A Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics (靜夜談玄 Jingye Tan Xuan)
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24. Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics
- Shang mode,2 standard tuning: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
靜夜談玄 1
Jingye Tan Xuan    
  玉清元始天尊盤古大帝 (expand) 3      
This melody, like that of the Canon of Form and Emptiness also in this handbook, is unusual in the qin repertoire in that it sets a specifically religious text to music. Only one known qin handbook, Paired Music for Three Religions, was devoted exclusively to such hymns or chants, and it has only four titles: two Confucian (a hymn-like melody with prelude), one Buddhist (a true chant) and one Daoist (again hymnlike). Elsewhere very few such melodies have survived, even within the qin repertoire.4

From my experience, the musical setting of the Canon of Form and Emptiness was done in a way that can enhance our appreciation of its lyrics/text (the Heart Sutra). Can the same be said of this setting of Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics (or the text from which it takes its lyrics, the first section of the Xiantian Dao De Jing)? To my knowledge neither of these melodies had been played for several centuries, but my hope is that the text and tablature here will also provide clues that will not only allow a reasonably accurate reconstruction, but will also allow this to be done in a way that similarly enhances the ideas and feelings expressed therein.

The text of Jingye Tan Xuan is here attributed to Laozi. In theory this should make it contemporary to the Dao De Jing, by tradition attributed to Laozi and also known simply as the Book of Laozi or simply Laozi.5 In fact, though, the lyrics here come mostly from the Daoist Canon as compiled and published in 1445,6 more specifically from a Daoist scripture written in the style of the Dao De Jing but traced in the 1445 collection no earlier than a 13th century edition with commentary by Li Jiamou;7 references to the undated earlier text might use any of three related titles:

The Daoist Canon entry is Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing Zhujie, which might be translated as Annotated Edition of the Original Commencement Explains the Primordial Dao De Jing.8

The Original Commencement Celestial Worthy, depicted in the image at right and discussed in the related footnote, is the most senior of the three deities at the top of the Daoist pantheon. Although his title (Yuanshitianzun) also suggests that this Primordial Dao De Jing precedes the Laozi Dao De Jing, its actual date is much later, as mentioned above.9 Deliberately imitating the Dao De Jing, the Primordial Dao De Jing also has about 5,000 characters. As yet there are no translations into English.

As can be seen by comparing the Jingye Tan Xuan lyrics below with what appears to be their most likely source (follow the section by section links to the "original", or open up the two pages side by side in separate windows), the qin melody lyrics are almost all connected to the 1,000 character first section of the Primordial Dao De Jing. If, however, the qin lyrics were all intended to be quotes from this source, close examination shows many to have been misquoted, paraphrased or re-stated; in addition, much of the last third of the Canon text is missing.10 So far nothing close to the specific arrangement used for the qin melody lyrics has turned up elsewhere as an independent document. If it is in fact the case that this arrangement of the text was done specifically for this qin melody, then in this way the said text of Jingye Tan Xuan is different from that of the other qin melody taking its text from the Daoist Canon, Qing Jing Jing. Qing Jing Jing not only follows the Canon text instead of selecting from it, it is also still (again?) chanted today as a specific Daoist morning recitation.11

An important issue in reconstruction then arises: should the text be taken simply as it is, or should attempts be made to adapt the surviving tablature to a "corrected" version of the text, i.e., one closer to or identical to the canon text of Xiantian Dao De Jing?12

Although apparently first published here in 1625, the preface to Jingye Tan Xuan says that in 1556 Grand Coordinator Hu Meilin,13 because he enjoyed the text, had ordered the recluse Li Shuinan to create this piece. As yet it is not clear exactly what Li Shuinan, who this handbook also said did its setting for Shitan Zhang, actually did here: select which parts of the text to use? Play an early version that was later written down? Write out tablature himself based on his own creation? Create a qin melody based on something he had heard in another medium?

