Zhong Qiu Yue
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08. Mid Autumn Moon
- Shang mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, but played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
中秋月 1
Zhongqiu Yue 1
See the enlargement 3            
This title occurs for the first time in Songxianguan Qinpu (1614), then survives in three other handbooks, dated 1647 (repeated 1692), 1692 and 1722. The versions are all almost identical.4

The year's fullest moon occurs at mid-autumn, the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. None of the handbooks has any commentary, so the origin of the melody and its connection with the mid-autumn moon are uncertain.

On the other hand, I can report that at 4 AM on the morning of the mid autumn festival of 2002 I played the melody Mid-Autumn Moon below one of the fullest moons I have ever seen, on top of one of the peaks of Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain), and the experience was quite magical. The sky was perfectly clear and the night dead quiet except for the occasional soughing of the wind in the pines. Each note on the qin was sufficient on its own, so there was no hurry to play the next one.5

Inspiration can also come from the many poems that speak of the Mid-Autumn moon. Of particular note are those by Su Dongpo with Mid-Autumn Moon as their title.6

Mid-Autumn is also associated poetically with Peaceful Evening (liang xiao), as in a poem by Duan Keji.

The melody, said to be in shang mode, is largely pentatonic (1 2 3 5 6, i.e., do re mi so la) but, unlike many earlier melodies in this mode, it does not add any flatted thirds along with the natural thirds; instead the note fa occurrs in several passages, always after re. Regarding the rhythm, as with many early qin melodies I find that the melody at its core has a quite regular rhythm, but the player should interpret this rhythm very freely, creating the atmosphere not of dancing but of floating around the full moon.7


None: no version has commentary

Music (Listen to my recording 聽錄音 together with the transcription)
Three sections

(00.00)   1. (泛音 harmonics; 有歌詞 lyrics?)
(00.29)   2.
(01.15)   3.
(02.18)         harmonics
(02.32)         end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Mid Autumn Moon (中秋月 Zhong Qiu Yue)
78.381 has only 中秋 zhong qiu: mid-autumn. QQJC VIII/99.

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
For further information on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image: Painting by 知玄 Zhi Xuan
See details.

4. Tracing Zhong Qiu Yue
Zha Guide 30/--/-- lists this melody in:

  1. Songxianguan Qinpu (1614; VIII/95)
  2. Huiyan Mizhi (1647; X/94)
  3. Huiyan Mizhi Ding (1692; facsimile; copy of 1647),
  4. Qinpu Xiwei (1692; XIII/69)
  5. Woyunlou Qinpu (1722; facsimile)
The versions/editions are all almost identical.

5. Playing Zhongqiu Yue during Mid-Autumn
The experience on Huang Shan was a good example of the lesson to be learned from a story originally told in connection with the most famous qin master of antiquity, Bo Ya, about the qin and nature.

6. Mid-Autumn poems of Su Dongpo (琴曲第一段可以用蘇軾的《中秋月》為歌詞)
These are translated and discussed in Michael A. Fuller, The Road to East Slope; Stanford U. Press, 1990; pp.237-8. In all there are four such poems written in 徐州 Xuzhou during the mid-autumn festivals of 1077 and 1078. The one written in 1077 follows the (7+7) x 2 syllabic pattern of Wang Wei's famous Yang Guan poem originally called Weicheng Tune. My translation of Su Dongpo's poem, as follows, goes word for word:

暮雲收盡溢清寒。         Mu yun shou jin yi qing han.
銀漢無聲轉玉盤。         Yin Han wu sheng zhuan Yu Pan.
此生此夜不長好。         Ci sheng ci ye bu chang hao
明月明年何處看?        Ming yue ming nian he chu kan?

Sunset's clouds gather together, flowing pure and cool.
The Milky Way, making no sound, circles the Jade Dish (the moon).
This life, this evening: it cannot always be so good.
The bright moon: next year, from what place will I see it?

The Chinese syllables fit exactly the note count of the four phrases of the harmonic section opening Zhongqiu Yue, meaning the poem could be used as lyrics for Section 1. Such a practice can be found in at least one other Ming dynasty handbook but there is no record of this ever having been done with this melody. On the other hand, the compiler of this handbook is said not to have liked lyrics with melodies, and so it is possible that if there did exist a sung version of this melody, or part of the melody, it was deleted from his handbook. In any case, when I made the recording linked here i was not aware of the possible connection: now to sing it I must change some of the note values in my interpretation.

Several years earlier Su Dongpo had also written a mid-autumn poem in 密州 Mizhou (eastern Shandong province) using the cipai called 水調歌頭 Shui Diao Ge Tou; in 1618 this poem was used as lyrics for a qin melody in that pattern (see in its ToC). That version is written for a one-string qin; here there are more settings of these lyrics using that pattern with melodies for standard seven string qin.

7. Rhythm
In discussions of rhythm and the qin I have often used this piece to demonstrate my opinion that many qin melodies have a basic, perhaps straightforward, structure, but that what gives the melody its art comes from freely interpreting that structure; in this way it is similar to the relationship between the standard form of a Chinese character and the way that form is expressed by a calligraphyer. To make this more clear, first I play the piece through more rhythmically and a bit faster than on the recording linked above. People can hear that it is a simple but lovely melody. Then I play it more freely, as above. Many people if they hear only one of the two versions prefer the rhythmic one: easier to "understand". However, most people who hear both seem to prefer the more freeling interpreted one: it fits better with watching, or imagining watching, a still, full moon on a cool quiet evening.

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