Autumn Night Moon Walk: Qiu Xiao Bu Yue
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159. Autumn Night Moon Walk
  Biyu mode:2 lower 1st, 4th, 6th half step; raise 3rd whole step (6 1 3 3 5 6 1)
Qiu Xiao Bu Yue
Tablature for the modal prelude, Biyu Yi
Autumn Night Moon Walk is preceded by a short melody called Autumn Evening Intonation (Qiu Yue Yin4) as well as by the Biyu modal prelude ("Defining Green Jade Mode"). Such sets of three pieces, consisting of a modal prelude, melodic prelude and the main melody, did occur in Shen Qi Mi Pu, but they were particularly common in Xilutang Qintong.5 However, this practice does not seem to have continued, and indeed tablature for none of these three melodies can be found elsewhere.6

This melody can also be distinguished by its tuning, in particular the fact that the third and fourth strings are tuned to the same pitch. The only other surviving melody with this characteristic seems to be Guangling San, in which the first and second strings are tuned to the same pitch. Both melodies use this characteristic to highlight the special coloring one gets by playing the same note in succession (whether slow [echoic] or rapid [intense]) on two different strings. In the present case this seems intended to add to the ethereal nature of the piece.

The mood of this set of melodies might be summed up by quoting the poem Moon Walk by Yuan Jue, apparently inspired by hearing Guo Mian play a relevant melody on the qin:

The bright moon in the clear sky
  Its brightness flowing, filling the western courtyard.
Shaking out my clothing and slowly walking alone,
  I faithfully follow the flow.
My heart is like the moon,
  Forever without change.
Occasionally I chase after fame here,
  And am bullied by the polluted world...
Embracing shadows I chant through the long night,
  With thoughts of leaving together with the parting cranes.
Keep walking! Return to the old hills.
  Stretching out to the clouds, joining a secret rendezvous.

See also another moon walk poem.

The commentary on Qiu Xiao Bu Yue connects it to the 6th century scholar-official Liu Shilong (442 - 491) and this has led a number of modern commentators to say Liu Shilong composed (zuo) the piece.8 However, in addition to the problem of the actual meaning of "zuo", the source of this attribution is not clear. Here the afterword quotes a story from a text called Guang Le Ji that suggests that Liu Shilong played such a melody, or a melody on this theme, but it does not specifically say he created the melody.9 The title is also mentioned in the Zhanran Jushi Wenji of Yelü Chucai, but that work does not seem to mention Liu Shilong.10 In addition, there has been speculation that the melody called simply Walking on the Moon (Bu Yue), generally connected during the Song dynasty to the famous qin player Guo Chuwang, in fact had a melodic connection to Qiu Xiao Bu Yue (see, for example, Rao, Chapter 5). In the absence of any tablature for a melody called Bu Yue this also remains pure speculation, but that should not diminish the shared feelings of the poem above.

In sum, any connection between the present (set of) melodies and Liu Shilong must also be considered a matter of speculation. Did Liu play a melody similar to the one here and the name for it was added later? Did it have this unique tuning? Or did he play a melody of this name and this inspired someone later to create a new melody with this name? The aforementioned attempts in the Song dynasty and later sources to connect it (or Bu Yue) with Liu Shilong may suggest there may have been a melody on this theme dating from th 5th century, and melodies do tend to develop over the years (or centuries). Nevertheless, because the only surviving version of a Qiu Xiao Bu Yue is the one here in Xilutang Qintong (1525), and its own commentary is rather vague, the true origin of the melody remains uncertain.

Although this melody did not survive into the current repertoire, several people have also done reconstructions. This includes Yao Bingyan (listen) and Chen Changlin (listen), who also plays the Qiu Ye Yin. There are also a number of recordings on the internet; these seem to be mostly following or modified from one of the above.11

On the other hand, although the three pieces here do seem to be intended as a unit, to my knowledge no one else has recorded them as such. Perhaps because such "suites" are not part of the modern repertoire the assumption is that this connection is superfluos: Qu Xiao Bu Yue came first and so the others were unnecessary. However, there is no evidence to support such a contention - nor proof to deny it.