The afterword then suggests that Jingye Tan Xuan was printed as a separate melody around the year 1567. Its comments that people worked hard all day but in the peace of evening could relax and talk about higher matters suggest that it was the author of the afterword (named Cheng Dayong?) who sponsored the printing and perhaps also named this setting of the Daoist text.14

An initial examination of the lyrics and its paired tablature suggests that making a version that can be sung in a way that enhances the text will offer a number of difficulties.15 Simply gaining an understanding of the meaning of the text is difficult enough. Getting a sense of how it should flow is not quite so difficult, but still not obvious, especially without models of similar settings with which to work. One must also consider the possibility that what was created back around 1556 was quite different from what was published here in 1625 - and that some of the problems here may even result from someone putting together text and music that had been written down separately (the music perhaps originally created for another version of the text). This not being certain, it is sometimes difficult to know whether problems of interpretation come from the text,16 the tablature,17 or both.18

Resolving all these difficulties within the limits of historically informed performance may require creative treatment of both text and tablature. Here, however, just as essential as being familiar with the idiom (assuming the text was intended actually to be sung, rather than simply read alongside the music, and hence at some stage had a logical pairing of words and music) is having not only a sufficient understanding of the lyrics, but also a deeper understanding than I currently have of textual issues in the transmission of the original text, the Primordial Dao De Jing.

There being a translation of Qing Jing Jing greatly facilitated my reconstruction of that melody. And as with the Heart Sutra text, the musical expression of Qing Jing Jing enlivens the text. Nevertheless, those other two melodies had also disappeared from the qin repertoire by the Qing dynasty. The Qing dynasty government tried actively to suppress Daoists and their organizations.19 No study has been done to suggest that this had any affect on the qin melodies with more general Daoist themes, and the lack of qin melodies connected to Buddhist scripture may suggest that even without the government attitude there may not have been more surviving melodies connected to Daoist scripture. On the other hand, the shaky transmission of all these texts makes one wonder whether in private there were within the oral tradition other cases of Daoist texts chanted or sung together with this instrument of the sages.

Original preface20
The preface, by the compiler of the handbook, Taixi, i.e., Chen Dabin, is roughly as follows:

Taixi said, The text of this piece was written by Laozi. Then in autumn of the Jiajing bingchen year (1556) Grand Coordinator Hu Meilin ordered the recluse Li Shuinan to create (a melody for this text). When this text was transmitted to my Myriad Pines Reading Lodge I said, People go all day excessively constrained by their desires. Only in the evening does their natural qi emerge, and so music made then can be heavenly - like that of Tianlai, more mystical than the mysteries, registering in the heart and eyes, then expressed through silk and wood (the qin). One can sit without talking and there is profundity. One should then speak of elevated matters - heaven and earth, scenery, the plant world and animal world, profound things. The sounds made by such conversation can be all distinguished on one string (of a qin). And so we have this melody to help people who understand it appreciate the truest words of the Dao and virtue. Ah - true beauty, true mystery, the real source.

(Translation tentative.)

Original afterword21
My tentative translation is as follows:

As for this piece, the literti of my acquaintance in the lower Yangzi River region all feasted on it. (The musical arrangement) was made by Li Shuinan of Suzhou. Around 1567 there were some who suggested that (this setting, because of its text,) should be destroyed. But I saw the way the words flowed with the music, soughing like wind coming from the pines and spreading everywhere. Collecting all of it I said that, instead of destroying it, we should destroy some wood (i.e., cut up wood to make printing blocks) and extend its spread so that days might become more peaceful.
      By Cheng Dayong, a gongfu (type of Daoist?) from Moling (Nanjing)
  or: By father of Moling Master Cheng Dayong?
  or: By Moling Master Cheng Dayong?

No further information as yet on Cheng Dayong.

Music and Lyrics: Fourteen sections plus Coda (reconstruction not yet completed22)
This 1525 setting is largely syllabic, following the traditional pairing method for Chinese melodies with lyrics.

