Guangling Zhen Qu / Guangling San
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59 & 60. Guangling True Essence and Melody
Lowered second string tuning, "manshang mode"2 ( 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 )
廣陵真趣、廣陵散 1
Guangling Zhen Qu / Guangling San  
  1634 Guangling San w/prelude 3   (complete pdf)      
This melody is often considered to be a shorter version of the famous ancient 44 or 45 section Guangling San, and also often attributed to the famous essayist and poet Xi Kang (223 - 262; generally romanized as Ji Kang). However, it is more likely a late Ming melody contemporary to the very popular melody Ping Sha Luo Yuan (Wild Geese Descend on a Sandbank). Both appear first in the handbook Guyin Zhengzong (1634), compiled by the Prince of Lu Zhu Changfang (1608 - 1646). It is also debated as to whether Zhu himself might have created either melody, collected either of them from existing contemporary tablature, or reprinted them from old tablature that he (like other Ming princes before him) had perhaps inherited due his royal position. Regarding this, though, Zha Fuxi has suggested that this handbook seems mostly to have melodies that were actively played at the time.

Furthermore, there is also confusion about the actual title of this melody. For a start, Zha Fuxi's Guide (2/11/--) does not distinguish this "Guangling San" as separate from the famous long melody found in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425) and several later handbooks.4 The Guide also suggests that Guangling Zhen Qu (Guangling True Essence) is an alternate title for this later melody also called Guangling San. This confusion begins with this earliest version of the melody. At the beginning (see at right) it shows clearly that Guangling Zhen Qu is a one section prelude to the nine section Guangling San, but then at the end (see complete pdf) it says, "Guangling Zhen Qu Jiu Duan zhong": on the surface this means, "Guangling Zhen Qu in Nine Sections ends", but to fit with what is shown at the front it should mean "Guangling Zhen Qu with the (Guangling San in) Nine Sections ends".

It is thus a result of the title confusion that versions of the present melody, which can be found in six handbooks between 1634 and 1910, are often referred to as short versions of Guangling San, in particular by those who consider them as connected to the classic Guangling San. However, though also called Guangling San, using the same lowered second string tuning, and perhaps sharing some musical motifs, these shorter renditions are in fact versions of a completely different melody.5

As for the theme, with the long Guangling San, although the preface from 1425 mentions only its connection to the famous essayist and poet Xi Kang (223 - 262; generally romanized as Ji Kang), it does also mention the number of its sections (quoting a perhaps 11th century source), the titles of which show that it actually concerns the story of Nie Zheng killing a king (or high official). In this form it is has been transmitted since at least the early Song dynasty. It was then popularized during the guqin research project of the 1950s in part because tuning the first and second strings to the same pitch was said to symbolize an expression of putting the rulers and the ruled on the same level.

The present melody, in contrast, makes no mention of Nie Zheng. Instead it more clearly concerns Xi Kang himself. Xi Kang at the time of his execution is said to have played Guangling San one last time, then said the melody would die with him. So whatever that earlier melody was, the present version, although almost certainly originating much later than the long Guangling San, seems much more appropriate to this story.

As mentioned, the version played here from the 1634 handbook has a prelude and then the main melody in 9 sections. The second version, from ≥1802 omits the prelude and revises the rest into a 10 section melody; all later versions then follow ≥1802, not 1634. However, because in 1634 there is no commentary, one might say the theme is rather up to the player, though one can also look at commentary with the later versions related to this one.

The prelude that begins the 1634 version, called Guangling Zhen Qu ("Guangling's True Essence"), is also referred to there as a "Kai Zhi" (see the first line of the image at upper right). As a Kai Zhi it seems to have a similar function to the 1425 Kai Zhi. It is rather puzzling that the Guangling Zhen Qu prelude appears only here. In any case, it is followed here by a "Guangling San" in nine sections.