Original commentary12
The commentary with the melody, which should also be applied to the preceding Autumn Evening Intonation, consists of the following afterword:

Guang Le Ji says, Liu Shilong of Qi was good at playing qin, amongst scholars the best. He did not spend time preparing himself for worldly matters, but instead had a demeanor that was both transparent and profound. On moonlit evenings he often played this piece, wandering in the central courtyard, free and comfortable. Later people used this to name the piece.

The translation is tentative, but to me it seems to say that Liu Shilong liked to play melodies related to such an environment, and so the meaning is not that Liu Shilong created the piece bu that he inspired it.

Music (transcribed and recorded as a set of three pieces; see transcription; 聽 listen: timings follow my combined recording)
Melodic connections between these three reinforce their conception as a set.13

Defining Green Jade Mode (碧玉意 Biyu Yi)
One section plus harmonic coda (the tablature is shown above)

  1. 00.00   The phrase straddling the third and fourth lines of the tablature have an obvious connection to the second phrase in Sections 4 and 7 of Qiu Xiao Bu Yue.
    00.54   Harmonic coda: this and the phrase before it are identical to the same in Qiu Xiao Bu Yue

Autumn Evening Intonation (秋夜吟 Qiu Yue Yin)
Three sections plus harmonic coda

  1. 01.08  
  2. 01.57   Melody almost the same as Section 1, but played in harmonics
  3. 02.47  
    03.33   Harmonic coda: almost the same as in the other two of this set

Autumn Night Moon Walk (秋宵步月 Qiu Xiao Bu Yue)
8 titled sections

  1. 03.50   An empty (mental) hall leads to awareness (虛堂生白 Xū táng shēng bái)
  2. 04.16   Start to leave the blue sea (初離碧海 Chū lí bì hǎi)
  3. 05.01   Gradually turning in remote empty spaces (漸轉遥空 Jiàn zhuǎn yáo kōng)
  4. 05.26   Suddenly crossing a rainbow (....doing the rainbow dance? 恍度霓裳 Huǎng dù ní shang)
  5. 06.11   A golden mirror (i.e., the sun?) traverses the heavens (金鑑行天 Jīn jiàn xíng tiān)
  6. 06.26   The silver toad (i.e., the moon) stretches out (銀蟾舒練 Yīn chán shū liàn)
  7. 06.59   Clouds bravely ride the wind (雲英馭風 Yún yīng yù fēng; tablature almost identical to that of Section 4)
  8. 07.45   The boundless firmament is all the same color (長天一色 Cháng tiān yī sè)
    08.21   Harmonic coda
    08.35   End

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 秋宵步月 Qiu Xiao Bu Yue references (QQJC III/268)
None. See instead:

Thus some arbitrariness is also used here in translating "bu yue" as "moon walk" (to imply a Daoist ramble in the firmament). N.B., The moonwalk of 麥可傑克森 Michael Jackson is usually rendered as "月球漫步 yuèqiú mànbù".

2. #157. Defining Green Jade Mode (碧玉意 Biyu Yi; in 1525; recording)
This chart shows that there is existing tablature for three titles that include the words "碧玉 Biyu":

The tuning used here in 1525, which survives nowhere else, calls for lowering the 1st/4th/6th strings half a pitch each, then raising the 3rd string to be equal to the 4th string; this gives a relative tuning of 6 1 3 3 5 6 1. Another way to explain this would be first to set the strings according to guxian tuning (tighten 2nd/5th/7th strings a half step each: 6 1 2 3 5 6 1). Once you have done this, including the fine tuning, then you raise the 3rd string a whole tone so that it has the same pitch as the 4th string. It is significant to mention this method because if you try to use harmonics to fine tune biyu tuning as it is used here you can get the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th strings in tune with each other and the 2nd, 5th and 7th also in tune with each other, but you cannot align them all together.

The biyu mode from 1425 actually gives as an alternate tuning a similar one to here: instead of "slacken third string" (the tuning actually used in 1425) it says you could "tighten the 3rd, 5th and 7th each one degree"; this most closely resembles guxian tuning (see mode chart) but instead of tightening the 3rd string you tighten the 2nd. The only known example of this alternative tuning is in 1618.

As for the modal characteristics of the set of three pieces in 1525, overall their most significant tonal center is gong (1, do), but many phrases end on either yu (6, la) or jue (3, mi). This is somewhat comparable to the tonal structure of Shenpin Biyu Yi and Baji You.

