Qinshi Chubian 4b2: Wu Ye Ti
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Chapter Four: Northern and Southern Dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp. 45-49

B. Qin Melodies (continued2)

2. Wu Ye Ti 3

(Note: Today Wu Ye Ti is quite widely played, but Xu Jian says little about how the surviving versions might be musically connected to any melodies as played in the Tang dynasty or earlier. Most of his commentary concerns the Wu Ye Ti lyrics in Yuefu Shiji. In this he does not begin by discussing the lyrics in Folio 60, part of the qin melody section.4 Instead he begins by discussing some of the commentary and lyrics included with the Wu Ye Ti in Folio 47. YFSJ Folios 44-51 are Qingshang Quci [Songs in the Qingshang Mode5], divided into Wusheng Ge [Songs of Wu, Folios 44-47/16], Xiqu Ge [Western Tunes, Folios 47/2-97] and Jiangnan Nong [Melodies of Jiangnan, Folios 50-518]. The second part of Folio 47 has 21 Xiqu Ge called Wu Ye Ti.9)

This was originally one of the Xiqu Ge of Qingshang music:10

"Xiqu Ge came from the regions of Jing (i.e. Chu), Ying (Chu capital), Fan (in northwest Henan), and Deng (in Hubei). Their sound, rhythm, conclusions, and choruses all differ from those of Wu songs; thus it was because of their local style that they were called "Xiqu".

This paragraph was found in Gujin Yuelu, which book also pointed out that Wu Ye Ti was one of 34 Xiqu Ge at the time.11 The (anonymous lyrics that open this section12) consist of eight poems that generally express the longing of a woman whose lover has left home for a long journey. The songs use the raven as a metaphor, such as "The raven desires to fly" (beginning of #5) or "cry out until dawn" (end of #5). At the conclusion of each section there is a common chorus, the lyrics to which are:13

Every evening I look for my gentleman to come, the raven calls at night,
He knocks at my window, but the window cannot be opened.

This is the reason that the song is named Wu Ye Ti. It is also a relatively large-scale dance melody, as "Wu Ye Ti was an old dance for 16 people." (Gujin Yuelu14); it was also a rather formal dance. Among the multiple instruments that accompany this dance song, one was the qin, so its melody has been passed down as qin melody.15

Over the years, there have been many poems about Wu Ye Ti; there are over ten in Yuefu Shiji alone. Through these poems one can examine the spread of Wu Ye Ti. As Emperor Jianwen of Liang wrote in his homonymous poem,16

"One sounds the string and plucks for the unique sound,
and picks the qin to create a melody distinct from others."

Also, Liu Xiaochuo wrote,17

The plaintive sound of the strings has stopped; for now no more playing "Departed Crane".
Now there is "Calling Raven Melody"; they each fly off in different directions.

This indicates that (the raven melody) was a very distinctive melody qin piece. As for what Yu Xin said (#1, line 1),18

The excited and dense sounds are unlike those of Zi-Ye, while the singing and dancing differ from Qian Xi."

This emphasizes that (Wu Ye Ti) was a dance song distinct from other Wu-Sound dance songs. From this one can see that at the time qin melodies coexisted with dance songs.19

Based on poetry on the theme of Wu Ye Ti, one can see that the poets' understanding of the piece often varies based on the time and the individual. Liu Xiaochuo of the Liang dynasty said (line 3), "The actress resents being alone, as the libertine has not returned"; this is the content of a type of love song. Yu Xin's (Poem 1, line 2), "Where is a resting place at the end of Luoyang?" seizes the subject to express his concern during the troubled times during the Northern dynasty. In the Tang dynasty Li Bai uses it again as a love song, but others like Yang Juyuan, who has phrases such as (line 3) "life is inconstant" and (line 2) "like floating water lilies"; Gu Kuang's (#1, line 3) "up in the heavens", (#1, line 4) "beautiful night", Li Qunyu's (line 8) "Mother and son parting", Bai Juyi's (line 1) "Sojourning in danger", Wang Jian's (line 3) "one does not part from his old resting place", and so forth, all express something else through the subject. This phenomenon illuminates our understanding of the content of surviving qin melodies, as it tells us it is not necessary to limit ourselves to traditional interpretations.