Origins of the new melody

As for the origin of the melody for this version of Guangling San, perhaps it is because the 1634 handbook was compiled by the Prince of Lu that some later writers give him a role either in creating this shorter version or in discovering an old manuscript that contained it. Indeed, although nothing seems to have been written about this in the handbook itself, several other Ming princes were noted for having collected such old tablature, most famously the Prince of Ning, Zhu Quan. In addition there are several issues in the tablature that could suggest that it could date back quite a while. Most noteable of these is its frequent use of flatted thirds.6

Meanwhile, the preface in ≥1802 (translation below) credited a noted 18th century qin player Wang Anhou (also known as Wang Zijin) of Nanjing. Details of his connection to the melody are given in much greater detail in 1907, which begins with an "Account of the Guangling Dream" attributed to "金陵八十叟移情汪子晉 the empathetic 80 year old Wang Zijin of Jinling" (another name for Wang Anhou) during the thirty-seventh year of the Kangxi reign (1698). The dream itself is said to have occurred while "戊午秋自楚歸於秣陵 returning from the Chu region to Moling (a district of Nanjing) in autumn of a 'wuwu' year" (presumably 1678; according to this narrative the previous year in the cyclical system, 1618, would have been the year Wang Zijin was born). Thus the story that first appears with the ≥1802 tablature seems to concern something that happend in the 1670s, a few decades after 1634 but long before the appearance of the melody as revised for ≥1802.

Further regarding the source of the ≥1802 melody, under its title "廣陵真趣 Guangling Zhenqu" (XIX/363) are the words "中聲手訂 personally fixed by Zhongsheng". There seems to be no available information about the identity of this "Zhongsheng" ("Central sound") or when this might have been done. Specifically, no connection has been made between Zhongsheng and Wang Zijin/Wang Anhou. Zhongsheng was also given as the source for its melodies named 秋山木落 Qiushan Muluo (XIX/123) and 鳳凰來儀 Fenghuang Lai Yi (XIX/300), but not for its full-length 廣陵散 Guangling San, which is identified as from Shen Qi Mi Pu (see XIX/352).

According to my understanding of the explanations, Wang Anhou claimed that during a trip to the Chu region he had a dream in which he heard an immortal play this melody. After he returned home someone named Yun Zaiqing7 showed him tablature collected by the Prince of Lu said to have come from Xi Kang: it was tablature for the same melody! Although this is then said to show that this shorter version must have been the actual melody played by Xi Kang, it seems just as reasonable to suggest that what Wang imagined he heard in a dream was actually the version from the 1634 handbook, the true age of which is still uncertain.8

Comparing versions

It has been mentioned that the five latter versions of this shorter melody that appear in at least six handbooks between 1634 and 1910 are all closer to the ≥1802 version (some seeming simply to be copies) than to the 1634 one.9 The most significant differences between 1634 and 1802 can be outlined as follows:

The fact that in 1634 the prelude "Guangling Zhenqu is called a Kai Zhi, as at the beginning of the 1425 Guangling San, seems to cause some confusion about whether it is part of the piece (as in Shen Qi Mi Pu) or a separate piece (as in Xilutang Qintong (compare). An example of this confusion is the fact that, although at the front of the prelude in 1634 the title is given as "Guangling Zhenqu", and at the front of the ensuing 9 section melody is the title "Guangling San", then at the end it writes "Guangling Zhenqu 9 Sections"! Continuing the confusion, ≥1802 calls its revised version "Guangling Zhenqu" but the later short versions all call it "Guangling San" except 1907, which has one version called "Guangling San Zhenqu" and a second called "Guangling San Xinpu" (Guangling San New Tablature).

Beyond this, although later versions all have some passages that are exactly the same as in 1634, in some places they have changes that are clearly corrections, in other places they have passages that may be re-interpretations. For an example of the former, compare the unplayable beginning of 1634 Section 5 with the playable beginnings of Section 6 in later versions.11 As for the latter, in some places it seems to include passages that are badly (i.e., unclearly) written, such as writing "再作 play again" without indicating where to repeat from. In other cases they may reflect a change in idiom. Here one might expect that one reason 1634 Section 8 was deleted was due to it having some idiomatic inconsistencies. However, this does not seem to be the case: if anything it is one of the most straightforward.

One of these later handbooks, the 1907 Shiyixianguan Qinpu, has two complete versions. My preliminary observation is that on the surface they look very similar to each other, as well as to the ≥1802 version. The first seems to copy more mistakes from ≥1802. (Compare, e.g., the beginning of Section 9 of each: both are unplayable as written; the new 1907 version makes this passage playable.)

