Yelü Chucai
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Yelü Chucai
- Qin Shi Xu #30 (see also in Xu Jian and Rao Zongyi)
耶律楚材 1
琴史續 #30 2
Ming dynasty image of Yelü Chucai 3        
Yelü Chucai (1190 - 1244) was a Khitan, a descendent of its royal house, the 遼 Liao, whose empire was centered in northeast China from 907 - 1125); after this his ancestors had served in the Jin government. Yelü Chucai himself was their governor of Beijing when it was taken over by the Yuan in 1214. After this he accompanied Genghis Khan (1162 - 1227) on some of his campaigns in Central Asia. He later became an administrator for Genghis' successor, Ogotai (1185 - 1241), in which capacity he is said always to have been benevolent. It is not known when he took the nickname Zhanran Jushi (The Tranquil Retiree).

Yelü Chucai is perhaps the most famous early non-Han qin player. The biography here also mentions several other qin players who were his contemporaries: his teachers Mi Dayong,4 Miao Xiushi,5 and Wansong Laoren (Old Master of 10,000 Pines6); and the student Zhang Zhiwen7.

Yelü Chucai's commentary on guqin seems to be expressed in particular through poetry. Examples include:

  1. On a Cold Evening Playing the Qin
    This is the short title of a poem about studying with his teacher Mi Dayong. Its preface is discussed in Rao,
    Section 3.8

  2. Loving the qin playing techniques of Qiyan (plain, unornamented)
    Yelü Chucai's later advocacy of a simple style of qin play is perhaps summed up best in a set of two poems he wrote about Qiyan, a nickname of his teacher Miao Xiushi. These have been translated as follows by R. H. Van Gulik in his Lore of the Chinese Lute.9

    I firmly believe that rarefied tones constitute the real great music,
    Frequent use of vibrato ritardando confuses the melody, frequent use of other vibrato leads to a lax style.
    People of the present day do not understand the meaning of Master Qiyan's music,
    They only love the fashionable style, and play the qin so as to produce a rude noise.

    Frequent application of vibrato grates upon the ears of the listener,
    This style is aimed only at captivating the common fancy.
    The pure tones are simple - but who can appreciate them?
    People only say that Qiyan does not use the wooden sounds.10

    Van Gulik goes on to say that "Yelü Chucai in his later years adopted Qiyan's classical style, and abandoned the technique taught by his earlier masters (Mi Dayong and the Old Master of 10,000 Pines).11

  3. A poem about Guangling San.12
    This poem, which includes a description of the melody being played by one Zhang Qizhi,13 might have been part of a collection of poems by Yelü Chucai. For this see Rao Zongyi's discussion of Preface to a Poem about Playing Guangling San and Playing Guangling San All Day and Writing 50 Poems, both apparently a part of Zhanran Jushi Ji.14

  4. A poem mentioning the Xiao and Xiang Rivers
    This poem, apparently from the same collection, also mentions qin. Copied here under the melody Xiao Xiang Shui Yun, it is also an interesting northern reference to a region sometimes associated with southern exile.

The original Qinshi Xu biography begins as follows.

Yelü Chucai, style name 晉卿 Jinqing, nickname 湛然居士 Zhanran Jushi (Retired Scholar in Tranquility), was 遼東丹王 Prince Dan of Liaodong....

Yelü Chucai's son, 左丞相耶律鑄 Vice Premier Yelü Zhu,15 (1221 - 1285) was also a poet. Qinshu Daquan includes several poems by him about qin. See

Folio 19A, #54
Folio 19B, #156
Folio 20A, #76 and #77

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Yelü Chucai 耶律楚材 (Wiki)
Yelü Chucai 29648.116 元,契丹人,履子,字晉卿,號湛然居士,又號玉泉老人.... was Khitan, during Yuan dynasty, son of Lü style name Jinqing, nicknames Zhanran Jushi and Yuquan Laoren. He rose to be Grand Councilor (丞相 Chengxiang; Hucker: in Yuan, active head of the Secretariat under an honorific Director [ling]).

2. 18 lines. Qin Shi Xu sources for Yelü Chucai are listed as:

  1. 元史 History of the Yuan Dynasty
  2. 湛然居士集 Zhanran Jushi Ji (Collected Writings of the Tranquil Retiree [Yelü Chucai])
  3. 淥水亭雜識 Lushui Ting Zazhi (Miscellaneous Records of the Green Water Pavilion [18106.3xxx])
  4. Chunhu Manlu

湛然居士集,十四卷 Zhanran Jushi Ji
This work, in 14 folios, is the most important collection of Yelü Chucai's own writings. It is included in Vol. 1191 of
Siku Quanshu. 18213.37 (ref: Siku Tiyao, ji, bie ji lei) says it consists mostly of verse, which is quite distinctive .

3. Ming dynasty image of Yelü Chucai
29648.116 says this is from 三才圖會 Sancai Tuhui.

4. 弭大用 Mi Dayong but see Van Gulik, where he is called Mi-Ta (pp. 76, 78, 83); it says there he played Zhejiang style, and that Yelü Chucai later abandoned this style for the Sichuan style of Qi Yan [Miao Xiushi - reference given is Zhanranjushi Wenji.

