Song Yu Bei Qiu
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148. Song Yu Mourns Autumn
- Qiliang mode 2 : 2 4 5 6 1 2 3
宋玉悲秋 1
Song Yu Bei Qiu
Song Yu mourns: Jiu Bian illustration  
The Song Yu Bei Qiu is commonly translated as Song Yu Mourns Autumn melody using qiliang tuning is found only in Xilutang Qintong (1525 CE). It is not musically related to a later piece of the same title, which uses standard tuning.3 It has the same theme as a poem from the Chu Ci (Songs of the South) commonly attributed to Song Yu, Jiu Bian (Nine Changes).4

Song Yu was a well-known poet in the state of Chu during the third century BCE. He is commonly said to have been a nephew of Qu Yuan, but no reliable biographical information is available. Several poems in the Chu Ci are attributed to him. The set called Jiu Bian begins as follows (Hawkes' translation5),

Alas for the breath of autumn!
Wan and drear: flower and leaf fluttering fall and turn to decay....

In his preface David Hawkes says Jiu Bian begins as a

"magnificent threnody to dying nature.... We encounter, perhaps for the first time (in Chinese poetry), a fully developed sense of ... the pathos of natural objects, which was to be the theme of so much Chinese poetry throughout the ages."

As the original afterword to the qin melody of 1525 makes clear, it follows the same ideas as the Chu Ci poem.

Laments on autumn were to become a common theme in Chinese poetry.6

The music detailed in Xilutang Qintong is notable for the way it repeats and develops several distintive phrases ending on the relative note re, but then usually reverts to la at the end of each section (though the whole melody ends on re). The modal characteristics are mentioned further below.

Original afterword 7

Song Yu of Chu had talent but lost his will; he was not in tune with his times. When he felt the autumn air he sighed in mourning. Later people accordingly applied this to the qin.

Eight sections
8       (timings follow my recording 聽錄音)
(In Xilutang Qintong the eight sections and coda have no titles. However, the Hangzhou artist Bai Yunli has made a set of nine illustrations for Jiu Bian, each one titled with a line from the poem. These titles are given here below as section titles, and the sequence of the titles over the eight sections and coda, together with the nine illustrations themselves, give an outline of the poem's meaning.9 The last note of Section 8 is played with a finger technique called 捻 nian ["take a pinch"], intended to imitate the sound of a string breaking.)

00.00   1. Sad is the autumn air (I.02)
00.39   2. I have left home and traveled far (II.03)
01.89   3. I only lament the chills of autumn (III.02)
02.06   4. Heaven's flooding brings autumn rain (IV.17)
02.40   5. Phoenixes soar high in the sky (V.10)
03.22   6. Frost, dew and grief mix as they descend together (VI.01)
03.52   7. In old age I am alone and homeless (VIII.16)
04.37   8. I fear the fields have become full of weeds (X.10)
05.16       (harmonic coda) I let my wandering soul soar into the clouds (XI.02)
05.36       end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Song Yu Mourns Autumn (宋玉悲秋 Song Yu Bei Qiu)
7230.63 has only 宋玉 Song Yu, with details about him.
11088.35 悲秋 bei qiu refers to 九辯 Jiu Bian then two later poems, by 杜甫 Du Fu and 劉兼 Liu Jian.

As for 悲 bei by itself, it might also be translated as "gets emotional about" - for this understanding of 悲 bei see also under Mozi Bei Ge concerning in particular an article by Ronald Egan showing that bei can refer not just to the common meaning of sadness, but to the emotion one is feeling when something is so beautiful it brings tears to the eyes.

2. Qiliang Mode (涼調 Qiliang Diao)
For qiliang tuning, from standard tuning raise the 2nd and 5th strings. As discussed under Shenpin Qiliang Yi and Modality in early Ming qin tablature, the main tonal center in this mode is usually re, secondarily la. Here the main tonal center through most of the sections is re, but the sections usually end on la. The last section ends even more strongly on la, but then the harmonic coda is centered on re from beginning to end.

3. Tracing Song Yu Bei Qiu
Zha Guide 22/196/-- lists it in seven handbooks, but the latter six are unrelated melodies using standard tuning; the present melody can be found only here in 1525.