Here the variations in the various surviving tablatures suggest the piece was at least in some places actively played during the Qing dynasty. But although these shorter versions use the same tuning as the earlier long versions, the new melody seems to be only minimally connected to the old longer versions.

None of the shorter versions makes mention of Nie Zheng. And none of the versions, either the long ones or short ones, has lyrics.

Preface12 (see also these Chinese prefaces, especially those from ≥1802 and 1907)
None in 1634,13 so the following, from ≥1802 and 1907, have been substituted. The ≥1802 preface was apparently a short version of the 1907 one, said originally to have had the title Guangling Meng Ji and been dated 1688. If the latter is true then the ≥1802 melody probably dates from around the same time and was then in the possession of someone named Zhongsheng. The version in ≥1802 says it came from Zhongsheng.

金陵汪子晉自叙此曲傳自夢中仙授,後得譜於粵東雲在青者。此譜系後従「廣陵散」中摘出,為明潞藩藏本。淡逺髙妙,非同凡響,故(嵇康)叔夜靳不傳世。幸此譜尚在人間,而世之操縵者,非夙具性靈,何能領畧?叔夜有云, 非曠逺者不能與之嬉遊, 非淵靜者不能與之閒止, 非放達者不能與無吝, 非至精者不能與之析理。 故知音者則知精微敘之所存。
Wang Zijin of Nanjing (also called Wang Anhou) himself related that this melody was transmitted to him by an immortal in a dream. Later he received tablature from someone named Yun Zaiqing of Eastern Guangdong. This was tablature from a version of Guangling San that was or had been in the collection of the Ming dynasty Prince of Lu; (like the sky its music was) 淡逺髙妙 light and expansive and beautifully exquisite, its sound so extraordinary, that Xi Kang said he did not wish to transmit it into society. Fortunately this tablature somehow still exists; however, qin players in general, unless gifted with a high spiritual nature, how can they appreciate it? Xi Kang also said (in his Rhapsody on the Qin: the original of this passage is here),

"In truth those people who are not of a free and detached disposition cannot find enjoyment in qin music.
Those who are not profound and serene cannot dwell with it.
Those who are not broadminded cannot ungrudgingly give themselves over to it.
Those who are not of the utmost refinement cannot understand its deep significance." (transl. Van Gulik, Section XX).

Thus people who are truly sensitive to music understand the most subtle narratives.

The much more extensive account in the 1907 Shiyixianguan Qinpu, copied here, does not mention Xi Kang, but it does recount where, when and how the dream took place. It is also more explicit about the melody that Wang Zijin heard in the dream being the same as the music in the tablature shown him by Yue Dongyun. In particular it says (from here),

一日(離注:已經是庚申歲了),有粵東雲姓字在青者,造館而謁, 宛如素好。其寓有明潞藩藏譜一冊,出而觀之, 卷尾有《廣陵真趣》一曲。余錄之而譜其音,與夢 中所聽仙君之音無異。
One day (n.b. this would already have been 1680?) someone from Eastern Yue (Guangdong) surnamed Yun, style name Zaiqing, came to my home and presented himself, as if we were old friends. His home had a volume of tablature from Ming Prince Lu of Fan, which he took out and showed me. At the end of the tablature was written the melody name, 'Guangling Zhen Qu'. I copied it all out then played the tablature: it was no different from what I had heard the immortal play in the dream."

Nevertheless there are actual differences between the 1634 and ≥1802 versions, as outlined here.

See my transcription; timings follow this recording 聽錄音 (compare three more)

00.00   Prelude (開指 Kai Zhi): 廣陵真趣 Guangling Zhen Qu (Guangling True Essence)
01.12   Section 1: 廣陵散 Guangling San (Guangling Melody)
01.51   Section 1a (≥1802: Section 2)
02.24   Section 2
03.27   Section 3
04.09   Section 4
04.56   Section 5
05.36   Section 6
06.31   Section 6b (≥1802: Section 8)
07.03   Section 7
07.38   Section 8   (≥1802 omits this section)
08.21   Section 9
09.02   Closing harmonics
09.25   end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. References to Guangling San 廣陵散
See under Guangling San.