Current explanations of Wu Ye Ti tablature mostly follow the claim in the Tang-dynasty Yuefu Guti Yaojie,20 asserting that it was written by Liu Yiqing, Prince Linchuan from the Liu Song Period. The content is: Liu Yikang, Prince of Pengcheng, was suspected by the emperor and was very afraid. At night, he heard the cry of a raven, a good omen. Sure enough, he was pardoned the next day. This explanation is spread widely and almost all attempts to interpret the melody refer to it. Yet it is not credible. First of all, Guo Maoqian, who referred to it, raised concern in Yuefu Shiji (q.v.): "The lyrics transmitted here were probably not originally expressed by Liu Yiqing." He believed that the content of the folk song lyrics contradicted the story that Liu Yiqing wrote the song. Later, Zhu Quan, while referencing it in Shen Qi Mi Pu, also said,

The tune which the Linchuan prince wrote belongs in the old Yue Fu, and was not actually a qin melody; (adding: but perhaps the one in Yue Fu and the qin melody illustrated the same ideas.)

Zhu was making a distinction between the qin melody and the old Yue Fu. In fact, it is not even certain that the latter was written by Liu Yiqing. Liu Yiqing served as regional inspector (cishi) for as long as eight years at Jingzhou, where Xiqu songs originated. Although it is possible that a folk song called Wu Ye Ti was adapted into Qingshang music and used to accompany song and dance, one cannot thus conclude that it is the work of Liu Yiqing.

The expressive content of the qin melody Wu Ye Ti has changed through the course of history. During the Northern and Southern dynasties, it maintained content that was consistent with traditional folk songs. Based on surviving tablature, however, this content has since changed. It departed from the original love theme and put more emphasis on a description of the raven's cry. Shen Qi Mi Pu (did not21) include it in Folio I, Most Ancient Celestial Airs, (and yet) it is generally considered to have kept traditional tablature styles from the Song dynasty. In this tablature, there are many contracted indicators, used in the way the "$" symbol is used in number notation.22 Wherever there is a repeated passage, the tablature uses text to indicate it (see details). Thus, some parts of the melody are titled "moon-bright" or "scattered-stars" to illustrate the night scenery, thus providing setting to the crying raven's environment. Other parts use "flying-south" or "return-feed" to describe the relationship between the mother raven and her child raven. The seventh section uses the short title "fight over the nest", which describes the scene of many birds flying about fighting over the nest. In tablature from the Qing dynasty, there are many developments and change, but its general structure remains the same and so did the explanation of the melody, much like in Ming dynasty. For example, The explanation in Wuzhizhai Qinpu says, "its sound is thin, small, and harmonious. It is pierced by sentiment and rounded like a bird call (嚶囀 yingzhuan)."23 Here the word yingzhuan refers to the sound of a raven's cry, thus its understanding of the melody still stems from the title itself.

Purely to use the raven's night cry as content for a melody has the simplicity of folk art. It is unrelated to Prince Linchuan's affairs and departs from the love theme, replacing them with the intimate relationship between a mother bird and a baby bird. The people have long appreciated the phenomenon of a child bird feeding its mother. This and the existence of expressions like "loving a home and its ravens" (i.e., everyone and everything that comes with it24) make it very understandable to use the raven as the main subject of a melody.

(Musical analysis of Wu Ye Ti)

The Qinchuan (i.e., Yushan) school of the late Ming dynasty rejected the agitated nature of this melody, as with Zhi Zhao Fei, and excluded it from Songxianguan Qinpu.25 However, at least 28 surviving handbooks (33 between 1425 and 1910) have printed this melody, which was still played until recent times, indicating its artistic vitality. Its artistic success will be analyzed here based on the melody from Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802) as played by Mr. Guan Pinghu.26

The whole melody has ten sections: the first, second, and third sections gradually lead into the mood of the melody; the sixth, seventh, and eighth into the climax; the ninth and tenth sections into conclusion.

