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Secluded Orchid, in Stone Tablet Mode
- Jieshi mode2; tuning: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
碣石調幽蘭 1
Jieshi Diao Youlan    
The original You Lan tablature 3    
This melody, about 10 minutes long, is the world's oldest surviving substantial written melody:4 its preface suggests that it dates from at least the 6th century CE. The manuscript copy as preserved in Japan is a scroll over 4 meters long with the tablature written out in longhand; it has been authenticated as dating from at least the 7th century CE.5

In the fourth century Xi Kang wrote a poem praising the beauty of qin. The dating, sophistication and complexity of the present You Lan melody provide strong evidence that Xi Kang was describing music of a tradition recognizable in this melody.6

The title You Lan suggests a flower of such beauty that it stands alone.7 The melody is the earliest of a number of qin melodies on the theme of orchids. Some of these also have the name You Lan.8 Because the most famous orchid story is connected to Confucius, sometimes the same connection is made to any melody with orchids in the title, but most properly the connection to Confucius is with the version called Yi Lan (Flourishing Orchid).9

Also of value is a list of melodies, also apparently made during the Sui or Tang dynasty, appended at the end of the tablature.

At present the You Lan section here consists of:

  1. Secluded Orchid, in Stone Tablet Mode, a General Introduction,
    - includes a translation of the original preface
  2. Modality in Jieshi Diao You Lan
    - some preliminary comments based on direct observation
  3. Xu Jian's study of You Lan
    - translated from his Introductory History of the Qin
  4. A typed and punctuated copy of the original You Lan longhand tablature
    - compare with the original manuscript, now in the Japanese National Museum, Ueno.
  5. The Qin Melody List appended at the end of the original You Lan longhand tablature
    - with transliterations
  6. My You Lan transcription: now online linked together with my .mp3 recording
    - Small numbers in the transcription correspond with Chinese numbers in my computer copy of the original manuscript

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. You Lan references
9411.431 幽蘭 says you lan is "an orchid growing in a secluded valley", "the name of a flower", and "the name of a qin melody". See further details.

In November 1999 a You Lan seminar was held in Tokyo (further). As of October 2016 all 14 papers from the seminar were archived in .pdf format on this Japanese website. Numbers 3, 7 and 9 are in Chinese, the rest in Japanese.

2. Stone Tablet Mode (碣石調 Jieshi Diao
See further.

3. Original You Lan manusript
The above image begins after the preface. For the title 幽蘭第五 see comment. For interpreting the two symbols after 耶臥中指 see further. Various websites have copies of the beginning of the original manuscript. The complete original is online at Japanese eMuseum website.

4. Most ancient music
There are some very minimal texts that seem to be notation from classical Greek times, but attempts to make music from this is extremely speculative. Thus the closest real competitor for antiquity is probably some of the music from China being reconstructed from documents connected to the original gagaku repertoire.

5. Date of the You Lan scroll
There were two early scroll versions of this melody, the one from around 600 CE and a later copy preserved in 彦根 Hikone. Modern commentary on these scrolls seems to begin with their discovery by 荻生徂徠 Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728) shortly before the year 1720. Sorai edited some related manuscripts, leading to confusion about their actual origin. For more on this see Yang, p.111ff.

6. Dating the You Lan style
Claims have been made that a possible creator of the melody as well as lyrics was the 4th century poet Bao Zhao. However, there is no real evidence to support this claim.

7. lan
Though "lan" is almost always translated simply as "orchid", it is not certain how strictly one can define what this character meant in ancient literature. For more on this see Guqin and Orchids

8. Later versions of You Lan
For a list of the later versions of You Lan see Zha Fuxi's index 19/181/--. At present only some preliminary comments are available for the first of these, the version in Xilutang Qintong (1525).

9. Another melody connected to orchids is Xiuxi Yin in Xilutang Qintong (1525) (Return)

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.