2. Manshang mode (慢商調 Manshang diao)
For more on this mode see Shenpin Shangjue Yi as well as Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image 1910 pu showing rhythm   (expand)    
Compare the tablature on the left half of the image above with that in the image at right, which shows page 1 of the tablature using the new system introduced in 1910 to try to indicate rhythm for qin melodies, this one the version of the 10 section Guangling San published in Jiao An Qinpu (1868). The melody here should be basically the same as that of ≥1802, which omits the prelude called Guangling Zhen Qu, shown on the right half of the image above.

4. Tracing the long Guangling San melodies
As can be seen from this tracing chart, the earlist of the long melodies survives from 1425 while two variations on that melody were published in 1525. After this the only long versions of Guangling San that were published were the four dated 1539, 1670, ≥1802 and 1910. All were copied directly or indirectly from the Shen Qi Mi Pu version.

5. Later short versions of Guangling San      
"Short version" does not refer to the popularly-played abbreviated interpretations of the old 1425 melody. These are new short versions that first appear in 1634 with a melody that has been attributed either to its compiler, 潞王朱常淓 the Prince of Lu Zhu Changfang, or to a noted qin player at the time, 金陵汪安侯字子晉 Wang Anhou of Nanjing, also known as Wang Zijin. Shiyixianguan Qinpu (1907) has an extended essay on the how Wang Anhou became connected to a short Guangling San.

The 1907 handbook has two versions. The second is said to be new; the first is mentioned in connection with ≥1802. In this regard this first version is quite similar to the first version in 1634 but it is much closer to the short one dated ≥1802 (it also has more flatted notes). The short versions generally played today are different from these.

6. Flatted thirds: an indication of date?
As described here and discussed in more detail here, flatted thirds appear quite commonly in melodies published in the early Ming dynasty but by the late Ming these were generally being changed to natural thirds (whole tone thirds) and were not a characteristic of melodies first published in the late Ming and after.

On the other hand, the method of indicating finger positions seems to have changed somewhat during the Ming dynasty as the modern decimal system evolved (further details), and the method used in the 1634 handbook seems more similar to other handbooks published in the later Ming than in the earlier. As mentioned further here, there was a late Ming transitional system that seems to have been less precise than the old system but not yet as precise as the new. A problem with this is shown most clearly in Section 6 of the 1634 Guangling San, where in a number of places it is not clear whether the note called for is a flatted or whole tones third because "七八 between 7th and 8th hui" seems to be used for both 七下 ("below 7", i.e. 7.3, transcribed here as E natural) and what is today 七六 (i.e. 7.6, transcribed here as E flat).

Note that the short versions of Guangling San after 1634 all change the flattened thirds to whole tone thirds. All this suggests that the 1634 melody was either newly written but included the flattened thirds to give it an aura of antiquity, or it was newly copied from an older (perhaps pre-Ming) document by someone who actually played the melody instead of simply copying it. This person wanted to play the notes as written, but whoever made the physical copy did some updating of the method used to indicate finger positions.

7. 粵東雲在青 Yun Zaiqing of Eastern Guangdong
Just after the title to the 1907 edition of this melody it says,

閩中雲在青較 revised by Yun Zaiqing of Min (Fujian) (complete credits)

However, in the actual account published in 1907, called Guangling Mengji, Yun is referred to as "粵東雲姓字在青者 Someone from Eastern Guangdong surnamed Yun, style name Zaiqing". The narrative also says that he was someone who had access to the library of the Prince of Lu. If my understanding of this is correct, then it is not clear why it says here that he revised it.

As for Yun himself, 43170/10 雲 says it can be a surname but it seems pretty rare and I have not found any references for a 在青 Zaiqing ( As for Eastern Guangdong vs Fujian, Fujian is to the east of Guangdong and I am not aware of any border disputes, but using the old names 粵東 and 閩 perhaps blurs things.

Elsewhere it has been suggested that Yun Zaiqing of Eastern Yue should be Yue Dongyun style name Zaiqing. This seems to be an error.

8. Source of this version
Another possible explanation is that what Wang Anhou actually heard was just another version of the the 1802 edition, not the 1634 one connected to the Prince of Lu. The fact is that Wang Anhou (assuming that is the same person as Wang Zijin) did not say the two manuscripts were identical. If one assumes that he was not just making up the story about the melody he heard in a dream, the question is how close do the two have to be for him to conclude they were the same melody?