The qin melody lyrics are as follows ("see original" refers to the original text):
The separate lines within sections reflect my current understanding of the musical phrasing;
attempts to reconcile the text here with that of the original are discussed further in the latter

  1. See original

  2. See original

  3. See original

  4. See original

  5. See original
    真玅真神。真神不可神。真 _ _ 神。

  6. See original (my current understanding suggests restoring the omitted characters)

  7. See original   (泛音起 harmonics begin)
    (泛音止 harmonics end)

  8. See original (see comment on problems here)
    真玅_ _非象。實非聲象。其上不皎。其下不昧。

  9. See original (first phrase was moved from Section 10, end of line 2 * )

  10. See original
    至虛至靜。吾曰虛靜。元始非玅。 不可得矣。
    *孰以元元,孰以神神, 孰以真真,孰以道道,

  11. See original
    吾始乎玅矣。 (Small music change will allow switching this line and next to accord with original)

  12. See original (119 words; 泛音起 harmonics begin)
    (泛音止 harmonics end)

  13. See original (Section 14, lines 2 and 3)

  14. See original (Section 14, lines 1 and 6 [not underlined])

Not yet translated.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics (靜夜談玄 Jingye Tan Xuan) (QQJC IX/197)
43533.55 only 靜夜 jingye; 36432.8 談玄 gives as its earliest reference Shishuo Xinyu.

This page was started in July 2013 in order to help me begin comparing its Daoist (Taoist) melody and lyrics with those of the Buddhist melody in Taiyin Xisheng, Se Kong Jue, my expectation being that they would be very different, but might share some of the same problems of interpretation.

2. Shang mode (商調 Shang diao)
In this mode the qin tuning is considered as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2, with the main tonal center being 1 (do), secondarily 5 (so). For more on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi. For more general comments see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. The Jade Clarity Original Commencement Celestial Worthy Embodied as Great Emperor Pan Gu Pangu in a series of qin images has no qin      
    (玉清元始天尊盤古大帝 Yuqing Yuanshitianzun Pangu Dadi)
There are Wikipedia entries for both Yuanshi Xianzun and Pan Gu but these do not discuss the latter being a manifestation or embodiment of the former. The particular image above came from the 雲仙洞 (Cloud Transcendent's Grotto?) in Taiwan.

Regarding possible qin connections, the image at right of 盤古氏 Master Pangu was #1 in the series of 宋人畫歷代琴式圖 Song dynasty drawings of Historical Qin Styles in the 國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum. However, unlike with the other 30 images in the series, Pangu does not have a qin and qin is not mentioned in the text.

As a primary Daoist deity Pangu is popularly known by shorter forms than the full title ahead, such as the Great Emperor of Jade Purity (玉清大帝 Yuqing Dadi), and the Celestial Worthy of Original Commencement (元始天尊 Yuanshi Xianzun; I use "Original Commencement Celestial Worthy" to avoid the expression "worthy of"); the name Original Commencement (元始 Yuanshi) is less common outside literary texts. He is said to be the primary deity (among three) in the Daoist pantheon, the other two being 靈寶天尊 The Numinous Treasure Celestial Worthy and the 道德天尊 The Way and its Virtue Celestial Worthy.

Separate from the Jade Purity Emperor is his "former assistant" the Jade Emperor (玉皇 Yu Huang; Wiki).

4. Qin melodies with religious settings
In addition to Canon of Form and Emptiness and the melodies in Paired Music for Three Religions, see also chants such as Proximate Sage Melody and the seemingly ritual related pieces such as 18 Scholars Ascend Yingzhou (from 1530) and perhaps Unity of the Great Ming (also 1530).

5. 老子 Laozi: the 道德經 Dao De Jing
There are several existing versions of the Laozi, all having around 5,000 characters but with some variations. The online version in the Chinese Text Project (which also has the Legge translation (http://ctext.org/dao-de-jing) follows the standard division of 81 sections, in two parts: Sections 1-37 are generally called the 道經 Dao Jing, Sections 38-81 the 德經 De Jing. The earliest known editions (excavated from 馬王堆 Mawangdui in the 1970s) reverse the order of the two parts.

The "Primordial Dao De Jing" rendered here, although also having about 5,000 characters, is organized very differently (q.v.).

6. Daoist Canon (道藏 Dao Zang) (www.chinaknowledge.de)
See further details under Qingjing Jing, the other qin melody that has text in the Canon. Here in Jingye Tan Xuan the text is somewhat different from that in the "official" Canon, which is based on the Ming Zhengtong Emperor's Daoist Canon (正統道藏 Zhengtong Daozang, 1445).

7. Li Jiamou 李嘉謀
14819.xxx. As yet the only further information on him seems to be that he had had the text printed in Sichuan, that he might have commented on other Daoist texts, and that he 息齋 xizhai, suggesting he not only got his nourishment from the air, but did so as a vegetarian (Daoist Canon, 672, 706-7).

