Qiu Feng
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43. Autumn Wind
- Shang mode:2 standard tuning  1 2 4 5 6 1 2
秋風 1
Qiu Feng
Ni Zan: Autumn Wind in Gemstone Trees3 
This instrumental melody, which does not seem as melancholy as many that have an autumn theme, survives in four qin handbooks, all published around the same time: Xilutang Qintong (1525), Taiyin Chuanxi (1551), Taiyin Xupu (1559) and Qinpu Zhengchuan (1561) respectively.4 The small differences between the versions in these handbooks suggests that versions of this melody were quite actively played at the time.

This 1525 version divides the melody into 10 titled sections (see below). Its commentary (afterword) is somewhat different from those of the others. In fact, these four editions altogether have three different commentaries (1561 has no commentary). As for the music itself, that of the latter three versions is very similar to that here, many passages being identical. On the other hand, the latter three all divide the music into 12 sections, none titled.5

The afterword to the 1525 version attributes the melody to Zhang Han (c. 258 - 319),6 a poet and military official during the Jin dynasty who served in Shandong under the Prince of Qi,7 but who then left his official position and became a recluse. The commentary connects the melody to the story that it was because the government in his day had lost its way that Zhang left it to return home. The decision was made when he heard an autumn wind that reminded him of how fleeting life is. Elsewhere it is added that the wind reminded him of the beauty of the seasons around his home in the Suzhou area. Although most melodies related to autumn seem to be quite sad, in this case the sigh seems more one of bemusement: the world being corrupt, he is quite happy to live in the countryside and create a qin melody to express what the autumn wind was telling him. This mood is borne out both by the melody itself and by the titles of the ten sections.

The 1551 preface8 makes no mention of Zhang Han, instead attributing the melody to the famous Song dynasty qin player Guo Chuwang. It says that Guo wrote this because he was inspired by the phrase, "He sighed that a human life can have only so many years", a line from a poem used as lyrics for several shang modal preludes. One of the shang modal preludes to use this line is #25 in Xilutang Qintong, so it is interesting that the 1525 Qiu Feng is not paired with that prelude.9

None of the versions of this melody has lyrics and, although the Qin Melody section of Yuefu Shiji includes an entry called Qiu Feng (Folio 60, #8), the lyrics there do not fit here.10

In fact the 1559 preface,11 which also does not mention Zhang Han, begins by quoting the first, second and fourth lines from another Yuefu entry, Qiufeng Ci (Autumn Wind Lyrics), a famous poem attributed to Han Emperor Wudi. It then compares the sentiments expressed there with those of a poem (and qin melody) Da Feng Qi (A Great Wind Arises), attributed to Han Emperor Gaozu (lyrics included under his biography).

Original afterword12

Zhang Han knew that the Jin dynasty was about to lose power, so he had the intention of leaving (society). Seeing an autumn wind arising, he sighed and said, "Peoples' lives are appropriate to their desires. Of what use are worldly wealth and honor?" So he took his qin and created this melody.

Ten sections
13 (see transcription; timings follow my recording)

00.00   1. Drifting around at great heights (harmonics begin at 00.26)
01.14   2. 10,000 li from the palace gates
02.15   3. Singing loudly to the moon (tablature incorrectly begins Section 3 at 02.03)
03.06   4. Sighing through the night
03.41   5. Climbing a mountain, near a stream 14
04.25   6. Wind in the pines and rain on the bamboo (harmonics that end at 4.54)
05.18   7. The tinkling of gold and jade15
06.16   8. Gibbons cry under a dawn moon16
06.58   9. Carefree and happy (harmonics begin at 07.15)
07.53  10. Rippling water of Lake Dongting17
08.27         harmonics
08.45         end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qiū Fēng references
25505.223 秋風: only musical connection is 吳、鼓吹曲名 name of a wind and percussion melody from the greater Suzhou area.

A reconstruction by 胡思琴 Hu Siqin published in 2017 is available online. Hu Siqin uses metal strings and changes most of the non-pentatonic notes (e.g., changes flatted mis to major mis.

