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Dong Tinglan
- Qin Shi #130
董庭蘭 1
琴史 #130 2

Dong Tinglan (695 - ca. 765) was a famous qin player. The Qin Shi biography specifically mentions only one melody, Hu Jia (giving no indication of which of the many versions this might refer), but he is also associated with several others, including Yi Zhen and Yunzhu Ta.4

Xu Jian's Qinshi Chubian discusses Dong Tinglan in Chapter 5, as follows (p.55; 中文):

"Dong Tinglan (ca.699-ca.765) from Longxi, was a famous teacher during the flourishing Tang dynasty Kai Yuan (713-42) and Tianbao (742-56) reigns. At that time the qin schools in vogue were Shen family sound and Zhu family sound.5 He studied from Chen Huai(gu),6 who was then serving in the army at Fengzhou, (thus) obtaining the tones of these two (qin) schools, and also organized in qin tablature the piece Hu Jia, in which he was skilled. His student Zheng You,7 having a keen sense of hearing, tuned strings "to the greatest degree", "was especially good at the Shen sounds and Zhu sounds". Another student, Du Shanren (Du Ling8), was also rather capable of exceeding his teacher. Rong Yu9 praised him in a poem, 'The Shen school and Zhu school all reach their limit.' Several decades later the qin piece Xiao Hujia as played by Jiang Xuan10 was described (by Yuan Zhen11) as follows, 'The mournful reedpipe slowly points to the Dong family volume.' At this time Dong Tinglan's fame and influence already exceeded and replaced that of the Shen and Zhu schools.

"Dong Tinglan's performing skills had then reached the pinnacle of perfection. The poem by Li Qi called 'Listening to the Great Dong Play the Hujia Sound' vividly describes how 'Slow to fast was all appropriate; as he moved around it seemed emotional.' This means that when changing from slow to fast tempi it was all appropriate to the feelings, and that as the melodies came and went they were all very expressive. Beautiful music drew the poet into a fanciful territory. 'Hidden in seclusion the changing tones suddenly float like wine; a sustained breeze blows through the forest, rain falls on the roof tiles. The spring gushes by, flying along the tree trunks; wild deer bleat as they stroll past my pavilion.' The expressive power of the music was as rich and moving as this. If it were not for the outstanding performance of Dong Tinglan, this famous poem by Li Qi describing the music would not have come into being.

"The prestige of Dong Tinglan's qin art was very high, receiving at that time the praise of many people, and not just a few literati were associated with him. The tablature collections he edited had adulatory doctor Li Ao write for it voluntarily prefatory words.

"Gao Shi, in his poem Leaving the Great Dong (Tinglan), wrote, 'But don't worry that on the departure road you will have no close friends, In all the world, who is there who does not recognize you?' Such famous phrases can to a great extent reflect how the spectacular events of the most famous artist of his generation spread throughout the world.

"Gao Shi's poem also wrote, "We friends are poor and should be so insufficient, that now when we meet there is no money for wine." This says he was so poor he could not pay for a drink. Xue Yijian also said, "Tinglan does not work for noblemen; instead, he wore his hair down and lived in the forest for sixty years", from which one can see how austere a life he led. Yet, because he was once an retainer (in the home) of Grand Councillor Fang Guan,12 some spoke ill of him. The famous poet Du Fu said, "Tinglan stayed at Guan's home for days and did wrong in his old age while depending on Guan. The biography of Fang Guan in the New Tang History even said that Dong Tinglan relied on Fang Guan's influence to take bribes; Fang Guan appealed for him and had his position "lowered to Junior Preceptor of the Heir Apparent". This should be doubted as it may have come from malicious slander by Fang Guan's political opponents. If he truly took bribes, he would not have been so impoverished. As a Grand Councillor, Fang Guan would not have risked his office simply for an attendant. A poem by Cui Jue13 ardently praised his relationship with Fang Guan:

"'Of seven strings, five sounds are cold; the pursuit of this music has historically been a difficult quest.
  Only Fang Cilu of Henan feels sympathy for Dong Tinglan.'

"Little of Dong Tinglan's work was recorded. Shen Qi Mi Pu has his Yi Zhen, a short melody characterized by its lively flow, refined theme, and sound structure."

References in Qinshu Daquan include:

Folio 16, #44 (Li Zhao's Guoshi Bu)
Folio 17, #20 (Sounds of the Shen and Zhu schools)
Folio 19B, #41 (A poem, Listening to the Great Dong Play Hujia)

The biography in Qin Shi begins as follows,14

Dong Tinglan was from Longxi. During 742-56 he worked on qin (?)....

Rest not yet translated, but It covers much of the same ground as the account above by Xu Jian.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Dong Tinglan references
董庭蘭 Bio ; Xu Jian p.55

2. 16 lines

4. The source of his connections with these other titles is not clear.

5. 沈祝家聲 Shen and Zhu Family Sounds
These qin schools are also discussed in QSDQ, Folio 17, #20; QSCB, 5.B.; and elsewhere on this site. As for the actual sounds of the Shen and Zhu schools, Van Gulik, Lore, p.94, fn.44, concludes that no one really knows to whom or what this refers. His own guess is to the music theorist 沈約 Shen Yue (441-513), and a qin player apparently famous about that time 祝象賢 Zhu Xiangxian (Bio/xxx).

6. 陳懷古 Chen Huaigu, AKA 陳懷 Chen Huai
Chen Huaigu, as mentioned in QSCB, Chapter 5, was a teacher of Dong Tinglan. Chen's handbook is QSCM #p31

7. 鄭宥 Zheng You
This Zheng You is not the same as the 鄭祐 Zheng You of Qin Shi Xu

8. Du Ling 杜陵
Du Ling (Bio/xxx) is better known as 杜山人 Du Shanren (Mountain Recluse Du), a student of Dong Tinglan. Rong Yu wrote about Du Ling in a poem

9. 戎昱 Rong Yu (8th c.)
Rong Yu: Bio/500 says he was an official as well as a poet. The poem mentioning Du Shanren is in QSDQ, Folio 19B, #61

10. 姜宣 Jiang Xuan

11. 元稹 Yuan Zhen (799 - 831)
Yuan Zhen, style name 微之 Weizhi, was "one of the most celebrated poets and statesmen of the mid-Tang period" (ICTCL, p.949). His short story 鶯鶯傳 Yingying Zhuan (discussed at length in ICTCL) is mentioned in Wenjun Cao and Feng Qiu Huang. Liu and Lo, Sunflower Splendor, translates several of his poems, but I haven't yet found his 小胡笳引 Xiao Hujia Prelude. (The quote above is "哀笳慢指董家本"; 41049.1226 has another quote: 雷氏金徽琴,王君寶重輕千金。)

12. 宰相房琯 Grand Councillor Fang Guan (697 – 763; Wiki)
Fang Guan, style name 次律 Cilü, was an important official in the government of emperors Xuanzong and Suzong; he is also referred to here as 房公 Fang Gong (duke?). Dong Tinglan apparently depended very much on Fang Guan for patronage.

13. 崔珏 Cui Jue
Cui Jue flourished ca. 860. His poem《席間詠琴客》(全唐詩:卷591-10) is also quoted in the Qin Shi biography.

14. 董庭蘭 Dong Tinglan biography in Qin Shi
The original text is as follows,



Some characters were not clear. The short poem is by Cui Jue (fl. ca. 860).

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.