Song Taizong
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Song Taizong
- The second emperor of the Song dynasty; Qin Shi #138
宋太宗 1
琴史 #138 2

Song Taizong, born Zhao Kuangyi (939 - 997), was a younger brother of Zhao Kuangyin (927 - 976), the first emperor. Taizong's activities related to the qin are discussed in Xu Jian's Qinshi Chubian, Chapter 6/A5.

The Qin Shi essay starts by mentioning the brilliance of Taizong in war and peace, then his research into correct musical tones. It then discusses his decision to "improve" the qin by adding two strings (more on this below) and also to make a 5-string ruan lute. It mentions his collecting qin melodies and ruan melodies into handbooks, plus lyrics. The following titles are then mentioned in this order:

  1. 琴譜二卷 Qin Notation, two folios 4
  2. 九絃琴譜 9-string Qin Notation, 20 folios 5
  3. 五經阮譜 5-Classic Ruan Notation (should be 五絃 5-string?), 17 folios 6

Qinshu Cunmu gives some details of the first two of these works, in this order:

  1. 太宗九弦琴譜二十卷 Taizong Jiuxian Qinpu, 20 Juan
    Taizong's Nine-String Qin Tablature, 20 Folios; QSCM Folio 3/1 (#89; see beginning)
  2. 琴譜二卷 Qin Pu, 2 Juan
    Qin Handbook, Two Folios; QSCM Folio 3/2 (#90; see beginning)

The only two melody titles that are named in the Qin Shi entry "萬國朝天 Wanguo Chaotian" and "平晉 Ping Jin"; they were also mentioned in the 宋志 Song Chronicles. However, these apparently have not survived, nor is there any particular reason to think any have survived. Thus, the 9-string melodies one can find extant in the 1618 handbook Lixing Yuanya are almost certainly unrelated to any earlier 9-string melodies.

Song Taizong and the 9-string qin
Song Taizong at one time ordered creation of a nine-string qin.
Chapter 6/A1 of Xu Jian's history relates this story, which culminated in Zhu Wenji showing Taizong that the seven string qin could do everything the nine-string qin could do.7 To my knowledge no 9-string qin melodies from that time seem to survive in either name or tablature.8

Less well-known is a story that Cai Yong once played a 9-string qin. Again, there are no actual melodies to be found.

Failure of the nine-string qin
Qin Shi entry mentions the attempt to develop a nine-string qin but does not give details. For example, it does not mention tuning. The common assumption is that, as with the five 9-string qin melodies published in 1618, the tuning remained pentatonic, adding notes on top or bottom, rather than using these extra strings to create a diatonic tuning (perhaps the 7 note scale plus two octave notes). A related observation: with a nine-string qin tuned diatonically (e.g., 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2) it should still be possible to play open string octaves (on the 1st and 8th or 2nd and 9th strings, assuming one can make slightly smaller instruments for smaller hands).

The five 9-string melodies in Lixing Yuanya (1618; QQJC, VIII/318-332) are the only surviving tablature for 9-string qin. The only one of these 9-string melodies I have worked on so far is Jie Yu Ge, and I did that one because it can easily be played on a 7-string qin. Others do not seem to transfer quite so easily. For example, the first two phrases in Section 3 of Shu Dao Nan are a passage in harmonics containing octave leaps which extend beyond the range of a 7-string qin unless one plays it in a way that is both awkward and which alters the color of the music in a way that does not seem very natural.

The story of Zhu Wenji playing all the 9-string qin melodies just as well on the 7-string qin thus seems somewhat misleading. Instead it perhaps suggests that the nine-string qin failed largely because the aim was to make the new instrument play the old music better. Or to be more precise, there were certainly things one could do with a nine-string qin that could not be done with a seven-string qin but, at least from the viewpoint of the people at that time, what they did hear was not so dramatically different that it spurred people to want to play it. One might argue, though, that had it actually been dramatically different, quite likely they would have rejected it for that reason as well: it would not have been their language.

This in turn suggests that fulfilling the potential of a 9-string qin actually does require the developing of a new music idiom. Here it may be interesting to speculate why this did not happen.

But here, also, it might be interesting to speculate, had someone been trying to create a new idiom, what might that have sounded like? Would it have been a variation on known idiomatic styles, thus for example largely pentatonic? Or might they have tried something diatonic or even atonal or something else unknown and perhaps outside of the Western tradition?

And might further study of these five 9-string melodies yield some suggestions as to how today one might develop an expanded idiom that still had connections to the qin tradition?

