Qiusheng Fu
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Autumn Sounds Rhapsody
Shang mode:2 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
秋聲賦 1
Qiusheng Fu  
  An illustration from Korea 3        
The preface to Qiusheng Fu in Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin identifies the lyrics for the melody as a text written by Ouyang Xiu (1001 - 1072). It describes the circumstances of his writing it, then seems to say that it was Yang Lun himself who set it to music.4

At least seven handbooks from 1589 to 1910 use this text, Qiusheng Fu, as lyrics for a qin melody of the same title. The melody of the second, dated 1618, is somewhat different from the others; as for numbers three through seven, dated from 1802 to 1910, the tablature for at least four of them seems to be almost identical to that of 1589.5

Qiusheng Fu is one of Ouyang Xiu's most popular and highly regarded poems. I have not yet found out its date or where it was written.6 It begins with the narrator (referring to himself by the nickname Ouyang Zifang) describing how one night while reading in his cottage he heard a strange sound from outside. However, when his servant goes out to find out what the sound was, he finds no one there and says the sound seems to have come from the trees. The poet then realizes that it was the sound of autumn, causing him to lament the fleetingness of life. Such lamentations on autumn are a well-known theme in Chinese poetry.7

There are many examples of calligraphy for this poem.8 In addition the poem has often been illustrated as above, combining calligraphy for the poem with an image.9

Original Preface10
(Not yet translated; summary is above)

Melody (See transcription; not yet recorded)
8 Sections; the musical setting is largely syllabic 11

  1. Sounds heard on a clear evening
    As I, Ouyang Zifang, was reading one night, I heard sounds coming from the southwest. Startled by hearing this I said, "Strange!" At first it was rain pattering in the moaning wind, then suddenly the sound surged up in crashing noises.
  2. Autumn winds have a percussive air
    It was like waves soughing and crashing in the evening, or wind and rain suddenly arriving, butting into objects and making clanging noises and metallic striking sounds. It was also rushing like troops hurrying to the front - muffling their words, unable to hear commands, hearing only the footsteps of the soldiers and clatter of horse hooves.
  3. Having asked about the sound, sighing deeply
    I asked the boy, “What is the sound? Please look around.” (When he came back) the boy said, "The stars and moon are clear and bright, and the Bright River (Milky Way?) is in the sky. From all four sides is no human sound, the sound is from trees." I said, Alas! This is the sound of the autumn. How is it that it already has arrived?
  4. Describing the contours of autumn
    So, as for the way autumn takes shape, in color it is bleak, the fog lifts and clouds begin to dissipate; the atmosphere is fresh and clear, with the sky high above and sunlight crystalline. The weather becomes cool, chilling men to the bone, it conveys desolation, amidst deserted mountains and rivers. Thus as it produces sound it is chilly and cutting, crying out in great anger.
  5. One impartial force
    When luxuriant grasses are bright green they struggle to stand out; when the beautiful trees are lush it is easy to enjoy them. (But) as the grasses rub (autumn?) their color changes, and as the trees meet (autumn?) they shed their leaves. The reason for this destruction and falling is the excess harshness of all its breath.
  6. Governed by nature's might
    As for autumn, it is the Punishment Bureau, it is a dark yin time, having the appearance of soldiers, as it progresses becoming metal. It is said to have the righteous spirit of heaven and earth, often using its harsh killings as its heart. Spring gives birth while autumn brings the results. Thus when it comes to music, the shang sounds control sounds from the west, yize has the pitch of the seventh lunar month (when autumn begins). This shang suggests the shang meaning to injure; as things become old they mourn their injuries. The yi (of yize) suggests the lu (also pronounced yi?) meaning destroy; once things have flourished they must die.
  7. Autumn sounds cold and still
    Alas, grass and trees do not have emotions, they have their their time then become nothing. Man is a moving creature, the only creature with a spirit. A hundred worries move his heart, myriad affairs work on his form; being moved must shake his essence. And so he thinks about what his efforts cannot attain, and bemoans what his knowledge cannot grasp. It is appropriate that his soft reddishness should become (as) dried wood. and the blackness (of his hair) should become speckled as with stars.
  8. Wind has caused heartfelt sighs
    So of what use is it, for something that does not have the substance of metal or stone, to wish to struggle for glory with grass and trees? If you learn who carries out this crime of destruction, how can there be hatred for autumn sounds?
    (Conclusion:) The boy having no answer hung his head and went to sleep. But from the four walls one could hear the sound of insects, "ji ji". It was as if to assist my own sighing.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. Autumn Sounds Rhapsody (秋聲賦 Qiu Sheng Fu (QQJC VII/89)
"Fu is variously translated as ode, rhapsody, prose-poem, etc.

2. Shang mode is commonly associated with autumn and sadness. See more under Shenpin Shang Yi.

3. Illustration
This illustration was taken from a Korean website; the original is apparently in Leeum, the Samsung Museum of Art. The date seems to be 1805 but I haven't been able to work out the name of the painter.

