You Lan, Qinshi Chubian 4b1
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Chapter Four: Northern and Southern Dynasties
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp. 42-45

B. Qin Melodies

1. Jieshi Melody You Lan (Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid) 1

The original tablature is a scroll in long-hand tablature hand-copied by someone during the Tang dynasty; at both the front and back of the scroll title is given as Jieshi Diao You Lan. In front of the tablature is a short preface that explains that the tablature had been transmitted from Qiu Ming (493-590). The original document was preserved at the Jinko-In Temple in the Nishigamo section of Kyoto, Japan;3 it is the world's oldest surviving notation for a qin melody.

"Jieshi Diao" (Towering Rock Melody) refers to the melodic structure of the piece; "You Lan" refers to what is expressed by the melody. Jieshi Diao has its source in Ballads of Longxi (East Ditch), a se mode matching song melody (xianghe ge) that was actually a song of the Longxi region.4 Longxi is in what is today the northwest part of the Tianshui region of Gansu province; to its south were the Qiang nationality, to the north were the Xiongnu. The music of the Longxi Ballad perhaps drew on the musical styles of those minority ethnic groups.5

This melody (Longxi Ballad) was used to accompany the matching song Walking Out of Summer Gate Ballad,6 as well as the four songs by Cao Cao (155-220): 7

  1. Looking at the Sea (from Jieshi Mountain)
  2. The Cold Tenth Month
  3. The Soil is Different
  4. Although Turtles Have a Long Life. 8
The first two lines of Cao Cao's poem Looking at the Sea are, "In the east I approached Towering Rock, and thus could see the Green Sea." As a result one can also take these four poems together and call them a Jieshi Compilation, and thus Longxi Ballad has become a Jieshi Melody.9

Coming to the Jin dynasty (265-420),10 this (Jieshi) melody also found use as a dance tune (see YFSJ, Folio 54, in particular for Jin period songs to accompany dance10). The Music Annals in the History of the Southern Qi Dynasty (479-502) say, "Jieshi, a poem by the Wu emperor of the Wei dynasty (Cao Cao), was used during the Jin for the Jieshi Dance. Its lyrics are in four zhang." The so-called lyrics in four zhang are precisely the four songs attributed to Cao Cao. Among the matching songs the four sections were called four jie; in qin melodies these are called four pai.11 In the surviving Jieshi Diao You Lan tablature, at the end of each pai the words are written out "pai ends", or "pai ends, big rest". Altogether this happens in four places, so this is exactly four pai, and one can see that this originated in the ancient matching song. The (Five Jin) Song Poems to Accompany Dance in Yuefu Shiji introduce five pian (segments) accompanying dance during the Jin dynasty. Jieshi is one of these.12 (After listing the five) it adds, "The Qi state pared down many old lyrics, and gave them names according to the melodies." This Jieshi Melody got its name exactly because it carried on a tradition from the Wei and Jin periods.

Jieshi Melody You Lan is thus one of the jieshi melodies, now revised and filled in using You Lan as the theme for the lyrics, acting like the Song ci that still preserves the name of old poetic forms.13 And now, who was it that wrote this song with You Lan lyrics? As one can see in the Qin Song Lyrics section of Yuefu Shiji, there is more than one qin song given this name; from Confucius to Han Yu (768-824) and so forth they all (?) wrote songs on You Lan theme, but before the Wei and Jin periods no one called them by the name Jieshi Melody. After the Sui and Tang dynasties they basically also did not again use this title. It is only Bao Zhao of the Liu Song (420-479) period; not only is this the period closest (to You Lan's publication), but its content and structure are both rather close. Therefore the most likely (lyrics for You Lan) are his composition.

Bao Zhao14 (414?-466) was an outstanding poet of the Northern and Southern dynasties period. His output of more than 200 poems contains more than 80 Yuefu song lyrics, including Lyrics to Accompany Dance and Lyrics for Qin Melodies; his composition You Lan is one of the Lyrics for Qin Melodies.

