting Pu on a Snowy Evening. .

The outlines for the original preface and music are as follows:


Music (see my transcription)
Twelve sections, set syllabically to the lyrics

  1. 潛出彤門 Secretly exiting the Vermilion Gate
  2. 微行雪夜 Going in disguise on a snowy evening
  3. 忘貴親賢 Forget wealth, love virtue
  4. 立雪推敲 Standing in the snow and knocking (at the door)
  5. 臣幸君光 A minister is happy and his lord is enlightened
  6. 貴賤兩忘 Unmindful of both wealth and poverty
  7. 君臣互答 Lord and minister converse
  8. 有犯無隱 Have an offense not hidden
  9. 拒諫固盟 Resisting good counsel, then a firm oath
  10. 思今慕古 Thinking of the present while longing for the past
  11. 天順人歸 Heaven favors the man's return
  12. 軋坤已定 ?

9. Lyrics from 1539 (compare 1585)
The 1539 lyrics (newly written?) begin (complete):

  1. 潛出彤門

  2. 微行雪夜

My Fengxuan Xuanpin Commentary has a footnote discussing melodies that may not have been intended for singing. The main problem singing them is the density of text, with one character for each note of a slides or an arpeggio (gun and fu) as well as for each right hand stroke. Originally I wrote out a transcription for the Fengxuan Xuanpin version of this melody, and it can be played quite nicely as a purely instrumental melody. However, I never completed a translation of the lyrics and never worked out some problems of matching the text to the tablature. As a result, the version I actually play now is the purely instrumental one published in 1525.

10. 趙普 Zhao Pu (916 - 992)
Zhao Pu (38015.664; Bio/1640), style name 則平 Zeping, grew up in Luoyang, though his family came from north of Beijing. In 954 he entered the service and soon became a leading advisor of 趙匡胤 Zhao Kuangyin (927 - 976), then a military commander under the Later Zhou dynasty (951 - 960), and from 960 first emperor of the Song dynasty, with its capital in Kaifeng. After this Zhao remained such a trusted advisor that the emperor came to him regularly for advice, even coming unattended during a snowstorm. Zhao Pu is said to have been a model of upright Confucianism, but the austerity of his policies led to him being in and out of favor during the reigns of the first two Song emperors. (Story in Giles.) (Return)

12. Selecting instrumental versions
See QQJC III, p.114. I usually make a point of learning the earliest published version of any surviving title. When I first worked on this melody I thought the earliest version was the one dated 1539; only later did I find out that Xilutang Qintong, generally dated to 1549, was in fact published in 1525 and so had the earliest version. By then I had actually stopped work on the 1539 version because of problems with the lyrics, as mentioned in a footnote under my comments on the 1539 handbook. In fact, I also encountered a similar situation with the 1539 Yang Chun, and so had a;readu learned the Yang Chun from 1525 instead of 1539.

13. 謝道韞 Xie Daoyun (4th c. CE; 36661.258 [no image]; Bio/2382) 謝道韞圖 Image of Xie Daoyun      
The original of the image at right is apparently the one in a book published in 1772 called 歷朝名媛詩詞﹕十二卷(清陸昶輯)。清乾隆三十八年(1772)紅樹樓刻本 Lichao Mingyuan Shici: 12 juan (Poetry of Famous Women of Past Ages, edited by Lu Chang, Qing dynasty. (See here for comment on "image" versus "portrait".)

For easily available details in English on Xie Daoyun see "The Poet of a Single Line: Xie Daoyun", in Idema and Grant, The Red Brush, pp. 127-144 (should be available online through Google books). There are also many references to her in Women Writers of Traditional China, including on pp. 721-2 a translation of her entry in the 晉書 History of the Jin Dynasty.

Xie Daoyun, a niece of 謝安 謝安 Xie An, was the wife of 王凝之 Wang Ningzhi (21295.1813, a son of Wang Xizhi and a calligrapher in his own right). She was naturally intelligent (36661.258 聰識有才辨 ; Bio/2382 夙慧) and well-educated. The story of her poetically describing snow, as related in the History of the Jin Dynasty, Book 98, apparently originated in the Shishuo Xinyu, which said she was "celebrated" for this. There is more detailed information in Lily Xiao Hong Lee (U. Sydney), Xie Daoyun: the Style of a Woman Mingshi, a chapter from Dr. Lee's The Virtue of Yin (Wild Peony Publishers, Sydney, 1994).

Xie Daoyun's marriage was apparently not happy: her husband and his family were all highly educated, but perhaps she felt Wang Ningzhi himself was an overzealous follower of the 五豆米 Five Pecks of Rice religious sect. However, she was loyal to him and, after he was killed by bandits, she herself fought and killed several of them; afterwards she lived a chaste life as a widow. Apparently it was this, rather than her intelligence, that led to her biography being included amongst the Exemplary Women in the History of the Jin dynasty. And although she is known to have written a number of poems, only a few have survived (they are translated in Dr. Lee's book cited above).

The story of Xie Daoyun describing snow is very well known. As an example, it led to her mention as follows in the 三字經 The Character Classic, a 13th century poem once universally memorized by young Chinese students,

蔡文姬 Cai Wenji
能辨琴 could distinguish sounds played on a qin;
謝道韞 Xie Daoyun
能詠吟 could intone poetry. (Translations also say "compose poetry".) "

The two extant complete poems actually credited to her are:

  1. 《泰山吟》
    遙望山上松,隆冬不能凋。   ("I look at that pine tree yonder on the hill....")