8. 元始說先天道德經註解 Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing Zhujie
("Annotated [Edition] of Original Commencement Explains the Primordial Dao De Jing")

There seem to be no references to this in ZWDCD (e.g., 1356.278 元始; 1370.21ff 先天). "Original Commencement" is discussed above.

Fortunately there are a number of online copies available of the Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing, both with and without the annotations. In arranging this here it was necessary to study the original text as well as the etexts, with the latter particularly important for punctuation. Issues include:

Other online copies of the original text
canon text arranged below for qin was done in consultation with various other online versions, many of which have since either moved or are no longer online as of the present writing (2020) but the current list is similar. This qin arrangement covers only the first chapter but, unless otherwise indicated, all these complete versions of the Canon text have five chapters of 1000 characters each, with section by section commentary; the number of characters in each section is always stated.

The source and date of the Primordial Dao De Jing itself are not known; there seems to be no mention of it prior to what was written in the Ming Daoist Canon, where it is the third entry, suggesting it was at that time considered of some importance: the first entry, the 靈寶無量度人上品妙經 Wondrous Scripture of the Upper Chapters of the Numinous Treasure on Limitless Salvation, is said to be an annotated version of one of the most important Daoist scriptures, the Scripture of Salvation (度人經 Daoren Jing); the second entry in the Canon, 元始無量度人上品妙經直音 True Sounds of the Wondrous Scripture of the Upper Chapters of the Original Commencement on Limitless Salvation, gives phonetic notation for the Daoren Jing.

In fact, though, the order within the Ming edition of the Canon is quite complex, seeming random at times and, if the Primordial Dao De Jing was once an important text, as may also be suggested by its selection for this qin setting and its place in the Canon, it now seems rather neglected.

The main source of information about this scripture seems to come from its preface in the Daoist Canon, apparently written by the editor of this volume, a Suzhou Daoist active during 1280-94, 張善淵 Zhang Shanyuan, nickname 癸復道人 Guifu Daoren. The original text of the preface is as follows:


The most detailed English language introduction to this text, by Ursula-Angelika Cedzich in the Taoist Canon (attached, from pp.706-7), seems to be based almost entirely on this preface. Salient details from there and from my own observation of the text include:

Xiantian Dao De Jing compared to Jingye Tan Xuan
The relationship between the scripture as in Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing and as rendered in Jingye Tan Xuan can be seen by opening the following copy from the Canon text side by side in a separate window next to the qin text
above. The Canon text below is the complete text of the first of the five chapters of Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing, consisting of approximately 1000 characters. Note that:

The Primordial Dao De Jing from the Daoist Canon

    (Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing, Chapter 1: the 1000 Word "Miao" Essay)

    元始說先天道德經註解卷之一。 Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing Zhujie.
    Annotated Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing, First folio
        妙篇一千言章 Miao Essay, a 1000 word chapter

    第一章二百二十言 Sub-chapter 1: 220 words

  1. See qin version 1
  2. See qin version 2, 1st half
  3. See qin version 2, 2nd half
    Qin version 3 begins here
  4. Qin version 3 continues
  5. Qin version 3 still continues
    Qin version 4 begins here
  6. Qin version 4 continues
    See qin version 5
        真妙極矣! (*)

第二章一百四十六言 Sub-chapter 2: 146 words

  1. See qin version 6
  2. 妙生元,元生神,神生真,真生道,道生德,德生,徼生妙,妙生無,無生有。
  3. 妙無體也,有有無無,無無有有,吾居徼妙之常
  4. See qin version 7 (harmonics)
  5. 不可視,不可聽 ,
    See qin version 8

第三章一百六言 Sub-chapter 3: 106 words

  1. 真妙非聲非象,實非聲象,其上不,其下不昧,
  2. 惚兮,杳杳冥冥,真妙妙真,視不見,聽不聞。
  3. 元始於太妙,寂兮寥兮繩繩兮,湛然不可名。
  4. See qin version 9
    See qin version 10

