Shui Diao Ge Tou
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Water Tune Prelude
Qin settings for the ci pattern of this name 2
Shui Diao Ge Tou  
  Shui Diao Ge Tou set for qin in shang mode (1687) 3      
Four qin handbooks published between 1618 and 1802 one have six settings for qin of lyrics in the ci pattern called Shui Diao Ge Tou.4 The second of these settings is repeted twice, so in all there are four setting but with three different lyrics. The three sets of lyrics are as follows:

  1. Only in 1618. This is the earliest of these settings and it accompanies the famous ci lyrics by Su Dongpo (Su Shi) that are given below. However, this was set for one string qin and I have not yet found the key to making it interesting.5

  2. The second setting, in a handbook dated 1682, has lyrics by Rong Qiuyue.6 This is then repeated in 1687 and 1802. This setting is for standard seven-string qin.

  3. The third setting, also for seven-string qin, has lyrics by Hong Yunlai of Hangzhou,7 but there are two different melodies. The first setting occurs in the handbook dated 1682, but when the lyrics are repeated in 1687 they are paired to a different melody.

It is the last of these four 17th century melodies that I chose to reconstruct, but to this melody I instead paired the famous Su Dongpo lyrics given below.8 As shown in the image at right, this melody occurs in the 1687 handbook Songsheng Cao.9 This version begins with lyrics identifying it as following the ci pattern Shui Diao Ge Tou. The comments below this title further identify this particular setting only as "Shang Yin", the name of the musical mode.10 It then attributes the lyrics to Hong Yunlai. The left side of the page repeats the identifier Shang Yin then says that the tablature is by Cheng Xiong, (style name) Yin Yan.11 It is not clear whether this means that Cheng himself created the melody or arranged it from elsewhere. Thus the origin of the actual melody is not certain. Its structure, though, suggested it might just as well be used with the famous lyrics by Su Dongpo.

The cipai called Shui Diao Ge Tou is probably best known today through a popular song using the Su Dongpo lyrics but composed in the 1980s.12 It has been sung by many popular singers, perhaps most notably Teresa Teng (Deng Lijun) and Faye Wong (Wang Fei).

Preface (XII/358)
The only tablature with a preface is the one-string setting dated
1618. Otherwise there are only brief statements naming the author of the lyrics, arranger/creator of the music, and subtitle/mode of the musical setting. For the Shang Yin version of 1687 shown above the creator of the lyrics is said to be Hong Yunlai and the musical setting by Cheng Xiong himself. However, this latter statement leaves open the possibility that Cheng took an existing melody/song and arranged it for qin.

Music (XII/358; 五線譜 staff notation and 錄音 recordings: solo video (1.36) and recording with Su Shi lyrics (1.49)
This music can be applied to any of the Shui Diao Ge Tou lyrics given here (open the mp3 file in a separate window).

The original lyrics for the tablature at top, plus those from 1682, are copied and punctuated
below (comment). Here, however, the music resulting from this tablature is applied to the Shui Diao Ge Tou lyrics by Su Shi (Su Dongpo). These lyrics are perhaps the most famous ones in this form. As indicated here, this was one of the poems Su Shi wrote during Mid-Autumn. Another one is discussed under the melody Mid Autumn Moon.

Application of the music to lyrics by Su Shi 13 (Timings follow my recording with voice 聽我的錄音)
Translation is by 裘小龍 Qiu Xiaolong (Wiki), with minor re-alignment. To follow the lyrics while listening, open the music file in a separate window while reading these lyrics of the Su Dongpo poem (or any lyrics following this form). Alternatively, listen while looking at the enlarged jpg of the original 1687 tablature.

00.00 Closing harmonics played as a prelude:

明月幾時有,         把酒問青天。
Míng yuè jǐ shí yǒu, bǎ jiǔ wèn qīng tiān.
When will the moon be clear and bright?
      With a cup of wine in my hand, I ask the clear sky.

不知天上宮闕,         今夕是何年。
Bù zhī tiān shàng gōng jué, jīn xī shì hé nián.
In the heavens on this night,
      I wonder what season it would be?

我欲乘風歸去,         又恐瓊樓玉宇,       高處不勝寒。
Wǒ yù chéng fēng guī qù, yòu kǒng qióng lóu yù yǔ, gāo chù bù shèng hán.
I'd like to ride the wind to fly home.
      Yet I fear the crystal and jade mansions
      are much too high and cold for me.

起舞弄清影,         何似在人間。
Qǐ wǔ nòng qīng yǐng, hé sì zài rén jiān.
Dancing with my moonlit shadow,
      It does not seem like the human world.

轉朱閣,         低綺戶,         照無眠。
Zhuǎn zhū gé, dī qǐ hù, zhào wú mián.
The moon rounds the red mansion,
      Stoops to silk-pad doors,
      Shines upon the sleepless,

不應有恨,         何事    長向別時圓。
Bù yìng yǒu hèn, hé shì   zhǎng xiàng bié shí yuán.
Bearing no grudge,
      Why does the moon tend to be full when people are apart?