During his whole life Bao Zhao suffered from attacks and discrimination by families of power and influence. His works are filled with grievances about unfulfilled dreams and moody thoughts resenting inequality. (His poem) You Lan also has such poetic phrases as, "Not knowing when flowers will stop falling, sitting in empty sadness confronting errors"; and "Long sleeves suddenly quiver, a team of four horses stops at a fork in the road." (Such phrases) reveal these sorts of emotions.

The tablature for the qin composition Jieshi Melody You Lan has a preface that says, "Its subtle sounds have lofty goals," and the short note after the tablature says, "This melody is relaxed; there is ebb and flow in playing it." So one must emphasize its being "relaxed" and "subtle", if only in order to more profoundly express its hidden sadness and restrain the melody's emotions. In each of the first, second and third sections of the melody, just before the conclusion, there is a phrase with a very similar melodic line, and that contains a summary of the meaning of the whole section. It causes the mood of grievous indignation plus emotional sighing to reach its peak in that section. For example here is that sort of phrase as expressed in the first section: 15

          232 3 5 / 7 6 5 / 5 /

Coming to the second and third sections, this is developed, doing more to deepen its expression. Especially under the serious oppressive restraint he profoundly sighs, causing people to feel very deep emotions:16

          7 23 / 4# 5 / 7 6 / 55

Comparing Bao Zhao's You Lan to the Yi Lan Cao, Qin Cao said Confucius "himself was aggrieved because he did not live in an appropriate time; so he borrowed words about the orchid," their moods have similarities, and so when the person of the Tang period copied the (You Lan) tablature he printed in the heading the words "also called Yi Lan".17 However, the existing qin melodies called Jieshi Melody You Lan and those called Yi Lan have few musical similarities. One should say they are two creations from two different periods and are not concerned with each other. (Yi Lan) is an imitation by a later person who borrowed Confucius name, and one should not confuse things by talking about it together with the Jieshi Melody You Lan.

The preface to the tablature puts emphasis on introducing the circumstances of Qiu Ming. It says, "he was native of Kuai Ji. At the end of the Liang Dynasty (502-557) he became a recluse in the Jiuyi Mountains (at the southern edge of the old state of Chu), and was very good at the melodies of Chu. As for the melody You Lan, he was exceptionally skilled." It also says that it wasn't until the year before he died that he transmitted You Lan to Wang Shuming of Yidu. When (Qiu) died in 590 at Danyang he was 97 years old. The preface also says nothing about any connection between the melody and Confucius. This proves that You Lan and Yi Lan are not the same qin melody. It seems that Qiu Ming's life was all spent moving around the south, so he was "good at the melodies of Chu". However, the melody You Lan should not be included amongst melodies of Chu.

The musical styles of You Lan and of the Chu melody Guangling San18 have very few similarities; whether in the musical structure or in the type of scale, both are completely different. For example (You Lan) uses the notes 7, 3, 4# and 4 in its melody, and so forth (see table). These special points give it a similarity to the qin melody Xiao Hujia.19 It seems that (You Lan) is music from Longxi in the north as transmitted to the south, and so it displays some connections the music of ethnic groups in the north.

The tablature style of You Lan is very old, preserving the original longhand tablature written method in which each musical note usually needs to use several characters for clear representation. Using longhand tablature you write out which finger of the left hand is placed on which string in which position, and thus strictly determine the pitch and color; and the right hand's stroke techniques and method of play are indicated so as to give an indication of how rhythmic notes and grace notes are played. Looking at it today, this method of writing tablature seems naturally vexing, but for those days it was the most advanced method. It rather accurately and precisely recorded the progress of the melody. Many qin pieces are dependent on (the modern version of that tablature) for their preservation, and other music pieces because they didn't have such a way of being written down are all lost.