2. Tuning and mode
Standard tuning is usually considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. For further information on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

From those references it can be seen that one characteristic of early melodies in the shang mode is that the third (3; mi) is sometimes flatted. This flatted third is clearly called for in several passages of the Qiu Feng published in 1525 (as well as the others), for example by clusters near the beginning of Section 2 and the end of Section 7 that call for the 4th string to be stopped between the 8th and 9th positions, and by a cluster near the beginning of Section 9 that calls for the 5th string to be stopped between the 9th and 10th positions. (For details as to why these are unambiguous see the table called Standard positions on a qin string tuned to C, but note that here the third string is tuned to F [fa].)

Less certain, however, are the notes in several other places. In these ambiguous cases the clusters indicate that the third string should be stopped "between the 7th and 8th positions". If this is played as 7.6, which is most common, this calls for a flatted mi. However, this can also be played as 7.3, in which case it is an unflatted mi. In Shen Qi Mi Pu one can find passages with both "七下 below 7" (unflatted mi)and "七八 between 7 and 8" (flatted mi), thereby making clear that the tablature is making a distinction. However, none of the versions of Qiu Feng ever uses the indication "below 7".

As a result, in some passages such as the one in the first phrase at the beginning of what 1525 calls Section 3, or the ones in the middle of Section 10, it seems as though the player must decide whether to play "between 7 and 8 on the third string" as mi or flatted mi. Either that, or it is purposely leaving it up to the player sometimes to play it one way, sometimes the other way, or sometimes even to be ambiguous and play somewhere in between.

With regard to the latter choice, it is important to remember that it is unlikely that these were "compositions": pieces carefully worked out by a "composer" and inteneded a prescriptions for how to play. Instead they probably were mostly transcriptions of a piece a player created while playing it. If the transcribers had heard a number of versions it could be that they themselves were uncertain what the actual pitch shoold be. (Further regarding "composing" see the page Qin music: composed or created?.)

3. Ni Zan: Autumn Wind in Gemstone Trees 倪瓚:琪樹秋風圖
A search for this title brings up many websites with images of this famous painting; the original apparently is in the Shanghai Museum (details). As for Ni Zan (1301-1374), his Wikipedia entry does not currently mention guqin, but he does have a biographic entry as a qin player in Qin Shi Xu #50.

The original scroll has no date on it, but there is at least one date within the inspriptions. The inscription on the far right consists largely of a quatrain by Ni Zan himself, as follows,

我来彷彿三生意,       (三生 10.399 : various meanings, no 三生意.)

This poem actually mentions zheng rather than qin but, as with the autumn wind quatrains mentioned below, 's could of course also be sung with the last section of the qin melody.

To the left of that is an inscription dated 1384 (明洪武甲子三月十三日), apparently written by a friend. (Thanks to Marilyn Wong Gleysteen for her help with this painting.)

4. Tracing Qiu Feng
From Zha Guide 18/178/-- . For details see:

  1. Xilutang Qintong (1525; III/116)
  2. Taiyin Chuanxi (1551; IV/85)
  3. Taiyin Xupu (1559; III/432)
  4. Qinpu Zhengchuan (1561; II/528); identical to previous

The latter three handbooks all arrange the melody into 12 sections, otherwise they are all quite similar to 1525. As discussed above under tuning and mode, this means that the other tablatures cannot help in determining whether, for example, certain pitches at the beginning of Section 3 and in Section 10 should be mi or flatted mi.

5. 10 Sections
My transcriptions (not yet online) shows how the 12 section versions divide the melody compared to this 10 Section version. According to my understanding the other versions correctly identify the beginning of Section 3, and this is indicated in my transcription. For the difference see the comment with the timings on my recording.

6. Zhang Han 張翰 (258 - 319)
Qin Shi #88 is a biography of Zhang Han. To the information there one can add that, according to 中吳紀聞 Records of Central Wu by 龔明之 Gong Mingzhi (1091-1182), Zhang Han created a 秋風歌 Song of the Autumn Wind while still serving the Jin dynasty (capital in Luoyang). One day he felt an autumn wind that reminded him of the autumn landscape and fish in the rivers near his home in Wu (the Suzhou area). So he sang the following song to express his feelings, then promptly left office and returned home.

