Songxianguan Qinpu
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Songxianguan Qinpu
Qin Handbook of Pine String Hall 1
Yan Tianchi2 image 3                  
The Yushan school,
4 sometimes referred to as the Qin Chuan (Qin Stream),5 is often said to have been the most important qin school during the Qing dynasty,6 and this is the earliest surviving handbook of that school. Yushan7 is a hill in the city of Changshu,8 Jiangsu; hence the Yushan school is also called the Shu school.9 This handbook is said to document the playing style of the founder of the Yushan school, Yan Cheng (1547-1625).9 One of the teachers of Yan Cheng was Shen Taishao. However, Shen also had other students, such as Hao Ning, and Yan Cheng also had other teachers. In naming Yan Cheng as founder of the Yushan school it is said that he combined the best of Shen's playing style and/or repertoire with the best of the existing local styles.

Songxianguan Qinpu has 29 melodies plus two more in an addition. All use standard tuning. Most can be found in earlier handbooks; I have reconstructed the three that appear here for the first time (see also Dongtian Chunxiao), as follows:11

08. Zhongqiu Yue: Mid-autumn Moon
      - first of four handbooks to 1722
09. Qiujiang Yebo: Autumn River Night Anchorage
      - Yan Cheng's revision of the Shen Qi Mi Pu Melody Yin De.
15. Liangxiao Yin: Peaceful Evening Prelude
      - the first first of 31 handbooks to 1914, but closely related to the 1596 Cangwu Yin.

Thus, at least two of those three are clearly revisions of an earlier melody.

Also of particular note are the three melodies in Songxian Guan Qinpu that appear first in other handbooks published around the same time, as follows:12

01. Dongtian Chunxiao: Spring Dawn in a Grotto-Heaven
      - 3rd of 28 from 1602
06. Taoyuan Yin: Peach Spring Intonation
      - 2nd of 10 from 1596 (similar)
12. Xishan Qiu Yue: Autumn Moon of Mountains and Streams
      - 4th of 26 from 1602, but very similar to a Jishan Qiu Yue first surviving from 1589

Of these three, the handbook where the first and third originally appear, Zangchunwu Qinpu (1602) of Hao Ning, includes them among its four melodies attributed to Shen Taishao.

The only melody with lyrics is the last item in the Songxian'guan Qinpu Addition, the Buddhist chant Pu'an Zhou. These are placed in front of the tablature, not alongside it. Yan Cheng was, in fact, quite critical of the way qin songs were created.

It might also be noted that, whereas many earlier handbooks preceded long melodies with shorter ones that might serve as preludes, Songxianguan Qinpu does the reverse, always placing the shorter pieces at the end of each modal section.

As for general characteristics of the music in Songxianguan Qinpu, based on my own reconstruction of the three melodies which appear first in that handbook as well as a casual look at other melodies published there, it reflects a style quite different from that of anything played today as "Yushan school". I suspect that a systematic study of all the melodies in this handbook would show a similar contrast. It is thus particularly important also to study the second handbook of the Yushan School, Dahuan'ge Qinpu (1673),13 said to reflect the style of Xu Hong, a younger contemporary of Yan Tianchi. Xu's handbook includes melodies that are faster and more complex than those in Songxianguan Qinpu (see comment).

In fact, to understand the development of the Yushan style it is essential to examine all the melodies as published in both of these handbooks, then compare these with the same and other melodies as published in earlier, contemporary and later handbooks. Only then will we have a good understanding of how the style of play in this school emerged and evolved.14

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qin Handbook of Pine String Hall (松絃館 Songxian Guan)
14897.xx; QQJC VIII/71-170. Compiled by Yan Cheng (1547-1625). There is some discussion of it and Yan in Qinshu Cunmu #196.

Joseph Lam, Imperial Agency in Ming Music Culture, in Culture, Courtiers, and Competition: The Ming Court (1368–1644), Harvard University Press, 2008, p.303, mistakenly identifies this as the Songfengge Qinpu; it must be a typo as he has it correct elsewhere.

Dr. Lam refers to the connections between Yan Cheng and court eunuchs such as those who compiled Zangchunwu Qinpu (1602; 65 melodies). There was certainly some connection: Yan wrote a preface for 1602. However, it is not clear what significance there is to Dr. Lam's statement that of the 27 melodies in Yan Cheng's handbook (actually it has 29, plus two in an appendix), 14 (actually 15, including one in the appendix) were taken from the 1602 handbook. The versions of the same titles in the two handbooks are mostly or all different to varying degrees, with most of the 1602 melodies also appearing in earlier handbooks. Tradition says that Yan Cheng revised all the melodies that went into his handbook (only three have their earliest known appearance in his handbook). Probably it will take considerable further study to determine the source of these melodies.

2. Yan Cheng 嚴澂 (1547-1625; sometimes written 嚴徵 Yan Zheng)
Yan Cheng was also known as 嚴天池 Yan Tianchi; further information in QSCB Chapter 7. His biography in Qinshi Xu does not seem yet to have been translated. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a qin said to have belonged to Yan Cheng (details).

3. Image of Yan Tianchi
This image of Yan Tianchi (below) is from the edition of Jinyu Qinkan as printed in Qin Fu, p. 1163.

4. Yu Shan Qin School (虞山琴派 Yushan Qinpai)
This school is discussed in some detail in Xu Jian's Qinshi Chubian, Chapter 7. See also my additional comments, which also discuss the apparently second important handbook of this school, Dahuange Qinpu.