4. Attribution to Yang Lun
The 1618 handbook (see next) gives only an attribution to Ouyang Xiu; the later handbooks seem to have no attribution. However, as the preface in Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin states: 掄以徽音為樂,梓譜傳世,每欲自創一曲遺後,奈艱立名色.... 掄 Lun here is presumably 楊掄 Yang Lun, so that the passage says, Yang Lun used the sounds of hui (i.e., the qin) to make music, then carved tablature to pass it on to the world....

5. Comparing versions of Qiusheng Fu
Although the tablature of 3, 4, 6 and 7 seems to be the same as that of 1, the commentary and section titles are mostly missing. Zha's Guide 29/226/434 lists these seven related versions (omitting 1709) as follows (with dates):

1589 (VII/89; present version)
1618 (VIII/230; related in sections)
1709 (XIII/503; = 1589)
1802 (XVII/534; = 1589)
>1802 (徵音 zhi yin, omits lyrics, a few fingerings change, but "= 1589"; XIX/257)
1828 (XX/433 attribs. Ouyang Xiu; XX/439; hard to read but seems basically same)
1876 (" = 1802"; no lyrics; XXV/404)
1910 (" = 1802"; box tablature indicating rhythm; XXX/207)

The long gap prior to its reappearance in 1802 suggests that an attempt was being made at that time to revive the melody. This, plus the omission of lyrics in some handbooks, leaves open the question of whether it was actively sung during the 18th and 19th centuries. Generally if a melody is in the active repertoire it undergoes changes over time.

In addition there are unrelated Qiu Sheng in Longhu Qinpu (1571; QF/272) and Yixuan Qinjing (late Ming; IX/444).

6. Could Ouyang Xiu have written it at his residence at 琅琊 Langya? Langya is near Chuzhou in eastern Anhui province, about 100 km northwest of Nanjing. Another of Ouyang Xiu's famous poems Zuiweng Ting Ji is set here. For more on Ouyang Xiu's residence at Langya see under Ouyang Xiu.

7. The earliest known autumn lament is Jiu Bian by Song Yu. This is the subject of the qin melody Song Yu Mourns Autumn (no lyrics).

8. Calligraphy for Qiusheng Fu
Online examples (last update May 2009) include:

  1. By Zhao Mengfu (includes a loose translation of the first half)
  2. A scroll from the Liaoning museum (on the website of the Zhejiang museum)
  3. A scroll by Zhu Yunming, from the University of Pennsylvania Museum

9. Illustrated calligraphy for Qiusheng Fu
Online examples (last update May 2009) include:

  1. The scene above, described in a previous footnote
  2. An example, by Hua Yan (1683~1756), preserved in a Japanese museum.

10. Original Chinese preface
The original preface in the 1589 Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin of Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu begins as follows:

後學楊鶴浦(楊掄)曰:按斯曲之文,乃宋歐陽修所作也。盖聞天運推遷,四時代謝,元亨利貞之迭運,陽舒陰慘之互施,亦天道之常,無足怪者。歐公之意....(rest not yet copied)

11. Lyrics for Autumn Sounds Rhapsody 秋聲賦原文
The translation above is heavily indebted to the one by Stephen H. West in "Autumn Sounds: Music to the Ears/ Ouyang Xiu's 'Fu on Autumn's Sounds,'" Early Medieval China 10–11.2 (2005), 73–100.

Here are the original lyrics arranged, as for the qin melody, in eight sections:

  1. 歐陽子方夜讀書,聞有聲自西南來者,悚然而聽之,曰:「異哉!」初淅瀝以蕭颯,忽奔騰而砰湃;
  2. 如波濤夜驚,風雨驟至。其觸於物也,鏦鏦錚錚,金鐵皆鳴;又如赴敵之兵,銜枚疾走,不聞號令,但聞人馬之行聲。
  3. 予謂童子:「此何聲也?汝出視之。」童子曰:「星月皎潔,明河在天,四無人聲,聲在樹間。」予曰:「噫嘻,悲哉!此秋聲也,胡為而來哉?
  4. 蓋夫秋之為狀也:其色慘淡,煙霏雲斂;其容清抈,天高日晶;其氣慄冽,砭人肌骨;其意蕭條,山川寂寥。故其為聲也,淒淒切切,呼號憤發。
  5. 豐草綠縟而爭茂,佳木蔥籠而可悅;草拂之而色變,木遭之而葉脫;其所以摧敗零落者,乃其一氣之餘烈。
  6. 夫秋,刑官也,於時為陰:又兵象也,於行為金,是謂天地之義氣,常以肅殺而為心。天之於物,春生秋實。故其在樂也,商聲主西方之音,夷則為七月之律。商,傷也;物既老而悲傷。夷,戮也;物過盛而當殺。
  7. 嗟乎,草木無情,有時飄零。人為動物,惟物之靈。百憂感其心,萬事勞其形。有動于中,必搖其精。而況思其力之所不及,憂其智之所不能;宜其渥然丹者為槁木,黟然黑者為星星。
  8. 奈何以非金石之質,欲與草木而爭榮?念誰為之戕賊,亦何恨乎秋聲!」

The originals of the eight titles used here are as follows:

  1. 清夜聞聲
  2. 秋風鼔氣
  3. 訊聲太息
  4. 模寫秋容
  5. 一氣無私
  6. 職奉天威
  7. 秋聲寂寞
  8. 因風感慨

Return to the Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu intro, to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.