9. Versions similar to that in ≥1802 (with links to the tracing chart)
Those like ≥1802 rather than 1634 are:

  1. 裛露軒琴譜 (Yiluxuan Qinpu, ≥1802; compare my recording and transcription; there is also one by 李佑心 Li Youxin, a student of 郭雪盧 Guo Xuelu, b.1927)
  2. 蕉庵琴譜 (Jiaoan Qinpu, 1868)
  3. 希韶閣琴瑟合譜 (Xishaoge Qinse Hepu, 1890)
  4. 琴學初津 (Qinxue Chujian, 1894)
  5. 十一絃館琴譜 (Shiyixianguan Qinpu, 1907A)
  6. 十一絃館琴譜 (Shiyixianguan Qinpu, 1907B: New version; recording by Chen Changlin)
  7. 琴學叢書 (Qinxue Congshu; 1910)

A recording of any of these can be compared to the recording here from 1634, paying attention to its comparisons to ≥1802.

11. Later handbooks: correcting or reinterpreting 1634?
Here are several examples of problems with the tablature (pu) for Section 5 of the first Guangling San in Guyin Zhengzong (1634; see pdfs of the original and/or of my transcription).

  1. Section 5 begins with a 撥剌 bola on "二 二" instead of on the correct "一 二" ("bola" must be played on 2 strings so this is a clear mistake).
  2. After this the pu says "再十一作 play it 11 times" ("it" being bola, this would be 22 sounds). This is possible (compare, e.g., the beginning of Zhuang Zhou Meng Die, Section 4), but very unlikely: all the later versions (where it is Section 6) interpret this as the much more idiomatic "再作上十一又作 play twice then slide up to the 11th position and play again": the logic of this interpretation is confirmed by the fact that the next note is played in the 11th position.
  3. Near the bottom of the first line of Section 5 there is a cluster calling for 無名指按外歷四絃 plucking the fourth string while the ring finger stops the 4th string beyond the bottom marker. The exact same cluster appears eight notes later on the next line, but in Section 6 of the later versions all eight notes are missing: without the notes missing the passage sounds perfectly fine, so most likely this was an error made by a copyist.

Perhaps no special emphasis should be put on the fact that the later editions all interpreted these the same as in ≥1802: they were probably all just following that version or one of its descendants, without making reference to 1634.

12. Preface
Note that although much of the commentary concerns first transmission and other technical details, there is also a passage giving Xi Kang's thoughts about qin music, and there are as well intersectional comments about how to play individual sections (not yet translated and unfortunately none directly for the 1634 version). So although none of this actually discusses what the melody expresses, or more specifically what whoever created the melody intended to express on Xi Kang's behalf, it does suggest a style of play that, if carried out, can be deeply appreciated by a person who knows the true potential of music.

13. No preface
Does the lack of prefaces in Guyin Zhengzong (it has them for only two of its 50 melodies) emphasize that Zhu Changfang was more interested in playing and in making instruments than he was in scholarship?

14. Music
In July 2022 I made four recordings of this Guangling Zhenqu/Guangling San in my Studio for Seeking Solitude (招隱 Zhao Yin Shi) using a Roland Roland R-26 digital recorder with its internal mic. For the recordings three different qin were used. For the first recording (which is the same as the one linked above) the bottom string of the qin is tuned between B and B flat; for the last three recordings the bottom string was tuned to A.

  1. listen 聽錄音   (09.25): a qin made in 2015 by 唐健垣 Tong Kin-Woon strung with silk strings (fish glue) made by Lawrence Kaster.

  2. listen 聽錄音   (08.58): same as previous, a qin made in 2015 by 唐健垣 Tong Kin-Woon strung with silk strings (fish glue) by Lawrence Kaster but tuned lower.
  3. listen 聽錄音   (09.30): a qin made in the 1990s by 唐健垣 Tong Kin-Woon strung with Marusan Hashimoto silk strings (fish glue). This qin has a piezo pickup on the top of the bridge (see image), but when not connected it does not seem to affect the sound.
  4. listen 聽錄音   (09.37): an anonymous Qing dynasty instrument strung with Marusan Hashimoto silk strings (rice glue).

For the three with the bottom string tuned to A the sound should perhaps be more mellow (or muted) and perhaps more "za yin". However, with this tuning the strings are more stable and less likely to break.

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