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Repertoire of Qin Songs with lyrics in Cipai and in regular lines   Pairing words and music   書畫 Painting and calligraphy   Some poets   Jiang Kui 中文   目錄
Qin Poetry and Qin Songs 1 琴詩與琴歌
The Old Toper's Chant : enlarge 2    
As with painting and calligraphy, because qin music was generally created by the same class of people who created classical poetry, often the themes of these art forms overlap. Many titles, such as Chu Ci and Hu Jia, are in fact important to all these. As for poetry and song, it may be useful here to suggest the following distinctions between "qin poetry" and "qin songs".

  I. "Qin Poetry" is divided here into two categories:

  1. Poetry that mentions qin, qin play or qin players.
    Because the qin is the musical instrument most often mentioned in classical poetry, many such poems are included in the collections listed as "potential lyrics".

  2. "Potential lyrics": poetry about subjects often found in qin songs
    Many of these are poems that perhaps could have once been sung with qin, but there is no known surviving tablature. Sources for such poetry are often collections that already have poems that mention qin or have lyrics already set for qin. These include:

II. "Qin Songs" (including "short songs" and "my qin song repertoire").
Zha Fuxi's Guide, Section 10, includes almost all such lyrics that are in surviving handbooks (the Index, last column, shows which melodies have lyrics; few are still sung). This section is also dividedd into two categories:

  1. Melodies clearly intended to be sung4 (actual "琴歌 qin ge" such as the "short songs" under my repertoire)
    Most of these melodies seem intended for specific lyrics. However, some can (also?) be used for other lyrics using the same pattern. These latter might include:

  2. Primarily instrumental melodies with lyrics/text attached (further comment)
    Pairing of characters with tablature does not necessarily mean the pairing was intended actually to be sung. Examples include:
            - a setting of Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface).
            - pieces originally published as instrumental melodies, such as those as in >1505

As suggested above, even though many of the texts set to qin melodies are not in a poetic form, qin songs do overlap quite a lot with qin poetry. It is for this reason that qin songs and qin poetry are grouped together here into one section. Nevertheless, there is enough difference that perhaps they should have had separate sections. So now, as a sort of compromise, information more specifically related to qin melodies with lyrics, including qin songs, has been grouped into an appendix. This appendix then has links to further information on the matters outlined, here, beginning with the separate page called qin songs.

Qin songs and oral tradition

So much guqin music has survived because it has been written down (see qin tablature). However, behind every written tradition there usually or always exists an oral tradition that must have influenced the surviving written tradition, though details of the actual non-written music remain unclear or unknown.5

This may especially be true of the qin song tradition. For example, almost all surviving lyrics/text paired to qin tablature is paired following a rather strict method. Qin songs today tend to ignore the traditional pairing method: to what extent are they following an oral tradition that paired words and music more freely? Any comprehensive study of qin songs must take this into consideration.

Appendix: Outline of information regarding qin songs

Sections on this site dealing specifically with "qin songs" include:

Almost all of the above melodies with lyrics are from the Ming dynasty. Not much research has been done comparing how the appoach to them may have changed during the Qing dynasty. Such a comparison could be particularly difficult since it seems likely that many qin songs remained within the purely oral tradition. It does seem, however, that during the Qing dynasty there were much fewer long seemingly instrumental melodies with lyrics attached. However, there may have been attempts to make qin melodies out of opera lyrics (example).

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qin Poetry and Qin Songs
What is written here about qin songs in particular must be considered very tentative. See, in particular, further comment under Qin Songs.

2. Illustration
See further.

3. Classic collections
References in the Book of Songs are included on a page devoted to mention of qin in ancient records. Other collections such as the Chu Ci do not mention qin directly, but their poems have become the subject of several qin melodies. 300 Tang Poems is also worthy of mention:

300 Tang Poems (唐詩三百首; Wiki)
This might also be written 300 Poems of the Tang Dynasty or Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Dynasty. Poems in this collection that mention qin include the following:

Others do not mention qin but their lyrics have been used as lyrics for qin songs. Qin songs using such lyrics include:

In addition the melody Autumn River Night Anchorage says it was inspired in part by Zhang Ji's poem Maple Bridge Night Anchor.

4. "Melodies clearly intended to be sung": those fitting Chinese poetic forms
Leaving aside the old attitude that "if you play then you must sing", "melodies clearly intended to be sung" can be further divided into those with lyrics from verses with lines of variable length (not to mention unregulated verse) and those from verses with lines of fixed length (such as "regulated verse"). However, it is beyond the scope of this website to go into great detail about this topic, though it may be important to a fuller understanding of specific old qin melodies.

This is all related to the fact that qin tablature describes finger positions and playing techniques but does not directly indicate note values (rhythms). Thus, reconstructing old qin melodies (dapu) begins with looking for structures within the musical phrases. If the melodies have lyrics the structures of those lyrics can give clues. Here the Wikipedia article Classical Chinese poetry forms shows something of the complexity of the whole issue of these structures (see, for example, the sections under old, new, regulated, unregulated]).

However, with qin melodies the musical analysis begins with the simple question of whether there are:

Then when reconstructing these old qin melodies trying to decide when poems with fixed or variable line length should similarly have melodic phrases that also have fixed or variable time length/rhythm.

5. Oral tradition of qin songs
For example, the articles on voice production by Xu Peng listed above describe what must have been a significant oral tradition of singing.

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