  2. 峨峨東嶽高,秀極衝青天。   ("How they tower, those lofty eastern mountains....")

For the full translation see the aforementioned section of The Red Brush (pp. 141-142).

14. The signifance for women
The signifance of this story for the lives of women in traditional Chinese society is summarized by Lily Xiao Hong Lee (see above) as follows (personal communication):

Many women of later dynasties, especially in Ming and Qing, who aspired to write poetry, or whose parents hoped that they could, have names containing the character 韞 yun (as in Xie Daoyun), 雪 snow or 絮 catkin, apparently referring to this story of her. She embodies female talent in Chinese literature and art. It is not difficult to see why Xue Chuang Ye Hua is connected to Daoyun. It seems to me that the whole composition is inspired by that conversation Xie An had with his nephews and nieces during that wintry night when they saw through their window snow flakes fluttering by.

15. 謝安 Xie An, style name 安石 Anshi, also has several other qin connections. See his biography in Qin Shi. (Return)

16. 謝朗 Xie Lang (36661.198; Bio/xxx) (Return)

17. Snowflakes and willow catkins
Other than in the preface here, the image closest to the Xie Daoyun story is the title of the 1525 version, Section 7, 影亂飛花 An image of randomly flying blossoms. One example with 12/693 飛花 feihua is a poem by 蘇轍 Su Che, one of his 上元前雪三絕句. The explanation says that the flying blossoms are comparable to 飄飛的雪花 whirling snowflakes: “不管上元燈火夜,飛花處處作春寒。”

18. The passage 二引上__,飛吟下__ (draw the sound upwards in two steps then return downwards with a "flying vibrato") occurs in almost every section. (Return)

19. Lyrics from 1585 (IV/388; 雪窗, written 雪窓; compare 1539)
The lyrics of 1585 begin as follows (complete):

第一段 氷壺際曉

第二段 碧落含暉

The lyrics in both 1539 and 1585 were quite likely newly written.

20. Preface
The preface to the 1552 edition is as follows,

Mountain Friend (i.e., Li Ren), having examined the tablatures, says, I have examined the sources for this melody without arriving at a fixed version. Also there is no 吟 yin vibrato (it only uses the vibrato called 猱 nao/rou). I don't dare recklessly to suggest it, so waiting for a later gentleman. (?)

21. Recordings
In fact, as of 2020 there was also an online recording said to be of 雪窗夜話 Xue Chuang Yehua by 陳慶隆 Chen Ching-Long, posted in January 2019 on YouTube. However, it is actually a recording of a different melody with a similar name, 客窗夜話, Kechuang Yehua.

22. The original Chinese is as follows:


大雪紛紛何所似? is sometimes written, 白雪紛紛何所似? In addition, "白雪紛紛何所似。撒鹽空中差可擬。未若柳絮因風起。" is sometimes quoted separately.

23. Some of my other recordings of Xuechuang Yehua
The recording linked above was made in October. Two videos are also available, plus my original recording and transcription from 2007.

In addition, the original 2007 recording is still available, together with its 2007 transcription.

Overall the two interpretations are quite similar, with most changes resulting from new understandings of the rhythm and/or structure. Some examples are as follows:
          Section 3, last line
          Section 4, third line
          Section 5, fourth line (non-pentatonic note)
          Section 8, fourth and fifth lines
          Section 9, first line ("巾" as slide)
          Section 10, second, third and sixth lines
An analysis of the changes in my understanding of the structure could perhaps be instructive to people who are trying to use structural analysis as part of their own reconstructions from early tablature.

24. Section titles
The original Chinese section titles by themselves are as follows:

  1. 同雲蔽天
  2. 積雪盈野
  3. 虛窗下榻
  4. 小閣縣燈
  5. 聲寒折竹
  6. 影亂飛花
  7. 吟安景象
  8. 句就推敲
  9. 呼童掃雪
  10. 熱鼎烹茶
Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.

Chart tracing
Evening Talk by a Snowy Window (Xue Chuang Yehua)
See above; based largely on Zha's Guide 15/160/348

Although both this melody and Evening Talk by a Guest's Window are grouped with shang mode melodies, they are never placed next to each other.
    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
1a.   西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III.1/108)
10, no subtitles; see afterword
See original: this melody, though called Chang Ce, is actually another version of Xue Chuang Yehua
1b.   西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III.1/114)
10, subtitled; afterword mentions Xie An [320-385]
Section 10 begins like 1539 Section 10, but then has new material
 2.   風宣玄品
      (1539; II.120)
12 sections, subtitled; lyrics (身貴心勞,畏天恐違君道。....) connect it to Zhao Pu story; no commentary
Section 11 repeats Section 5A; Section 12 repeats beginning of 5B (transcription; original)
 3.   太音傳習
      (1552; IV.96)
14; preface comments briefly on variety of versions available, mentioning no particular story
Extra # of sections comes from more subdivisions, not extra length
 4.   太音續譜
      (1559; III.437)
10; preface mentions two men on a snowy evening, but gives no proper names
Section 10 repeats Section 4 ("長至側" [see 1525 for connection to 長側 Chang Ce])
 5.   琴譜正傳
      (1561; II.531)
10, untitled; no commentary; at front are the 1539 lyrics, but they no longer fit the melody
Identical to 1559, including 長至側 for sections 4 and 10
 6.   重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV.388)
10, subtitled; preface mentions Zhao Pu
The lyrics are completely different from those of 1539
 7.   文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI.227)
  9; no commentary