Cao Rou20 and others like him during the Tang dynasty began simplifying this longhand tablature, which came to be called shorthand tablature. For example (the 14 characters used to describe) "the left thumb placed on the seventh position of the fifth string while the right index finger plucks the fifth string outwards" can be expressed in one cluster (shown). Most existing qin tablature is written using this shorthand tablature. The only exception is the Jieshi Melody You Lan. It is the ancestor of shorthand tablature, having great historical value.21

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 碣石調•幽蘭 Jieshi Diao•You Lan (in 許健,琴史初編,北京,人名音樂出版社, 1982, pp.42-45).
In English this should be Towering Rock Melody/Mode • Secluded Orchid. Xu Jian's separation of the two parts of the title with "•" shows that he considers them separate. Further on these two parts,

  1. 幽蘭 You Lan: the translation as Secluded Orchid is quite straightforward, though it is also rendered as Solitary Orchid, Hidden Orchid, and so forth (one might also argue about whether the 蘭 lan of that time is refers to what today we call and orchid).
  2. 碣石調 Jieshi Diao is more complicated. "Diao" can mean either mode or melody. In this chapter it is translated as melody because Xu Jian is making the argument that although the lyrics may be lost, You Lan was once a song set to an old melody called the Jieshi Melody. In fact, although the relationship between Jieshi Diao and You Lan is not at all clear, it does seem much more likely that the influence is melodic than that Jieshi was actually a musical mode. As for Jieshi it has received various translations, depending perhaps on whether it is considered a mode name, a special place name, or a generic place name. This and the translation as "Towering Rock", or "Towering Rock Mountain", are discussed further here.

Although it is probably true that these are separate components, this translation usually writes either Jieshi Diao You Lan or Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid: we have no way to know if there were melodically related versions of the title known simply as You Lan or Such-and-such You Lan. On the other hand, You Lan or Secluded Orchid may be used by itself if it is clear that the reference is to the present version, or it is clear that it is not.

There is further discussion of the melody and its titles under The Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid: .

3. 京都,西賀茂,神光院 Jinko-in
Located up the slope on the east side of Kyoto; now it is a nunnery and the tablature has been moved to the Japan National Museum, Ueno.

4. 42837.9 隴西行,樂府瑟調曲名,一曰步出夏門行。 "Longxi Ballad, a Music Bureau melody in se mode; the same as Walking Out of Summer Gate Ballad." Lyrics for 11 poems named Longxi Xing can be found in 樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji (Music Bureau Poem Collection, hereafter YFSJ), pp.542-545. These are followed by two sets called Bu Chu Xia Men Xing (see next footnote). All of this is in the 相和歌 Xianghe Ge (Matching Songs) section of YFSJ.

5. Minorities music
A claim perhaps based on the many non-pentatonic notes.

6. Walking out of Summer Gate Ballad
16621.18 步出夏門行 Bu Chu Xia Men Xing: "The name of a se mode melody in the 樂府 Yue Fu (Music Bureau of the Han dynasty); old lyrics, both the Wu and Ming emperors of Wei had it; it is the same as Longxi Xing." The Longxi Ballads begin in YFSJ, p.542. These ballads then apparently include Bu Chu Xia Men Xing (see YFSJ, p.545. Then on pp. 545/6, right after the 11 abovementioned poems named Longxi Xing, are a set called Bu Chu Xia Men Xing. The first of these (a 古辭 beginning 邪徑過空廬...) is structured [5+5] x 7. The next is a preamble plus a set of four poems attributed to Cao Cao. These seem to be the same four poems found in the YFSJ Dance Section under the name Jieshi Pian, but I cannot figure out the reason they are in both places).

7. Cao Cao 曹操
Cao Cao established the Wei Dynasty (220-265; in north China, with its capital at Luoyang); he was posthumously called its Martial Emperor (Wu Di); the four melodies attributed to him (as in the previous footnote) are 觀滄海 Guan Cang Hai, 冬十月 Dong Shiyue, 土不同 Tu Butong, and 龜雖壽 Gui Sui Shou. See YFSJ p.790 (in Lyrics for Dance, Section 3). This establishes the connection of the title Jieshi Pian with the earlier Longxi Xing, but says nothing about the music. The many Longxi Xing seem to have a variety of structures.