5. Qinchuan (琴川 Qin Stream)
21570.5 琴川 Qinchuan identifies it as 水名 the name of a stream in the vicinity of Changshu, and thus an alternate name for 常熟縣 Changshu County. It then quotes 琴川志 the Qinchuan Annals as saying the name is due to 縣治前後橫港凡七,若琴絃然 the county jurisdiction included seven creeks (all part of Qinchuan?), like the seven strings of a qin.

Thus, since "Qin" is part of the name of an actual watercourse at the foot of 虞山 Yushan (Yu mountain), this would naturally have led to the name "Qinchuan becoming an an alternate name for the 虞山派 Yushan "Stream", i.e., Yushan School. This name was also applied to a Qinchuan Society (琴川社 Qinchuan She, also referred to as the Qinchuan Qin Society (琴川琴社 Qinchuan Qin She). It is not clear how long this group or term lasted after Yan Cheng (and/or 徐谼 Xu Hong): see next footnote. There was also a Qinchuan Tablature Collection (琴川譜彚 Qinchuan Pu Hui); to my knowledge this collection has not survived.

6. Most important qin school
It is sometimes said to survive today. However, there is no mention of it in this 1950s chart of existing qin schools, and see this comment.

7. Yu Shan 虞山
Yushan (Mount Yu) is a large hill overlooking the city of 常熟 Changshu (next footnote), north of Suzhou in Jiangsu province.

8. Changshu 常熟
"Shu" (熟 19791; 7/242 "ripe, experienced") is also sometimes pronounced "shou", and so sometimes Changshu can be seen written as Changshou, leading to potential confusion with the 長壽 Changshou in Sichuan province.

9. Shu School (熟派 Shu pai)
See Yushan school.

11. Three new melodies in Songxianguan Qinpu
In September 2002 a conference commemorating Yan Cheng took place September 2002 in 蘇州 Suzhou (many players claiming connection to the Yushan school live in Suzhou, which is less than 50 km south of Changshu). In preparation for this conference I learned directly from Songxianguan Qinpu the three melodies whose titles have their first appearance there, listed above, then presented them at the conference. Unfortunately, at the Suzhou conference no one else tried to play any melodies precisely according to Yan Cheng's handbook.

On the brighter side, a Dapu conference that took placein May 2011 in Changshu required all participants to reconstruct Songxianguan Qinpu melodies precisely according to tablature. After this a book was published with transcriptions in number notation of at least one dapu of every piece (松絃館琴譜 鈎沈 edited by 朱睎).

12. Three melodies published just before Songxianguan Qinpu
One of the three listed here is in fact closely related to the melody Jishan Qiu Yue, which appears first in 1589. As for these three giving particular clues to the formation of the Yushan style, in order to do this properly one must of course carefully reconstruct all the Songxianguan Qinpu melodies as well as the other versions of these as played at that time.

13. 大還閣琴譜 Dahuan'ge Qinpu (1673) (Table of Contents; QQJC X/291-464 and ZGSD facsimile reprint)
Dahuange Qinpu, said to consist of melodies as played by 徐谼 Xu Hong (徐青山 Qingshan; 1580 - 1650), is generally considered to be the second important handbook of the Yushan school (see further analysis), after the Songxianguan Qinpu of 1614. Because the date 1673 seems to put Dahuan'ge Qinpu later than the main focus of this website, its Table of Contents is listed here only under the Songxianguan Qinpu Table of Contents.

However, although Dahuange Qinpu was apparently organized and edited (訂正) in 1673, this was done by a student of Xu Hong named 夏溥 Xia Pu based on tablature transmitted by his teacher. The fact that this was 20 years after his teacher had died) suggests, together with other details, that the melodies in Dahuan'ge Qinpu reached their published form quite a while before 1673. In fact, since the lives of Xu Qingshan (1580 - 1650) and Yan Cheng (1547-1625) overlapped for 45 years, and they shared at least one teacher, it may not always be correct to assume that the versions of the 1673 handbook are always later than those of 1614.

Dahuange Qinpu has 32 melodies in 6 folios. Of these 32 melodies, 22 were also in the 1614 handbook (see its ToC), all but one appearing here in the same order; however, these 1673 tablatures are not identical to the versions published earlier. The ten which were not included in 1614 include two melodies not known to have been previously published:

In addition, its last two melodies, unlike any of the 1614 melodies, use non-standard tuning.

Dahuan'ge Qinpu also includes Xu Hong's important essay 溪山琴況 Xishan Qin Kuang (X/310-325; compare Lengxian Qinsheng 16 fa).

Kee Chee-Koon (紀志群 Ji Zhiqun), a Singaporean qin player, has done quite a bit of work on Dahuan'ge Qinpu, including reconstructing a number of its melodies. In 2012 he told me he planned to do further research focused on this important handbook, perhaps even write a doctoral dissertation that includes a reconstruction of all its melodies. This would be very significant. For many years Kee (has) had a music shop in Singapore called 三樂琴軒 Three Tunes, but by 2012 he was spending most of his time based in Wuhan, China. At present I do not know whether he is still working on this handbook. (See 致遠堂.)

14. Stylistic development of the Yushan School
Modal changes in Qiujiang Ye Bo reveal one example of stylistic development; here it is not clear to what extent the Yu Shan school was simply following general trends and to what extent it was influencing them.

To understand Yan Cheng's own changes it might of course be particularly interesting to uncover a book such as the Qinchuan Pu Hui discussed as Qinshu Cunmu #188, especially if it had somewhat differing versions of the Songxianguan Qinpu melodies.

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