Yi Guanshan
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120. Recalling Guanshan
- Wuyi tuning2: 1 3 5 6 1 2 3
See also #121 Han Gong Qiu
憶關山 1
Yi Guanshan

Wuyi mode versions of #120 Yi Guanshan and #121 Han Gong Qiu survive as tablature for melodies only in Xilutang Qintong.4 In addition, the title Yi Guanshan can be found in a Song dynasty melody list as a melody with the same tuning as here. And tablature for a melody called Han Gong Qiu can also be found elsewhere, but only as an unrelated yu mode melody often called Han Gong Qiu Yue.

The reference to Guanshan is unclear. There are various places called Guanshan, in particular in Shandong and several parts of Shaanxi, but the words are also used to mean mountain passes in general, and often mainly as an allusion to being far from home. The present melody's function as a prelude to Han Gong Qiu suggests the latter meaning is intended here.

Yi Guanshan has no relationship to the popular modern melody of the Mei'an School, Guanshan Yue (Moon over Guanshan).5

Original Preface


Music 6
Three sections, untitled (see transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音; followed by Han Gong Qiu)

00.00   1.
00.45   2. (harmonics)
01.28   3.
02.10         harmonic coda
02.25         end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Recalling Guanshan (Yi Guanshan 憶關山)
11558.xxx, but this title can be found in a Song dynasty melody list, grouped with other melodies having the same huangzhong tuning as here. Old melody lists also include the title Traversing Guanshan (度關山 Du Guanshan); 9512.81 says this is the name of a Yuefu Shiji Matching Song (YFSJ 相和曲名 Xianghe Qu; Folio 27, p.391).

As for Guanshan itself, 42402.10 關山 has three entries:

  1. 關與山 "passes and mountains". For this it quotes several poems including 木蘭辭 Mulan Ci (anonymous Mulan Lyrics), and 滕王閣序 Preface to 'Pavilion of Prince Teng' by 王勃 Wang Bo (649-676; translated in Columbia Anthology, p.552, and also a qin song in 1585).
  2. 鄉里 "native place". For this it quotes 關山月詩 the poem Moon over the Mountain Pass by 徐陵 Xu Ling (507-583); it is not in his New Songs from a Jade Terrace.
  3. 鎮名 "name of a district", mentioning one in 山東省東阿險 Shandong and another in 陝西省臨潼縣東北 northeast Lintong County of Shaanxi province (east of Xi'an)

Modern maps actually show quite a variety of places called Guanshan, including several in Shaanxi province and a gate in the Great Wall west of Dunhuang in Gansu province. There is also a popular mountain in Taiwan of that name.

See further below under Guanshan Yue.

2. Wuyi mode (無射調 Wuyi diao)
See also Shenpin Wuyi Yi. From standard tuning lower the first and raise the fifth strings a half step each.

4. Tracing Yi Guanshan
For this melody surviving only in 1525 see Zha Guide 21/--/--.

5. Moon over Guan Shan (關山月 Guanshan Yue; QQJC XXIX/203; listen to recording by Zha Fuxi) Guanshan Yue in Longyinguan Qinpu      
Guanshan could be the name of a specific frontier region mountain pass but, as mentioned above, the title could also be translated simply as Moon over a Mountain Pass. And although old poems of this title usually concern soldiers on the frontier separated from their loved ones at home, that does not seem to have been the intention here.

As a qin melody title Guanshan Yue seems to survive as a printed melody only from the Meian Qinpu (1931), a handbook consisting of melodies taught by Wang Binlu (1867 - 1921). There are, in fact, at least two possible hand-copied predecessors, but their authenticity is somewhat in doubt:

  1. The tablature at right from Longyinguan Qinpu, said to date from 1799, but its date is not confirmed; until recently it was known only as a hand copied collection of melodies belonging to Wang Binlu himself. All the Longyinguan Qinpu melodies are also in Meian Qinpu, and all are virtually identical; the main differences between the Longyinguan Qinpu and Meian Qinpu versions of Guanshan Yue are that the latter divides the melody into two parts plus a coda (at the places indicated here by the addition of red lines), and the former includes instructions at the end only to repeat the melody once, not continuously, as discussed further below.
  2. Tablature in Qinxue Guanjian (QQJC XXIX/277); Zha Fuxi seems to give its date as 1930, but elsewhere it is said to date from 1870. It has a few differences from the Meian version.