The first two lines of the quoted poem, 觀滄海 Looking at the Ocean, are:
The full text and translations are linked here.

8. 晉代 Jin Period: Eastern Jin 265-317; Western Jin 317-420
The Jin dynasty (Wiki), with its capital in Luoyang then later Chang'an (Xi'an) was led by the Sima clan. They took over from the Wei in Luoyang after overthrowing Cao Huan, a grandson of Cao Cao. Regarding You Lan, during the Wei and Jin periods, note that Xu Jian, in Chapter 3.A. (see p. 28), quotes Qin Tan as saying that it was in fact composed by Zuo Si. Zuo Si does mention you lan in his poem Zhao Yin, but not as a melody title.

9. Longxi Ballad has become a Jieshi melody
The meaning of this is unclear.

10. Jin period Songs to Accompany Dance 晉拂舞歌(詩) Jin Fuwu Ge
See in YFSJ, starting p.788

11. Sections
The terms include:

Bao Zhao also had four poems on You Lan and it is not clear which Xu Jian which considers more revelant, the You Lan poems or the Jieshi poems.

12. YFSJ p.788, as above.

13. Translator's note: the names given Song ci poems are generally not new ones based on content but the names of the old songs whose syllabic structures they copied. It is quite fanciful of Xu Jian to suggest that You Lan was created in this way. The connection with Bao Zhao's poem also seems quite a stretch. For example, Bao Zhao's You Lan lyrics have been set to a version of the Yi Lan published in the Ming dynasty, a melody that Xu Jian says has no connection to You Lan.

14. See Yuefu Shiji Poets, Bao Zhao.

15. Music example 1
Xu Jian's version is in staff notation; in the modified form of Chinese number notation used here, rhythm can only be hinted at, slides are shown by underlining, and lower octave notes are shown in bold. In the original this passage is Section I, phrase 13 and the beginning of 14 (measures 55-57 in my transcription). The first 5 should actually be 4#.

16. Music examples 2
In the original these passages are Section II, beginning of phrase 17 (my transcription measures 204/5) and Section III, beginning of phrase 7 (measures 300/1); they are almost identical, but the 7 at the beginning of both repetitions seems to be something added by Xu Jian.

These two are almost idenitcal to Music example 1. As can be seen in measures 55/6, the first begin with a few notes and a slide up to F# while in the second and third the slide was up to G. Then all of them have a passage that works its way up over few measures through G to A and then to the main note of the piece, C. The end of Section 4 (my transcription beginning at measures 359) is different, with its own method of working its way to C.

In general one can interpret the end of each of the four sections as working its way to a goal: C, the main note of the piece. Perhaps this is what Xu Jian is referring to when he suggests the music is working towards a peak.

17. For Confucius' quote see the preface to 猗蘭 Yi Lan in Shen Qi Mi Pu. The similar melody in Taigu Yiyin is called 漪蘭操 Yi Lan Cao, while the title mentioned here is 倚蘭 Yi Lan.

18. Discussed by Xu Jian in Chapter 3, Wei Jin periods.

19. Discussed by Xu Jian in Chapter 5, Sui Tang period.

20. 曹柔 Cao Rou (14626.xx;
The earliest comment on the development of tablature seems to be a section called Written Tablature in Taigu Yiyin. QSCM, #33 is Cao Rou's 減字指法 Jianzi Zhifa; see also 烏絲闌指法釋 See Wusilan Zhifa Shi, 27b. 三). Xu Jian discusses the development of shorthand tablature in 5.III-1 (p.76); the general opinion is that Cao Rou was one of the earliest but 趙耶利 Zhao Yeli (565-639) really developed it.

Cao Rou is credited with having written:


This is quoted with some finger explanations, such as the ones in Wuyin Qinpu (see QQJC IV/191 and comment).

21. In fact another example of longhand tablature was published in 1557, Caoman Yin. Quite possibly that was a newly written piece consciously using an old style (see also Xianweng Cao).

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