The beginning of the melody uses a slow and steady tune in harmonics to describe the bright-mooned, sparse-starred, quiet and peaceful night. The Ming dynasty melody Liangxiao Yin begins with exactly the same tune, indicating that it had become a typical way to describe a night scene. This tune is below:

(First staff notation example, not yet online; [GQQJ I/71-1] it is rather different from the 1425 version [see my transcription])

The theme of the baby crows fighting over the nest is emphasized throughout the entire melody. A vivacious, bouncing motif gives the impression of a baby crow that is full of vigor. It first appears in a short, primitive form in the first section:

(Second staff notation example, "baby crow motif", not yet online [GQQJ I/71-3, beginning on 3rd measure]; this passage on sol and do seems to correspond to one in 1425 on sol and ti [my transcription, mm.7-11])

Based on this, the third section develops its opening and closing:

(Third staff notation example, not yet online [GQQJ I/72-2]; very different from 1425 [my transcription, m. 45ff and then m.98ff]. Both 1802 and 1425 start by going from mi la harmonics to stopped sounds centered on do [is this the "opening" and "closing"?], but then 1810 ends with a passage unrelated to any I find in 1425.)

In the sixth section (this passage) reappears with changes (compare my transcription, mm. 172 - 180?). In the seventh section, the closing is developed and a bustling atmosphere of fighting over the nest forms (compare my mm.225ff). The eighth section develops the opening, with elaborate harmonics (a 華彩 "cadenza"?), resulting in a joyful climax (in the ninth and tenth sections?).

In contrast to the motif of baby crows fighting over the nest, there exists a deep and stable motif, played with low, slow stopped sounds, that illustrates the warm and kind personality of the mother crow. This motif first appears several times in the second section with the basic form:

(Fourth staff notation example, "mother crow motif", not yet online [GQQJ I/71-7]; it goes from la to mi then back to la. I cannot find a comparable motif in 1425)

A similar motif appears in the fourth (from 3rd bar and from 8th bar), fifth (from 8th bar), ninth (from 20th bar; see also 15th) and tenth (from 2nd bar) sections. It appears alternately with the baby-crow motif, gradually driving forward the melody with sharp contrast. The last two sections, in order to move into a conclusion, both begin with the finger technique called "da yuan (hit around in a circle)" to form the trend towards "ru man(slowing down", written with the da yuan in Section 10). Most sections end with the main note yu, as this is clearly a yu-mode piece.

Lastly, let us summarily compare and contrast the similarities and differences between old and new tablature. Old tablature refers to the Wu Ye Ti from Shen Qi Mi Pu (AD 1425). It originated from before the Song dynasty and maintains more original features. New tablature refers to the Wu Ye Ti from the just-introduced Ziyuantang Qinpu (AD 1802), as played by modern qin musician Mr. Guan Pinghu. The two were over four hundred years apart; in such a long period, how did this melody develop and change, and what original materials did it keep? Examining the basic structure, the two are identical. The motif of baby crows fighting over the nest is also largely the same. In the Ming-dynasty tablature, it appears in the first, second, fifth and seventh sections, and reaches the climax in the seventh section. The last two sections are respectively marked "jian man (gradually slower)" and "ru man (slowing down)", leading to the conclusion. The difference only exists in repetitions, as the Ming version re-uses entire segments and phrases without any change, whereas the Qing version has a change every time and the abbreviation symbols often used in old tablature could not be used. Another difference is that the motif of the mother crow is simpler with few sliding sounds (see my comment above). Also, the old tablature has more "chang suo (long chains, repeating the same note)" finger techniques, maintaining the characteristic of focusing on right-hand plucking (rather than left-hand sliding). One can thus see that the differences are mainly restricted to style and extent of refinement, and do not affect the ancestral relationship.

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. The period covered is roughly 420- 589 CE.

2. Initial translation by 金秋雨 Jin Qiuyu

3. See in <1491 as well as in 1425.

4. It is not clear why the qin melody story does not come from the qin melody section.

5. Qingshang Quci (清商楚辭 Songs in the Qingshang Mode)
See 樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji, Folios 44-51. Here Xu Jian specifically discusses Qingshang Music (清商樂Qingshang Yue). In Yuefu Shiji the Qingshang Geci are divided into

  1. 吳聲歌曲 (Wu Sheng Gequ, 4 sections)
  2. 西曲歌 (Xiqu Ge, 3 sections)
  3. 江南弄 (Jiangnan Nong, 3 sections)

Liang Mingyue (Music of the Billion, p. 89), says,

"The main genre of Han Chinese music surviving in China was known as qingshang music, which was descendant of the northern Han "Harmonious Song" or xianghege genre. Qingshang music actually represented a stylistic synthesis of the older northern style with elements of the south central native music style."