All three pieces in this mode make good use of the fact that the 3rd and 4th notes are tuned to the same pitch. Of note, however, is what seems to be a unique figure used in the tablature. It looks somewhat like a 三 (3) mixed with a 四 (4). At first it appears to be a misprint, and perhaps it is, but it might also be either a shorthand indication to play the two strings together, or it could be an indication that it does not matter which of the two strings you play.

3. Tablature for the biyu modal prelude
This shows how the music utilizes the fact that the third and fourth strings are tuned to the same note. Note also that the last line and the harmonic coda are almost but not quite the same as the last line and harmonic coda of Qiu Xiao Bu Yue.

4. #158. Autumn Evening Intonation (秋夜吟 Qiu Ye Yin; in 1525; recording)
Zha Guide 23/--/-- says only here. Compare 25505.346 秋宵吟 (Qiu Xiao Yin). Elsewhere I have found no separate commentary for this piece.

Its modal characteristics are described above. As mentioned with the melody itself, it has three sections, with the second section repeating quite closely the melody of the first section but in harmonics. Bringing out the connection required changing the punctuation of one phrase (from after the fifth cluster to after the sixth in the fourth line of the first section); it also led to adding punctuation dividing two other phrases.

5. Sets of three melodies
In Shen Qi Mi Pu, for example, see the three melodies in jue mode. However, whereas in Xilutang Qintong these sets of three only have one commentary, in Shen Qi Mi Pu the melodic prelude does have its own preface.

6. Tracing Qiu Xiao Bu Yue
Zha Guide 23/197/-- lists it only here in 1525.

8. Attribution to 柳世隆 Liu Shilong (442 - 491)
An online search will give many examples of this attribution. At least one source quoted online, "醒心琴譜 Xing Xin Qin Pu", is modern (ca. 2000?).

9. 廣樂記 Guang Le Ji
Details of this source are unclear. Perhaps it refers to the 10th c. work 景祐廣樂記 Jǐngyòu Guǎnglèjì (八十一卷,翰林院侍講學士馮元等撰).

10. Mention in 湛然居士文集 Zhanran Jushi Wenji
My own search of Zhanran Jushi Wenji, a work by Yelü Chucai (1190 - 1244), does not turn up "柳世隆" Liu Shilong. An internet search, however, does yield this line from a poem in its Section 11 (湛然居士文集卷十一) apparently titled, "Playing the two pieces Qiu Xiao Bu Yue and Qiu Ye Bu Yue. This is as follows (punctuation added),

【 [據年譜,作於公元一二三四年。]】


This chapter as copied here has 24 references to "琴". Note also that "秋夜 Qiu Ye" is the prelude to the Qiu Xiao Bu Yue here in 1525.

11. Other recordings
Yao Bingyan's linked recording was made in 1981 and Chen Changlin's recordings were made in 2013 (transcriptions on pp.169-174). Both use nylon metal strings.

12. Original Commentary
The original Chinese afterword to Qiu Xiao Bu Yue is as follows:


The above translation is tentative.

13. Music
Learning the melody as written is complicated by the tuning as well as the repetition of phrases with slight changes. The oddity of the tuning (with the 3rd and 4th strings tuned to the same note) means the finger positions are quite different from what one is used to. The repeated phrases with variations provide clues to what the original rhythms might have been. Related to this, when I learn a piece I treat the tablature as though it was a teacher and try to play it exactly. Once this has been done the repetitions are no longer a problem, as it is not necessary to play them exactly as written each time.

14. Section titles
Translations tentative.

  1. 虛堂生白 Xū táng shēng bái Empty hall 33515.141=空堂; 22165.57 莊子人閒:虛室生白 "the empty apartment is filled with light through it"; 堂 537
  2. 初離碧海 Chū lí bì hǎi
  3. 漸轉遥空 Jiàn zhuǎn yáo kōng
  4. 恍度霓裳 Huǎng dù ní shang
  5. 金鑑行天 Jīn jiàn xíng tiān (41049.1398; = 金鑒 ?
  6. 銀蟾舒練 Yīn chán shū liàn
  7. 雲英馭風 Yún yīng yù fēng (tablature almost identical to that of Section 3)
  8. 長天一色 Cháng tiān yī sè


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