Zhang Han's song, as well as the related following one by Li Bai, can easily be sung to the melody of the last section of Qiu Feng; in fact the same can be said of the other quatrains on an autumn theme with the structure (4+3) x 4 (though note that the actual fingering here does not quite align with the traditional pairing method. Here it perhaps be mentioned that a number of melodies in the Xilutang Qintong have sections with lyrics added, while others have song-like sections such as this last one, to which lyrics can easily be paired (don't start singing until the second note).

秋風起兮佳景時。   Qiū fēng qǐ xī jiā jǐng shí..
    An autumn wind arises: it is a time of beautiful scenery.
吳江水兮鱸正肥。   Wú jiāng shuǐ xī lú zhèng féi..
    Wu River waters: they have fat sea perch.
三千里兮家為歸。   Sān qiān lǐ xī jiā wèi guī..
    From 3,000 li away: to home I must go.
恨難得兮仰天悲。   Hèn nán dé xī yǎng tiān bēi.
    I hate the difficulty of doing this: so I look to heaven with great emotion.

In addition, the same melody can be used to sing a poem by Li Bai that mentions Zhang Han at the beginning. The poem is called 行路難之三 Traveling the road is hard, #3. Its lyrics are as follows (sing "jun bu jian" on the first note)

君不見                       Jūn bù jiàn
    Have you not seen
吳中張翰稱達生?   Wú zhōng Zhāng Hàn chēng dá shēng?
    Zhang Han of Wu, called a "superior man"?
秋風忽憶江東行。   Qiū fēng hū yì jiāng dōng xíng.
    The autumn wind suddenly reminded him of rivers flowing east (back home).
且樂生前一杯酒,   Qiě lè shēng qián yī bēi jiǔ,
    While still alive he wanted to enjoy at least one more cup of wine.
何須身後千載名?   Hé xū shēn hòu qiān zǎi míng?
    Of what use is it that after you die your name is often mentioned?

(N.B. Li Bai's "行路難三首 Three poems on traveling the road is hard" is included in Yuefu Shiji [Chinese edition, p. 1008]. The first of these was also included in the famous collection 唐詩三百首 300 Tang Poems.)

7. Prince of Qi 齊王
Qi was an ancient kingdom in Shandong province; the prince was a son of the emperor of the Western Jin dynasty (265 - 317; capital Luoyang),

8. 1551 preface
See QQJC, IV, p. 83 (not in Zha's Guide). The original preface is as follows:

9. Qiu Feng in Yuefu Shiji
Folio 60, #8 (Chinese edition pp.876-7) has several sets of lyrics, as follows:

Yuefu Shiji also has other Qiu Feng lyrics.

10. Pairing Qiu Feng
In Xilutang Qintong many of the longer melodies are preceded by short (3 or 4 section) melodies with no commentary of their own; in some cases these are three piece sets consisting of modal prelude, short melody and long melody. However, Qiu Feng is preceded neither by a related short melody nor a modal prelude.

11. 1559 preface
See QQJC, III, p. 424. The original preface begins:
    杏莊老人曰:秋風起兮白雲飛。草木黃落兮 雁南歸....

12. Original 1525 afterword
The Chinese original is:


13. Original 1525 section titles
The Chinese section titles are:

  1. 飄揚遠舉
  2. 君門萬里
  3. 對月高歌
  4. 終夜興嘆
  5. 登山臨水
  6. 松風竹雨
  7. 鏗金戛玉
  8. 猿啼曉月
  9. 心曠神怡
  10. 洞庭揚波

14. Compare the music here with that of Section 5 ("Enjoying the Dao through books") of Qiao Ge (02.53 of my recording).

15. 鏗金戛玉 Tinkling of gold and jade
Wealth is rarely a theme in guqin melodies. It is thus noteworthy that the musical mode and mood changes in this section. It is interesting to compare the melody here to that of a melody published in 1539 called 一撒金 Yi Sa Jin, First Scatter Gold.

16. 猿啼曉月 Gibbons cry under a dawn moon
Numerous nature sites (example) have recordings that include varous distinctive rising howls. It is said that they are particularly known for doing this around sunrise. This could be done solo, but is also often done in pairs.

Could the rising glissandos of this section have been inspired by these calls, or reminded a listener of such calls?

17. 洞庭 Lake Dongting
If one accepts the association of this melody with Zhang Han, this quite likely refers to the Dongting at the south end of Tai Hu, Zhang Han's home town.

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.