第四章六十四言 Sub-chapter 4: 64 words

  1. 孰以元元,孰以神神,孰以真真,孰以道道,孰以名名。

  2. See qin version 11
    然後合為元,散 為神,至一為真,萬為道。

第五章九十八言 Sub-chapter 5: 98 words
See qin version 12 (harmonics)

  1. 吾始乎妙,萬靈不神,萬法不名,萬境不生。
  2. 不子不孫,同乎無獨。出入綿綿,同乎無門。萬物歸無,不見其元宰。
  3. 吾始妙,寂兮寥兮繩繩兮,湛然兮,廓然兮,吾不知其生。

第六章一百六十言 Sub-chapter 6: 160 words

  1. 自然非妙,妙非自然,吾元始於妙。
  2. 吾始元元,妙惚妙恍,非物非象。吾始神神,杳杳冥冥,非妙非形。
  3. 道法自然,自然真道,真者自然之號,吾不知其自然。
  4. 真法神,神法元,元法妙。妙無法,
  5. See qin version 13
    (Qin version begins with the first line of Canon Sub-chapter 7 [adding "觀", so: "觀至妙無間...."];
      it then has several phrases mostly from later in that sub-chapter)

  6. See qin version 14 (which is first and last line of this section)

第七章一百二十言 Sub-chapter 7: 120 words

  1. 至妙無間,無始,無極,無盡,無際,無央。
  2. 吾始無央,有無一體。
  3. 吾曰無形,無聲,無名。吾始妙,中妙,三無之妙。

第八章四十四言 Sub-chapter 8: 44 words

  1. 妙與天地萬物為終,盡吾無終;

第九章四十二言 Sub-chapter 9: 42 words

  1. 妙游無礙,元游無知,神遊無方,真游無變,道游無體,德游無名,物游無間。

The original text continues here with Chapter Two (元 Yuan), which begins:

As can easily be seen, for the first five sub-chapters of the Canon text (634 of 1000 characters) the qin text follows it quite closely; it omits most of sub-chapters 6 to 8, then at the end follows the text of sub-chapter 9. However, even where the qin version seems to quote closely the earlier text there are numerous discrepancies, both in text and in phrasing. The fact that most of the textual discrepancies can be edited to follow the Canon text without changing the music suggests that the differences are not there simply for musical reasons: they could, for example, simply be mistakes. Changes in the phrasing pose a much more difficult challenge; how intentional these differences are is generally not clear to me (see further comment).

The biggest problems in lining up the music and text begin in the middle of Section 8, after which the difficulties are with the music and text separately as well as with their combination. In Section 8 the issues are specifically as follows:

  1. Section 7, in harmonics, ended 「不可視。不可聽矣。」, then Section 8 begins 「不可摶矣。不可有矣。不可無。不可元。不可神。不可真。不可道。」 In the Canon these formed one combined line, without the「矣」. That the qin version broke it up and added 「矣」, usually an ending word, may suggest that the music was created separately from the text, and the person who combined them either did not wish to, or did not feel competent to, change the music.
  2. More important textual issues begin in the middle of Section 8. As yet I do not know if there is any logic to textual changes here such as, for example, the Canon's "真妙非聲非象" becoming "真玅非象", "恍兮惚兮" becoming "恍惚矣", or "元始於太妙" becoming "吾元始之玅".
  3. In the qin setting this section ends, 「凡可以名可名。是二非一。凡不可名。道為一矣。」. This comes from the commentary on this part of the Canon, which begins, 凡可以名,皆屬名數,是二非一。唯不可名,然後為。且道之近體,莫過於無,莫過於空,然無即與有對,空即與實對,皆墮名數,是二非一。唯不可名,然後為一。」 Nowhere else Jingye Tan Xuan is commentary quoted (except maybe the odd phrase here or there). It is not clear how or why this particular part of the commentary was selected; as with other parts of this section, it does not seem to line up very well with the music.
  4. As for the music of this section, from "入乎無上" through "聽不聞" it consists of three repeated phrases; one is played four times, the others played three time, but not in the same order and, in addition, these ten phrases do not easily line up with the 12 phrases of text (of unequal length) to which they are paired. To compound the problem, one of the three phrases is written in a way that defies interpretation: it has a 放合 fanghe, which by the standard description is an open note played by lifting the left ring or middle finger from its stopped position; here, however, the fanghe follows an open string - except on the fourth repetition, where the open string is put after the fanghe instead of before it, causing a different problem.