人有悲歡離合,        月有陰晴圓缺,        此事古難全。
Rén yǒu bēi huān lí hé, yuè yǒu yīn qíng yuán quē, cǐ shì gǔ nán quán.
People experience sorrow, joy, separation and reunion,
      The moon may be dim or bright, round or crescent shaped,
      This imperfection has been going on since the beginning of time.

但願人長久,        千里共嬋娟。
Dàn yuàn rén cháng jiǔ, qiān lǐ gòng chán juān.
May we all be blessed with longevity,
      Though thousands of miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. References for Water Tune Prelude (水調歌頭 Shui Diao Ge Tou) (Wiki)

"頭 tou", literally "head" or "beginning", does not necessarily have a formal meaning such as "prelude".

2. Ci form "Shuidiao Getou"
This ci form has 95 characters divided into two sections of four lines each, eight rhyming lines in all. The structure by character count is as follows:

4+7 (or 6+5)

6+5 (or 4+7)

The 平仄 pingze structure is said to be as follows:



The bracketed comments discuss the two ways of dividing the second line of each section (further below).

3. Image: Setting for qin of the Shang Yin song following the pattern Shui Diao Ge Tou (XII/358)
Note that, although there is no punctuation in either the lyrics or the tablature, this is not a major problem: the punctuation of the lyrics follows the ci pattern, the tablature also follows a well-known pattern. However, there are three issues worthy of special mention:

In 2017 I reconstructed the above Shang Yin melody, but generally pair it with the Shui Diao Ge Tou lyrics by Su Shi. However, the logic of the three adjustments mentioned here is still followed when pairing these or any other lyrics to this tablature.

4. Tracing settings of 水調歌頭 Shui Diao Ge Tou
Zha Guide 32/244/470 has six entries with this title, all with lyrics. In all there are three sets of lyrics (the first three settings - all later are repeats) for four melodies (since two of the tablatures are repeats). All the lyrics fit into the same ci pattern.

The six entries are as follows:

  1. Lixing Yuanya (1618; QQJC VIII/343)
    The lyrics are those of Su Shi given just above; the melody is one of the handbook's 5 melodies for one-string qin. A preliminary attempt at playing it did not reveal the key to making it as interesting as the other settings.

    Commentary in Li Xing Yuan Ya (see 琴之界; compare below) is:

    Not yet translated

  2. Shu Huai Cao (1682 [1]; XII/352)
    "宮音 Gong Yin"; "lyrics added by 溶秋岳 Rong Qiuyue"
    Begins with open 3rd string, open 1st then 打圓 dayuan 鐵篴老仙去,無復採花舡。


  3. Shu Huai Cao (1682 [2]; XII/373)
    "徵音 Zhi Yin"; "lyrics added by 錢塘洪雲來 Hong Yunlai of Qiantang".
    Begins open 4th string then open 7th, 2nd then 5th. 君山已不作,獻曲久無人。


  4. Song Sheng Cao (1687 [1]; XII/388)
    Seems to be the same as 1682 #1.

  5. Song Sheng Cao (1687 [2]; XII/391)
    Same lyrics as 1682 #2 but different music (begins with open 2nd string, open 4th twice, then open 7th); mode is "商音 Shang Yin"; at present this is my preferred melody: I have transcribed and recorded my interpretation but have been applying this to the Su Shi lyrics as outlined above.

  6. Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802; XVII/544)
    Seems to be same as 1682 #1 (though missing a 打圓 in first phrase), but the 1682 lyrics are paired at end, making it more difficult to confirm this.

As noted, only the fifth version has been reconstructed here.

5. Settings for one-string qin
This setting occurs the in 1618 Lixing Yuanya, which also has settings of other melodies for five and nine string as well as the standard seven string qin. It is not clear why this was done. Legend has it that during the Warring States period a man named Sun Deng played a one string qin, but no repertoire exists other than here. On the other hand, in Japan claims have been made that their ichigenkin one-string zither dates back to China, perhaps from around this time.

6. 溶秋岳 Rong Qiuyue
No further information at present.

7. 洪雲來茂公 Hong Yunlai (style name) Mao Gong
Online information says he was from 錢塘 Qiantang (Hangzhou), then "中年曾游京師,與張台柱、洪升等唱和。 in his middle years moved to the capital, where he liked to sing togtether with such people as Zhang Taizhu and Hong Sheng."

8. Chosing the 1887 melody for reconstruction
I chose this melody because I thought its rhythms could be in most accord with the rhythms of the modern popular song as sung by Deng Lijun, discussed further below.

9. 松聲操 Songsheng Cao (XII/358; 1687)
As with the pieces in Shuhuai Cao, most of the poems in this handbook apparently were written in honor of, perhaps praising, Cheng Xiong (see below). Many, if not most, also use a ci form (玉樓春 Yu Lou Chun, 風入松 Feng Ru Song, 高山流水 Gao Shan Liu Shui, 水調歌頭 Shui Diao Ge Tou, 千秋歲引 Qian Qiu Sui Yin, 滿江紅 Man Jiang Hong, etc.). Search 讀古詩詞網

10. 商音 Shang Yin; tuning 2 3 5 6 7 2 3 ? (compare shang mode)
If calling the mode here "shang" is based on the actual melody, then quite likely came from considering the tuning as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. The primary tonal center is the open fourth string so here it would be 2: the note shang.