Standard Tuning Song Yu Bei Qiu
Zha Guide
22/196/-- lists seven melodies with this title but these comprise two musically unrelated pieces, the one from 1525 using qiliang tuning and six standard tuning ones published between 1689 and 1876. Added to these latter should be two related zhi mode melodies called Bei Qiu, published earlier but which the Guide lists separately. These eight melodies are then as follows:

  1. 1634 (IX/329)
    "又曰秋閨 also called Qiu Gui (but no relation to Qiu Gui Yuan)
  2. 1677 (XII/424)
    鄭正叔譜 the tablature was written by Zheng Zhengshu
  3. 1689 (XIV/265)
  4. 1766
  5. 1722
  6. 1802
  7. 1876
  8. 1876.

None of these tablatures has any commentary other than the brief attributions mentioned here.

4. Nine Changes (九辨 Jiu Bian)
This poem from Chu Ci is translated as Nine Changes by David Hawkes (see Songs of the South, pp.207-219). Hawkes says Nine Arguments or Nine Disputes might seem a better translation; he chose Nine Changes as a title "borrowed from legend; and in the legend Jiu Bian has the sense of musical changes or 'modes'." Another translation is Nine Apologies (see Xu Yuanzhong, Poetry of the South; Changsha, Hunan Publishing Co., 1992). 2The original did not have sections indicated. Hawkes divides it into eleven, "following mainly the rhymes, the sense and my own intuition". Other editions may break it into nine or ten sections.

5. Translation by David Hawkes
As arranged in Hawkes, Songs of the South, Penguin, p.209, the first 10 lines are as follows:

悲哉秋之為氣也! Alas for the breath of autumn!
蕭瑟兮草木搖落而變衰, Wan and drear: flower and leaf fluttering fall and turn to decay;
憭慄兮若在遠行,登山臨水兮送將歸, Sad and lorn: as when on journey far
                        one climbs a hill and looks down on the water to speed a returning friend;
泬寥兮天高而氣清, Empty and vast: the skies are high and the air is cold;
寂寥兮收潦而水清, Still and deep: the streams have drunk full and the waters are clear.
憯悽增欷兮薄寒之中人, Heartsick and sighing sore: for the cold draws on and strikes into a man;
愴怳懭悢兮去故而就新, Distraught and disappointed: leaving the old and to new places turning;
坎廩兮貧士失職而志不平, Afflicted: the poor esquire has lost his office and his heart rebels;
廓落兮羇旅而無友生, Desolate: on his long journey he rests with never a friend;
惆悵兮而私自憐。 Melancholy: he nurses a private sorrow....

Hawkes' translation sets out the poem in 257 lines. The original is not divided into sections but Hawkes divides it into 11 "following mainly the rhymes, the sense nd my own intuition". The complete text is easily found online.

6. For another qin setting of an autumn lament see Qiusheng Fu.

7. Original afterword

8. Original section titles
Not yet online, but see the Bai Yunli illustrations as well as the footnote below.

9. Aligning the section titles with Song Yu's poem
The poem/line reference numbers used here are based on the Penguin translation Songs of the South by David Hawkes, which divided it into 11 sections. The illustrations by 白雲立 Bai Yunli are based on a set of nine by the scholar artist 門應兆 Men Yingzhao (active during 1736-1795). Men's illustrations were originally published in 欽定補繪蕭雲從離騷全圖 Qinding Bu hui Xiao Yuncong Li Sao Quantu, The Imperially Ordered Complete Illustrations of Li Sao Supplementing the Sketches by Xiao Yuncong. See details under Chu Ci.

The original Chinese lines selected as titles are:

  1. 悲哉秋之為氣也 (I.02)
  2. 去鄉離家兮徠遠客 (II.03)
  3. 竊獨悲此廩秋 (III.02)
  4. 皇天淫溢而秋霖 (IV.17)
  5. 鳳愈飄翔而高舉 (V.10)
  6. 霜露慘悽而交下 (VI.01)
  7. 老嵺廓而無處 (VIII.16)
  8. 恐田野之蕪穢 (X.10)
    (泛音) 放遊志乎雲中 (XI.02)

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