In order to make a workable version I have had to repeat two passages (including one of the repeated phrases mentioned above) and largely ignore the punctuation of the tablature. Reconstruction of this section must thus be considered "based on Section 8" rather than being simply "Section 8".

Unlike with the Qing Jing Jing text, which has been translated into English, I have not yet found translations of the passages in Jingye Tan Xuan

9. Source of the original text
Some might prefer to speak of the date of its revelation rather than of its composition. I do not know what evidence there is for its existence prior to its inclusion in the Ming Daoist canon.

10. Discrepancies between the two versions
Could the actual source have been a different edition of the Yuanshi Shuo Xiantian Dao De Jing? As yet I have no information as to how likely that might be. The significance is also not clear as to why the qin text follows the Canon text quite closely for its first 11 sections, but then in its last three sections skip most of the last approximately 40% of the original text.

11. Sources for the Qing Jing Jing lyrics
The text of Qing Jing Jing as found in Sanjiao Tongsheng was also apparently compiled from a variety of earlier texts, but this had already been published as a unique document. What is not known is whether any earlier music settings had been done.

12. Use text (lyrics) as is, or try to "correct" it
As of this writing I first tried to do a version based on the the text given in this handbook, but encountered a number of difficulties (discussed further below); I then tried "correcting" the text in various ways, most specifically trying to use the full text from the Daoist canon (which requires expanding the existing tablature). As yet I have not decided which path to follow in trying to finalize a recordable version.

13. 撫䑓梅林胡公 Grand Coordinator Hu Meilin
30073.xxx; 梅林 15223.74xxx. Could he have left some commentary about asking Li Shuinan to create this piece or, specifically, be the person mentioned as writing the afterword? Online there is mention of a painting of “Hu Meilin fighting Japanese pirates", and some references to a person of that name during the Jiajing period. For futai 撫䑓 (13058.74 撫臺) see Hucker: in Qing it meant a governor, in Ming a grand coordinator. It is thus puzzling that I have not found any further information about him.

14. Cheng Dayong 成大用
The full name here is given as 秣陵公父成大用識, most likely meaning Cheng Dayong, gongfu of Moling. Moling is an old name for Nanjing, but I have as yet found no further references either to a Cheng Dayong (Dayong is a fairly common nickname but I haven't yet found one surnamed Cheng) or to the word/expression "gongfu" (other than that in ancient times it could be a double surname).

15. General difficulties in reconstruction
My initial reconstruction suggests that the text and music work together pretty well until the middle of Section 8, corresponding with the end of Sub-Chapter 2 of the original text (see further comment). After this it is very difficult to see how the words and music might originally have been paired. This may suggest that the original work on this was not completed.

16. Difficulties in the text
Specific textual problems here include the following:

  1. In places the text of Jingye Tan Xuan is unclear: faded, distorted or with characters written unconventionally;
  2. In places the phrasing of the lyrics (as indicated by punctuation) is different from that of the version in the Canon (based on its modern punctuation);
  3. In places the text seems either to misquote the original or have a different idea of what the text should be. This is particularly true in Section 12, where most of the original is missing, some is misquoted and some similar sounding phrases (e.g., "自然真致" and "妙真自然") not found elsewhere are thrown in.
  4. The qin melody text exclusively uses the character 玅 instead of 妙 (both miao) from Section 1 until Section 12, when both are used. The two characters could be interchangeable or have differing connotations: the significance here is not clear. Several other characters are also changed, e.g. 竅 qiao instead of 徼 jiao.

Knowing how important memorization was as part of the traditional education system, and also under the impression that the original texts were often not around, one must consider the possibility that some of the problems encountered here stem from someone trying to quote an imperfectly remembered old text from memory rather than by consulting the original. To whom was the version in the 1445 edition of the Canon available?

17. Difficulties in the tablature
The problems here make those of Se Kong Jue seem quite minor. Some general problems include:

  1. Some of the tablature is written with clearly incorrect finger placements (which determine the actual notes);
  2. There are some non-standard ways of indicating finger placements, making the intended position uncertain.
  3. Some tablature seems to make no sense, such as having the instruction "play as one (如一聲 ru yi sheng" when the notes thereby connected are clearly not intended to be played together.

