Qin Shi Chubian 6C5: Chen Minzi, Investigation of Qin Tones
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Chapter Six: Song and Yuan dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, p. 118-9

6.C. Qin Essays 2

5. Chen Minzi,3 Qinlü Fawei (Investigation of Qin Tones) 4



Chen Minzi of the Yuan Dynasty was active in the 延祐 Yanyou period (1314 - 1320). His Qinlü Fawei (mentioned in Chapter 6a3), partially included in Qinshu Daquan (see footnote below), includes:

製曲通論 General Discussion of Melody Making,
製曲凡例 General Outline of Melody making,
起調畢曲 Beginning with Mode and Ending with Melody,

and other such parts.

The General Discussion part first summarizes the expressive capabilities of qin melodies, saying that although the earliest qin melodies were "sounds that followed lyrics and concerned meaning", later they stood out independent of the song lyrics "through sound (alone) seeking out the meaning, what was esteemed not residing in the lyrics".5 Moreover, it explained its point of view using as an example the playing by Boya of Gaoshan Liushui. He believed that during the Han and Jin periods,

"because yuefu lyrics were harmonized with strings", it was also the case that "it was common for meaning to rest with the sound, perhaps conveying its circumstances, perhaps revealing its emotions, perhaps giving form to its affairs: what it drew on was not one thing, but all relied on the sound."

(Chen) emphasized that,

"Whatever is used to produce sounds, whether grand or small, better or worse, its change was endless, but qin had this." The way he emphasized the expressive power of the qin was by drawing on the following thesis. "Only gentlemen with full awareness can obtain what is innate to the qin and use this to reveal its beauty."

(By "full awareness" he meant that) only people who understood the rules for creating melodies could then fully bring out the beautiful subtlety of the qin.

(His question,) "What is used to make melodies: how can it be done deliberately in accord with ones desires?", pointed out the important nature of adhering to fixed methods and rules during the creative process.

He also recounted the words of Mr. Xu (i.e., Xu Li),6

"Matters lie in preserving the tones to resemble sound. One mode has five tones; each tone can itself be the primary tone. Causing the primary tone always to overcome the alien sounds, but not go so far as to infringe on other modes or contradict the sounds, this is superlative."

The meaning of this is that when creating a melody one must understand the nature of the mode. This paragraph is the fundamental basis for all of Qinlü Fawei.

The next two sections are General Outline of Melody making,and Beginning with Mode and Ending with Melody. These are based on Xu Li's rationale of, "Causing the primary tone always to overcome the alien sounds, but not going so far as to infringe on other modes", bringing forward a series of specific elaborations. Thus,

"If you use the primary tone to start it at the beginning, then the melody will have a systematic reference; if you use the primary tone to collect it at the end, then the melody will have a final resting place." Otherwise, "they won't look after each other (and) moreover the veins and arteries also cannot function."

He advocated that through the rationale of "the primary tone overcoming alien sounds", the melody needed change and contrast. Thus, for every phrase,

"Each has a summons, a response, a period of rest, solo sound, associated sounds, diverting transformations and unusual mannerisms." Also, coming to changing the mode, "taking the changing tonalities and making the most marvelous ones." But after making use of them," it should also immediately seek a way to return in the direction of the main mode." In this he advocated that changing the mode must adhere to the rationale of "always overcoming alien sounds," and when the opportunity came, "immediately" use techniques to "return to the main mode," thereby preserving the primary status of the main mode.

Chen Minzi emphasized the principle of primary tone and primary mode, just as one does with the fixed, explicit and unified tonal principles of modern composition methods. This is creating qin melodies and thus obtaining plenty of practical experience, then after achieving new levels, devising an appropriate concrete theoretical summary.7

(Continue with next, Zequan Heshang, Jiezou, Zhifa)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Chapter 6 covers these dynasties (dates, capital city [modern name]):

Northern Song (960-1126; Dongjing [Kaifeng])
Liao (907-1125; Dading Fu [Daning?])
Southern Song (1127-1280; Linan Fu [Hangzhou])
Jin (1115-1260; Zhongdu [Beijing])
Yuan (1206-1280-1368; Dadu [Beijing]) (Return)

2. Translation by JT

3. Chen Minzi 陳敏子
Bio/xxx; Chen's article in QQJC V/37 (see next footnote) ends "延祐庚申歲除日立春南豐陳敏子敘 Narrated by Chen Minzi of Nanfeng (eastern central Jiangxi) during the first day of spring (i.e., New Year) Yanyou reign, gengshen year (1320)

4. Investigation of Qin Tones (琴律發微 Qinlü Fawei)
Qinshu Daquan quotes Qinlü Fawei in at least two places.

First, in Folio 2 (QQJC V/37), there is Chen Minzi's Description of Investigation of Qin Tones (陳敏子琴律發微敘述 Chen Minzi Qinlü Fawei Xushu). This description mentions 徐理 Xu Li and his Qin Tones (琴律 Qin Lü), perhaps related to a book attributed to him called Bell Tones (鐘律 Zhong Lü). The essays that follow (QQJC V/37-62) seem related to this. The Description itself begins:


Second, in Folio 11 (QQJC V/213-217), there are six essays that begin "琴律發微云 Qinlü Fawei says". These include the quotes used by Xu Jian.

  1. Five Mode Names from the Jade Tablature (玉譜五調名 Yupu Wudiao Ming, V/213)
  2. Twelve Modes in the Jade Tablature (玉譜十二調 Yupu Shierdiao; V/214)
  3. General Discussion of Melody Making (製曲通論 Zhiqu Tonglun; discussed in QSCB; V/214)
  4. General Outline of Melody making (製曲凡例 Zhiqu Fanli; discussed in QSCB; V/215)
  5. Beginning with Mode and Ending with Melody (起調畢曲 Qidiao Biqu; mentioned in QSCB; V/217)
  6. All the Mode Names from Old Tablature (舊譜諸調名 Jiupu Zhudiaoming; V/217)

After this (V/217) is a brief section on standard modes, then a lengthy one (V/217-221) on non-standard modes; I am not sure if these belong to Qinlü Fawei.

Online references seem to suggest that Qinlü Fawei is included in 中國古代音樂選輯 Zhongguo Gudai Yinyue Xuanji (人民音樂出版社 Renmin Yinyue Chubanshe; 1981). After I find that work perhaps I can be more clear on its scope as well as its relationship to 徐理 Xu Li. The sections mentioned above referring to a 玉譜 Jade Tablature suggest that (in addition to 琴統 Qin Tong) Chen Minzi might have been referring to the 奧音玉譜 Aoyin Yupu attributed to Xu Li.

5. From lines 7 and 8 of 製曲通論﹕緣辭而寓意于聲....于聲而求意,所尚初不在辭

6. This quotation is said to be from Xu Li but I have not located it. The portion quoted here is:
Regarding 勝客, I understand 客 to refer to 客聲: sounds which come in when you don't want them, hence the translation "overcoming alien sounds"

7. 它是琴曲創作取得豐富的實踐經驗,達到新的水平之後,合乎實際的理論總結.

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