YFSJ, Folios 26 - 43 are Xiangge Ge lyrics.

6. Wusheng Ge (吳聲歌 Songs of Wu)
These are included in Yuefu Shiji, Folios 44-47/1. As mentioned in the previous footnote, Qingshang Quci are presented in three divisions. However, Liang Mingyue (op.cit., pp. 89-90) mentiones only two of them:

There were two known locales for southern song styles: the wu songs were centered at Nanjing and the xiqu songs were known in Hubei province. The early form of the wu song was in a solo monophonic style called tuge. In its later form the wu song was accompanied by stringed and wind snstruments, which may have been influenced by the instrumental accompaniment of xianghege. Although we have no musical example of the wu song, the surviving song texts contain love themes and indicate that the music was organized into six sections called liubian (six variants). There is a possibility that a type of theme and variation form was practised.

7. Xiqu Ge (西曲歌 Western Tunes)
These are included in Yuefu Shiji, Folios 47/2 - 51 after Wusheng Gequ and before Jiangnan Nong. Of these "Western tunes" Liang Mingyue (op.cit., p. 90) says,

The xiqu songs from Hubei province are boat songs or river songs that reflect lifestyle in a fishing community. The themese are mostly of love, especially departed lovers. Here again no music survives but the texts cotain a responsorial manner, similar to a dialogue between male and female, which could have been musically correlated to an A-B binary melodic style.

The Xiqu Ge include about 45 titles, of which Wu Ye Ti is the second.

8. Jiangnan Nong 江南弄
3 sections; these seems to be considered a subset of, or offshoot from, Xiqu Ge.

9. 21 poems called Wu Ye Ti
These are included in YFSJ as Xiqu Ge A (see also Wu Ye Ti).

10. 古今樂錄 Gujin Yuelu quote from YFSJ, p.689
西曲歌出於荊、郢、樊、鄧之間,而其聲、節、送、和於吳歌亦異,故囗其方俗而謂之西曲云。 Fan is in northwest Henan (15796:河南省濟源縣東南), which does not correspond with the description by Liang.

11. 古今樂錄 Gujin Yuelu lists all 34 Xiqu Ge titles. It then names 16 that were dance tunes, 15 that were Accompanying Songs (Yi Ge 倚歌 784.84 古今樂錄﹕青楊陽度、倚歌、凡倚歌番用鈴鼓、無絃有吹), then two more that were also 倚歌 Yi Ge.

12. Wu Ye Ti Eight Songs 烏夜啼八曲
This actually refers to the eight sets of anonymous Wu Ye Ti lyrics that come after the opening commentary to this section. After these 8 sets (each is 5x4) there are 13 more poems by 11 named poets.

13. Raven refrain
Xu Jian's suggestion of a refrain seems to be based on the commentary in 唐書,樂志 Music Annals of Tang History. The commentary begins with an explanation of Wu Ye Ti that is almost identical to that of Wu Ye Ti in Shen Qi Mi Pu, but then adds to this (q.v.) that "故其和云,「夜夜望郎來,(烏夜啼,)籠窗窗不開」。 And so it has a refrain that says, 'Every evening I look for my gentleman to come, (the raven cries at night,) he knocks at my window, but the window cannot be opened.'" (The middle phrase, "烏夜啼 the raven cries at night", is included in some versions). See the translation of this passage under Wu Ye Ti.

14. 《古今樂錄》曰﹕「烏夜啼,舊舞十六人。」 See last line of p. 690 of YFSJ Gujin Yuelu

15. I have no idea were Xu Jian got the information that one of the instruments for this ensemble was a qin, or how he came to the conclusion that this establishes a connection to the surviving qin melody.

16. 鳴弦撥捩發初異,挑琴欲吹眾曲珠。
The complete poem by 梁,簡文帝 Emperor Jianwen of Liang is the first one after the eight anonymous lyrics (YFSJ, p. 691, end).