Two specific and particularly egregious examples of errors in the tablature are as follows:

  1. The music at the beginning of Section 3 begins with a phrase of 11 notes which can be divided 4+4+3, the same as the lyrics. The phrase is then repeated, the parallel musical structure emphasized by the fact that the first phrase ends on 2 (re) while the second phrase ends by resolving to 1 (do). On the other hand, whereas the lyrics begin appropriately, with a phrase of 4+4+3 characters, this is followed by a phrase of 4+4+4 characters, i.e., it ends with 4 characters paired to 3 notes. This may not seem like a problem: it sounds quite natural if at the beginning of the last segment of the phrase two characters are paired to one note, but this would be a violation of the traditional pairing method. As a result, whoever was writing the tablature incorrectly pairs the last word of this phrase with the first note of the following phrase, and then it is quite a while before the pairing gets back into what seems like its natural line. Someone who knows the musical idiom (which is quite distinctive) can probably use some creativity here and provide a plausible solution, but to do so should require a good understanding of the text.
  2. Section 12, which is harmonics, ends with a technique called 搯撮三聲 taocuo sansheng, which can only be done with stopped sounds; clearly there is a mistake here.

Usually when confronted with such difficulties I simply drop the offending piece and turn to one written more clearly - as it is there is already plenty of old qin music just waiting to be recovered. However, the present piece seems particularly intriguing.

18. Difficulties in the text and tablature
Two further complications in aligning the text and tablature of Jingye Tan Xuan are as follows:

  1. Throughout the melody the technique called 對按 dui an seems to be used inconsistently. There are a variety of traditional ways of pairing this with the text. In some cases no character is paired, in some cases one (on the left thumb pluck), in other cases two characters are paired (sometimes nonsense words), suggesting that musically there is a slight pause between the previous right hand pluck and the ensuing left thumb pluck. Various ways of dealing with this are discussed under Cipai.... What is significant here is not only that there is inconsistency, but that this is complicated when combined with other inconsistencies in pairing.
  2. In Section 6 the text and tablature seem to be seriously misaligned. In general the song lyrics follow closely the original text, but in the middle six characters are suddenly missing, and then at the end there is a 搯撮三聲 taocuo sansheng to which no characters are paired - usually anywhere from 4 to 6 would be paired to it. I was able to realign the text, but cannot claim to have recaptured the original (note in particular that no music is assigned to "無則無 nothing is nothing").

This site also has comments on general inconsisencies as well as on the special problems in Section 8. Better knowledge of disagreements and/or possible flexibilities within the original text would be of considerable help here.

19. Suppression of Daoism
After a revival sparked by the demise of the Qing, Daoism was again severely repressed in China after 1949: Buddhism fared better because of its international connections.

20. Original preface (QQJC IX/197)
The original Chinese is as follows:


(屐, near end, was written 尸丬支)

21. Original afterword
The original Chinese is (see .pdf):


Problems with this afterword include:

Also unclear is the signficance of mentioning its separate publication: were individual qin melodies often circulated sepately (some handbooks, including Taiyin Xisheng, are printed in a form that suggests this might have been quite common).

22. Music and lyrics First and last page from 1525 (expand; all 8 pages as pdf)    
The upper image at right has the preface and the tablature for the beginning of Section 1; at lower right is closing tablature then the afterword. Note that the words are to the left of the tablature to which they are paired. This is quite unusual.

Also linked here are two tentative transcriptions, as follows:

  1. The original music and lyrics as in 1625;
  2. The music and lyrics adjusted to follow the original Dao Zang text.

A more complete reconstruction awaits a translation of the text as in the Dao Zang (Daoist Canon) and a better understanding of the reasons for the discrepancies of the 1625 text and the version in the Dao Zang. Regarding these there are further footnotes above regarding difficulties in the tablature and difficulties in pairing text and tablature.

A more complete reconstruction also awaits a decision about how the music should express the significance of the original text. Here quite different results are possible. Two from the opposite end of the spectrum include:

The latter may not seem like a "reconstruction", but in the absense of any related specific information from the handbook, or details from elsewhere concerning common practice, something closer to the latter might be the most meaningful.

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