5. 苗蘭 Miao Lan (Miao Xiushi)

6. 萬松老人 Wansong Laoren (Old Master of 10,000 Pines)
25455.262 has nickname only for 楊彝 Yang Yi (late 14th c., so not him).

7. 張之聞 Zhang Zhiwen

8. On a Cold Evening Playing the Qin (冬夜彈琴 Dongye Tan Qin)
The full title is 冬夜彈琴頗有所得亂道拙語三十韻以遺猶子蘭 The Great Amount Learned while Playing the Qin on a Cold Evening; 30 miscellaneous musings for [Miao] Lan.

The melody has a preface, as follows (the first and third lines have been translated),

余愛棲巖如蜀聲之峻急,快人耳目,每恨不得對指傳聲。間關二十年,予奏之,索於汴梁,得焉。 中道而卒。
其子蘭之琴事,深得棲巖之遺意。甲午之冬,余扈從羽獵,以足疾得告。 凡六十日,對彈操弄五十餘曲,棲巖妙旨,於是盡得之。

Yelü Chucai's poem then has 30 couplets, as follows (couplets 17-20 are translated):


The preface and the preface plus poem are discussed in Rao, Section 3.

9. Loving the qin playing techniques of Qiyan 愛棲巖彈琴聲法
These two poems by Yelü Chucai are in his 湛然居士文集 his Collected Works of Zhanran Jushi. Van Gulik's translation is in Lore, page 78, footnote 171 (transliteration here changed to pinyin). The original poems are,



My translation is under Rao, Section 3

10. Van Gulik's footnote, p.76, explains: "'Wooden sounds' refers to the vibrato and other graces, produced by rubbing the string on the surface of the soundbox...."

11. Van Gulik calls them 弭大 Mita and 萬松 Wansong. His reference is Zhanran Jushi Wenji, Chapter 12, p. 2.

12. Yelü Chucai's poem 彈廣陵散終日而成因賦詩五十韻 Playing Guangling San at Midnight and Writing a Poem in 50 Rhymes (Couplets)
This poem is partially translated and further discussed in Wang Shixiang's article on Guangling San; linked phrases, mostly mentioning section titles, are also discussed in Wang's chart there. The poem's original preface, also shown below, is discussed here by Rao zongyi):

嵇叔夜能作廣陵散。史氏謂叔夜宿華陽事,夜中有鬼神授之.韓皋以爲揚州者,廣陵故地,魏氏之季,毌丘儉輩皆都督揚州,爲司馬懿父子所殺,叔夜痛憤之懷,寫之于琴,以名其曲,言魏之忠臣,散殮于廣陵也,蓋避當時之禍,乃讬于鬼神耳。叔夜自云“靳固其曲,不以傅袁孝尼”。唐乾符間待詔王邀為李山甫鼓之。近代大定間,汴梁留後完顔光祿者,命士人張研一彈之,因請中議大夫張崇爲譜,崇備序此事,渠云:「驗于琴譜,有井裏、別姊、辭鄉、報義、取韓相、投劍之類,皆刺客聶政爲嚴仲子刺殺韓相俠累之事,特無與揚州事相近者。意者叔夜以廣陵名曲,微見其意,而終畏晋禍,其序其聲,假聶政之事爲名耳。韓皋徒知托于鬼物以避難,而不知其序其聲,皆有所讬也。」崇之論似是而非.余以爲叔夜作此曲也,晋尚未受禪,慢商與宮同聲,臣行君道,指司馬懿父子權侔人主,以悟時君也。又序聶政之事,以譏權臣之罪,不啻俠累,安得仗義之士,以誅君側之惡有所激也。不然,則遠引聶政之事,甚無謂也。泰和間,待詔張器之亦彈此曲,每至沉思、峻迹二篇緩彈之,節奏支離, 未盡其善。獨棲嵓老人混而爲一,士大夫服其精妙。其子蘭,亦得棲嵓之遣意焉。

古譜成巨軸,無慮聲千百,大意分五節,四十有四拍。 (These 8 lines, to 神泣, are translated here)
品絃欲終調,六弦一時劃,初訝似破竹,不止如裂帛。 (chart)

This poem has been translated into German by Manfred Dahmer; see Der Lange Regenbogen, Die Solosuite Guanglingsan für Qin; Uelzen, Medinizinisch Literarische Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2009; pp. 150-157.

13. 張器之 Zhang Qizhi (13th c. CE); no further information, except that this was during 1201-1208, and Yelü Chucai's poem identifies Zhang as a Daizhao: Qin Daizhao? See also Rao Zongyi, "Historical Account", p.87.

14. Preface to a Poem about Playing Guangling San (彈廣陵散詩序 Tan Guangling San Shi Xu)
Quoted in Rao Zongyi, Section 3. Van Gulik's footnote, p.76, says, "Yelü Chucai was especially interested in the melody Guangling San...."

15. 耶律鑄 Yelü Zhu (1221 - 1285)
29648.166; Bio/1409. Rao Zongyi discusses a Yelü Shu ( 耶律璹; Bio/xxx); this is apparently the same person.

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