Qin music has always been largely pentatonic; non-pentatonic notes, while more frequent in the surviving early repertoire (see especially modal details for Jieshi Diao You Lan), seem to be there largely for extra color rather than being structurally important: thus even there the melodies all remain primarily pentatonic.9 Furthermore, preliminary attempts to play melodies from the pentatonically tuned nine-string qin tablature from 1618 suggest that they can only be fairly easily adapted for seven-string qin in certain circumstances. This can perhaps be partially explained by showing the notes available in the most common harmonic positions (7th plus 5th and 9th hui) if a seven-string qin tuned pentatonically is expanded to be a nine-string qin:

Seven string qin tuned pentatonically:

at 7th hui:               5 6 1 2 3 5 6
at 5th and 9th hui:           2 3 5 6 7 2 3

Nine string qin tuned pentatonically:

at 7th hui:               5 6 1 2 3 5 6 1 2
at 5th and 9th hui:           2 3 5 6 7 2 3 5 6

As can be seen, the relative note 4 (fa) cannot be played here in harmonics. To play 4 in harmonics requires a string tuned to 4 played in the 7th position and/or one tuned to 7 played in the 5th or 9th position. This seems to demonstrate the difficulties of playing an interesting diatonic melody on a qin using pentatonic tuning, whether it has seven-strings or nine.

Does this mean that for playing truly diatonic (heptatonic) melodies one should try either a 7 string or a 9 string qin using a relative diatonic tuning. Since qin idiom strongly suggests that it sounds good to play octaves, for diatonic music one should perhaps first try a nine-string qin tuned diatonically. For example,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2   (harmonics at 9th hui: 5 6 7 1# 2 3 4 5# 6)
  this now is the same relative tuning as
5 6 7 1 2 3 4# 5 6 (harmonics at 9th hui: 2 3 4# 5 6 7 1 2 3)

Harmonics are used in this analysis because they are such a strong part of the qin idiom. As a result, this preliminary outline shows not only why the seven-string qin has difficulty playing melodies based on a diatonic scale (common Western melodies, for example), but also why extending the qin to having 9 strings, even if tuned diatonically, might still not make it easy to play diatonic melodies and still take advantage of all the opportunities provided by a qin, particularly in terms of playing the extended harmonic passages.

Thus the main use of a nine string qin might be for trying to create a radically new idiom.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Song Taizong 宋太宗 (Wiki
趙匡儀 Zhao Kuangyi (939 - 997; 38015.209) reigned 976-998; his younger brother 趙匡胤 Zhao Kuangyin (927 - 976) had reigned as 太祖 Taizu 960-976.

2. Song Taizong entry: 13 lines
Original text:

太宗皇帝神武聖文紹天承統,既平晉陽,混一六合,於 是戢雕戈,橐大弓,悠遊岩廊之上,講修盛德之事。而天 縱多能,博總群藝,書冠神品,棋登逸格,至於今古音律, 罔不研精。謂夫五弦之琴,文武加之以成七,乃留睿思 而究遺音,作為九弦之琴,五弦之阮,非達與禮樂之情 者,孰能與於此? 又制九弦琴、五弦阮歌詩各一篇,琴譜 二卷,九弦琴譜二十卷,五經阮譜十七卷,藏於禁閣,副 在名山,又嘗作《萬國朝天》《平晉》二樂曲,聖制樂章各五 首,曲名三百九十首,臣竊謂三代而下,漢孝元善琴,孝 章議樂,俱不能有所製作,梁武帝論鍾律而徒聞其言, 唐明皇解音曲而未嘗及雅,惟吾太宗勛德巍巍,敷被 天淵而留神於正聲,抒懷於妙曲,自三代而下,未之有 也。

Not yet translated.

4. 琴譜 Qin Notation, two folios
The original text in 琴書存目 Qin Shu Cun Mu #90 begins and ends,
    "宋太宗選,見《宋志》。《琴史》云:太宗皇帝神武聖文紹天承統.... ....《萬國朝天》,(平)晉二樂曲。聖製樂章各五首。曲名三百九十首。"

5. 九絃琴譜 9-string Qin Notation, 20 folios
The original text in 琴書存目 Qin Shu Cun Mu #89 begins:
    "宋太宗選。是書《宋志》著錄。《玉海》云:太宗謂《舜作五絃琴。後王加文、武二絃。乃作九絃琴、五絃阮,至道之元年十月十二日乙酉,上以新增九絃琴、五絃阮。 宣近臣曰:古樂之用與鄭、衛不同...."

6. 五經阮譜 5-Classic Ruan Notation (should be 五絃 5-string?), 17 folios
No further information at present.

7. Zhu Wenji 朱文濟
Qin Shi #142 tells of Zhu Wenji and the 9-string qin (see also the next footnote). Elsewhere, see for example in QQJC V/123 (translation), it has been written that Cai Yong actually played a nine-string qin, but no melodies have been mentioned in connection with that story.

8. Extant melodies for 9-string qin
These were presumably made up during the Ming dynasty, quite likely by the compiler of that handbook himself. All melodies in that handbook have lyrics.

9. Persistence of pentatonic qin melodies
This runs counter to claims often made today that old qin melodies were often non-pentatonic. For example, Jieshi Diao You Lan (mentioned above) is sometimes said to be nine-tone whereas actually it is basically pentatonic with much added color from non-pentatonic tones..

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