In any case, after its publication in Meian Qinpu Guanshan Yue quickly became a very popular beginners' melody using standard tuning. Its own preface (1959 edition) is as follows (translation is from Fred Lieberman, A Chinese Zither Tutor, p. 86 [Romanization changed]):

This composition belongs solely to the Zhucheng qin school. It describes scenery and atmosphere of northern China. It has a robust tone. Though short, it requires exact finger technique. It is the right way for the beginner to start, easy for the novice to play well. It can be played in the fashion called "Jade Bracelet" where the beginning (of the composition) follows the end immediately, like an endless ring. One can play (this composition) for a long time without tiring of it. It is well suited for beginners.

Regarding the "fashion called 'jade bracelet'" (玉環體 yu huan ti), this term is also used at the end of the tablature (which ends with the right hand second finger plucking the sixth string outward while the left ring finger slides up into the 10th position), where it says then to "slide up to the 9th position then do again the jade bracelet structure": i.e., repeat it as many times as you like. The Longyinguan Qinpu version does not mention repetition, but this sort of repetition can in fact also be applied to some other beginners's melodies, such as Xianweng Cao.

Versions with lyrics added

None of the surviving editions adds lyrics, or mentions any connection between the melody Guanshan Yue either to earlier poems of this title or to other possible related melodies. Nevertheless, claims have been made both that Guan Shan Yue is a song going back to the Tang dynasty, or it is based on an old Shandong folk melody. The most common assertion is connects Guanshan Yue with a Tang poem by Li Bai.

42402.11 關山月 identifies Guanshan Yue as 漢橫吹曲名 the name of a Han dynasty Hengchui Qu (Song Accompanied by Horizontal Flute). It then mentions Yuefu Shiji, which has 23 poems of this title in its Folio 23. The first 13 have the structure [5+5] x 4, as do 4 later ones. Only the 13th, by Li Bai (YFSJ, p.337), and the 23rd have the structure [5+5] x 6. The one by Li Bai is the most famous.

Li Bai's poem Guanshan Yue is as follows (translation is from Fred Lieberman, A Chinese Zither Tutor, p. 88 [Romanization changed]):

明月出天山,   bright moon   over Tianshan
蒼茫雲海間。   vast expanse   ocean of clouds

長風幾萬里,   great wind   from faroff lands
吹度玉門關。   blows through Yumen Pass

漢下白登道,   Han march   down Bai Deng
胡窺青海灣。   Hu reconnoitre   Qinghai Bay

由來徵戰地,   returning from   places of battle
不見有人還。   no one yet   has been seen

戍客望邊色,   frontier guardians   watch borders sadly
思歸多苦顏。   homeward thoughts   many bitter faces

高樓當此夜,   in boudoirs   on this night
嘆息未應閒。   only sighing   and no rest

However, although the structure of the modern Guanshan Yue melody does allow the Li Bai poem to be paired to it quite successfully, there is no evidence suggesting any attempt was ever made to pair the melody with the Li Bai lyrics until at least the late 20th century. Nevertheless, there seems to be a common assumption today that this pairing is quite ancient - even that the melody is ancient. There is no basis for either assumption.

The main problems with the assumption that the music was created to go with the lyrics (or the lyrics to go with the music) are:

  1. In the qin repertoire the Zha Guide mentions Guanshan Yue only in connection with its inclusion in Meian Qinpu (1931); it has absolutely no musical connection to the older Yi Guanshan. And although it is included in the Qinxue Guanjian (1870?; XXIX/277) and the Longyinguan Qinpu (1799?), neither of these dates is confirmed: both could actually date from after the Meian Qinpu itself.
  2. Although Meian Qinpu has lyrics for some melodies, it has none for Guanshan Yue.
  3. The three melodies in Meian Qinpu that do have lyrics all pair them to the music following the traditional pairing method. However, if one uses this pairing method it is impossible to make the Li Bai lyrics fit the melody without changing either the lyrics or the tablature. (For example, it is presumably the pairing of the melody to these lyrics that has led to the repetition of the third note [open third string] of the opening phrase, giving the phrase five "dian"; the red marks in this transcription show where the pairing does not fit the traditional method.)

These facts have not prevented people from claiming it as "Chinese Ancient Music" when they dress up in ancient costume and sing the Li Bai poem using the Meian Qinpu melody. Because the latter is actually a modern composition or a modern arrangement of a folk melody of indefinite age (see below), and for such performances it is always played on a modernized (i.e., nylon metal string) qin, sometimes with the addition of an ensemble of modernized versions of traditional instruments, such performances may be lovely but they are the antithesis of HIP.

For a more natural, and timeless, feeling listen to this recording by Peiyou Chang on YouTube.