However, it also seems quite possible that this piece is called "shang yin" not for any musical reason but because of the ancient reference quoted above saying Shui Diao Ge Tou was a Yue Fu shangdiao melody. Because if "shang mode" was intended actually to describe the mode of the present melody, it would suggest that the understanding of mode at that time was different from what I understand of modes in the Ming dynasty qin repertoire as described here under Modality in early Ming qin tablature. This footnote there shows how a fundamental part of my understanding comes from the way a traditional Chinese musician would sing the melody in solfeggio (1 = do; 2 = re, etc.). By naming the notes following that practice I have usually been able to predict how the mode of any Ming dynasty qin melody I hear will be classified. Later nomenclature for modes does not seem to fit any such logic

The relative tuning given above, 2 3 5 6 7 2 3, is based on this understanding, and what it seems to show is that the consideration of mode was changing by the time this handbook was published (early Qing dynasty). What singing the notes solfeggio here means is that the notes actually played fit into a relative scale of 6 7 1 2 3 5 6 and the primary tonal centers are 6 (equivalent to the open 4th string) and 3 (open second string). The melody thus uses a minor hexatonic scale based on 6, making its modality quite similar to that of Ming dynasty melodies in yu mode. However, people at that time would not be likely to call it such because all Ming melodies said to be in yu mode had had their relative tuning considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. Perhaps, then, zhi mode might be appropriate: the relative tuning would then be considered as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2, the scale as 5 6 7b 1 2 4 5 and the primary tonal centers as 5 and 2. Such an interpretation might be supported by the fact that Shui Diao Ge Tou seems to pair well musically with the 1525 zhi mode version of Yu Ge: the flatted 7th gives Shui Diao Ge Tou more of a "minor" flavor, but Yu Ge also sometimes flats its 7s. Of course for such a pairing to work from a literary standpoint it might be better to find Shui Diao Ge Tou lyrics connected to the literati view of fishing.

In any case, the ending on the open first and sixth strings is quite startling: more in tune with the established modal feeling would be to end on the open fourth string. This sudden switch, however, is not completely uncommon. Perhaps it follows a belief that all pieces should end on a certain note, no matter what.

11. 程雄 Cheng Xiong, style name 隱庵 Yin'an
Cheng Xiong was from 燕山 Yan Shan; another style name was 頴庵 Ying'an. See further.

12. Popular song by Teresa Teng (鄧麗君 Deng Lijun; Wiki; listen).
This setting of Su Dongpo's Shui Diao Ge Tou was composed in 1983 by 梁弘誌 Liang Hongzhi with the title "但願人長久 Danyuan ren changjiu" ("Wishing We Last Forever" or "Always Faithful"). It can be found in many places on the internet, the version by 王菲 Wang Fei (Faye Wong) also being particularly popular. An abbreviated version from Deng Lijun including only the section where the song is sung beginning to end is linked here.

It is interesting here to see how Liang structures the 95-character ci pattern to fit his music. As shown above, an in accordance with the rhyme scheme, the ci lyrics are in eight lines divided into two four-line sections of two couplets each; the third line of each section has three phrases, the others have two. Liang, however, moves the third phrase of each third line into the fourth line; he also adds a short instrumental phrase after the second line of each section. The structure of his setting is thus more or less as follows:

不知天上宮闕,今夕是何年。_ _ _ _

不應有恨,何事長向別時圓。 _ _ _ _

In the recordings I have heard there is then a brief instrumental interlude, after which the second section is repeated with a slightly different arrangement.

This structure gives the song an appropriate length and balance between sung and instrumental sections. And although the re-arrangement of the lines means that the structure clearly violates the poem's rhyme scheme, it allows Liang to use a music structure that can be described as "AABA": the melody for the first two lines is largely repeated in lines 3 and 4. The melody of lines 5 and 6 is somewhat different but lines 7 and 8 are again like 1 and 2 (as well as 3 and 4). This structure, plus the slow rubato 4x4 rhythm throughout, gives the melody an easily recognized coherence.

For my reconstruction of the 1687 melody I found that the slow rubato 4x4 works very well throughout. However, old qin melodies rarely if ever have sections where new lyrics are introduced through a repeated melody and the 1687 setting also does not do that. Instead, in its first four-line section the melody of the second and third phrases of line 3 are basically repeated to form line four. In the second section lines seven and eight have no such repetition, but it still feels natural to follow the rhythm suggested in lines three and four. Thus in both cases, even if one were willing to sacrifice the rhyme scheme in order to structure the phrasing like Liang's, the music does not allow one to assign only two phrases to line three

13. Lyrics by Su Shi
Su Shi also wrote a preface to his poem, translated by Qiu Xiaolong as follows:

Mid-autumn of the Bing Chen year / Having been drinking happily over night / I'm drunk / So I write this poem / Remembering my brother, Zi You

Links to more of Qiu Xiaolong's translations can be found here.

Return to Qin Poetry and Song or to the Guqin ToC.