17. The poem by 劉孝綽 Liu Xiaochuo is the first one on YFSJ, p. 692. The complete poem is,

In YFSJ the first character is written 昆+鳥 kun: jungle fowl (48008 kun = 48084 鶤雞 yiji).
  48008.2 [昆鳥]絃 kunxian: qin strings, because the sound imitates the sad call of the 鶤雞 jungle fowl.
鶴操 12/1153﹕指《別鵠操》. He Cao refers to (the melody) Bie Gu Cao
In some versions 徽 is written 揮 (6/776#11 頭通徽); other definitions there include "play guqin"
In some versions 《啼烏曲》 is written 《烏夜曲》。

18. 促柱繁絃非《子夜》,歌聲舞態異《前溪》。 See also the complete poem by 庾信 Yu Xin.
促柱 cuzhu 698.19: 急絃 "hurried strings"
繁絃 fanxian 28489.64 謂琴音繁密急促 dense and fast qin sounds
前溪 Qian Xi 2025.228 樂府名,見前溪曲。 Qian Xi Ge are Yue Fu songs; lyrics can be found on pp. 657-8, in Folio 45 after the Zi-Ye lyrics.

19. 琴曲和歌舞是並存的。 "Coexisted" seems like a way of suggesting that some qin melodies might have been used as dance songs without actually coming out and stating this.

20. 樂府古題要解. This must refer in general to the introductions in Yuefu Shiji. Here the story is introduced, as it is in SQMP, as from the Music Record of the Tang Annals.

21. Wu Ye Ti does have some of the archaic clusters described by Xu Jian, but in Shen Qi Mi Pu t is actually the last melody in Folio II, Xiawai Shenpin (Celestial Airs from Beyond the Rozy Haze).

22. 在這個傳譜中有許多省寫的代號,如同簡譜中用「$」的符號那樣
...contracted indicators, used in the way the "$" symbol is used in number notation.
This seems to refer to the characters such as "月-明 moon-bright" described in the following sentences.

23. 其音細小而和,感慨而透,嚶囀而圓也。

24. 7/634 愛屋及烏 ai wu ji wu: 謂愛其人而推愛及與之有關的人或物。 From 語本《尚書大傳》.

25. Criticism of Wu Ye Ti and Zhi Zhao Fei
Although Xu Jian writes that the "琴川派嫌此曲的音調急促" Qinchuan school rejected the agitated nature of this melody", he does not quote a source. Also, although in his commentary on Zhi Zhao Fei he stated even more specifically that "《松絃館琴譜》的編錄者卻嫌它節奏急促 an editor of Songxianguan Qinpu (1614; QQJC VIII/69ff) rejected its agitated rhythm", he once again does not give a specific reference, and as yet I have been unable to find such a comment in Songxianguan Qinpu about either Wu Ye Ti or Zhi Zhao Fei. Related to this, both melodies are included in Songxianguan Qinpu's successor handbook, Dahuange Qinpu (1670; QQJC X/291ff and 408); a comment there about Zhi Zhao Fei (QQJC X/408 or Zha Guide, p. 313/69) says the writer learned the melody from Chen Aitong, but he 不欲漫傳於世,因留譜焉 did not want casually to pass it on to society, so he was just passing on the tablature (which people should follow carefully). Perhaps this comment was intended to apply also to Wu Ye Ti.

26. Analysis of Wu Ye Ti in Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802)
As Xu Jian shows at the end of this analysis, the 1802 version is clearly related to the earliest Ming dynasty version. However, it is sufficiently different to make a strange choice for analyzing what is purportedly Tang dynasty music. There is a published transcription of the recording by Guan Pinghu:

Guqin Quji, Vol. I, pp. 71-78.
References here to this transcription are written: GQQJ I/71-1, the latter number meaning line 1.

This transcription gives the string tuning as C D F G A C D; since the relative tuning is clearly 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 (the melody is in yu mode, which has 6 as the tonal center), this makes D the tonal center. In discussing Xu Jian's analysis I make reference to my own transcription from 1425:

Shen Qi Mi Pu: The Transcriptions, II/129-137
References here to this transcription are to measure number: e.g., "my transcription, m.1.

In my own transcription I use staff notation like Chinese number notation; thus for yu mode 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 becomes G A C D E F G. In the yu mode tonal centers are mainly la, secondarily mi, sometimes switching to do, secondarily sol. This also seems to be true of the 1802 version.

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