5. 罵情人 Ma Qingren (Scolding My Lover) Transcription of 罵情人 Ma Qingren (expand)      
Is there music from the folk tradition that might have provided the music for the qin melody 關山月 Guanshan Yue? (Update July 2013) In the following article,

Zhang Yujin, A Thorough Investigation of Guanshan Yue. Qinlun Chuoxin
(In 林晨,琴學六十年論文集,文化藝術出版社; 第1版,2011年5月1日 ?)

Zhang Yujin (1914~1981; specialist on Zhucheng school) argued that the source of the famous guqin melody Guanshan Yue is a Shandong folk melody called Ma Qingren. I have not yet seen that article, so I do not know whether Zhang Yujin heard Ma Qingren under circumstances that would argue against or preclude it having been copied from or been influenced by Guanshan Yue rather than the other way around. I also do not know how close the connection was that Zhang found at that time. Ma Qingren itself (28958.xxx) does not appear either in any traditional qin handbooks or in any traditional collections of folk melodies.

More recently an article in 中國古琴音樂文集 Zhongguo Guqin Yinyue Wenji included a transcription of a melody said to be called Ma Qingren together with its lyrics, but I have not yet been able to read the text of that article. Subsequent to that I found transciptions online that include the lyrics, such as those here at right (enlarge) and copied out below:

花開花敗,為甚麼你不來?   Flowers open, flowers die, why haven't you come?....

The number notation with the above lyrics shows a melody very similar to that of Guanshan Yue. The comment below the transcription points this out, adding that most people think Meian Qinpu was the earliest to have it, but it then says Guanshan Yue really should be dated to Qinxue Guanjian, putting its date at 1870.

The first problem with that is that it ignores the even earlier claims made for the same melody in Longyin Guan Qinpu (see #3). Then, in fact, both earlier dates contradict what has been written about Wang Yanqing (Wang Binlu, 1867-1921) having arranged Guan Shan Yue from a Shandong folk melody. The only counter to that argument would be to cast doubt on the early dates given for Qinxue Guanjian as well as Longyin Guan Qinpu.

Some people have indeed expressed skepticism about Wang Yanqing having made Guan Shan Yue by adapting a folk melody. For example, in the commentary accompanying one online transcription (www.xici.net) the writer says, The melody is said to come directly from Wang, but if so, where did Wang get it, why does commentary only say things like "according to tradition", and why didn't Wang himself in his original commentary (i.e., in Meian Qinpu) mention Ma Qingren or its lyrics?

Based on an examination of the transcription with tablature and lyrics just mentioned, the lyrics certainly do fit the Guan Shan Yue tablature better than the Li Bai poem does, but the fit is not exact: the song has a few extra characters. As mentioned, I do not know the source of this tablature.

If transcriptions such as this one of Ma Qingren are in fact directly based on a Shandong folk song of that title, then one would have had to have been copied from the other. However, the internet sites that have images of it add minimal comment, little more than "It has been said that...," and so in addition to not having seen the articles in question I have not yet heard informed discussions of them or of this issue.

As a result I can add only the following speculation.

On the one hand, if one applies the traditional pairing method for qin songs to the Guanshan Yue tablature, the "dian" (points where lyrics can be placed) fit the Ma Qingren lyrics much better than they do the words of the Li Bai poem. On the other hand, the fact that the Ma Qingren lyrics do fit so closely makes it especially odd that the connection was not made earlier. The traditional pairing rules of qin melodies are so limiting that unless its "dian" are quite regular it is sufficiently difficult to find matches between existing melodies and existing lyrics that if someone does find such a match it is very strong evidence for such a connection - or that one or the other was manipulated to try to establish or make clear the connection. (This is presumably what has happened to the opening phrase of Guanshan Yue, where in the version of the official Chinese conservatory syllabus an additional stroke has been added [repetition of the open third string]; on the other hand, no similar attempt is made later in the melody to pair the lyrics and music in the traditional manner.)

In addition, if in fact lyrics for Ma Qingren can not be found in an old source, it would be good to see further analysis as to whether they fit into the style of folk songs published as early as the 1799 often claimed for Longyinguan Qinpu. This is an important issue, as it could have bearing on the question of whether Longyinguan Qinpu actually dates from much earlier than the 20th century.

In sum, if Ma Qingren really is the source for Guanshan Yue it is very puzzling that neither Wang Binlu or any of his contemporaries ever mentioned it. So until details of the 1950s paper can be examined, and/or other articles that draw upon it, the question of what connection Guanshan Yue has with this particular folk song should remain open.

6. Music of Yi Guanshan
To my knowledge the rhythmic patterns of this melody do not fit any lyrics.

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