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Ancient Lament
Baishi Daoren Gequ (QSCM #109)
- Ceshang mode: 7b 1 2 3 5 6 1 2
Gu Yuan 1
Gu Yuan original tablature 3      

Gu Yuan is included in Songs of the Whitestone Daoist, a work written and apparently published in the middle years of the Southern Song dynasty (1127 - 1280), where it appears together with several other songs not for qin. It is thus the earliest publication of a qin melody to survive in China.4 There is one qin melody preserved in an earlier manuscript, You Lan, but You Lan was preserved in Japan, not China.5

The lyrics and quite likely the music for Gu Yuan were created bu the important southern Song dynasty poet, critic and musician Jiang Kui (c. 1155-1221 CE).6 Jiang, though a native of Poyang, a district on the east side of Poyang Lake in modern Jiangxi province, lived in or near Hanyang in Hubei province from about age 10 to 30, after which he lived in Huzhou, on the south side of Lake Taihu in Zhejiang province (the area is also called Wuxing). Jiang Kui never achieved important office, making a living by selling his calligraphy and getting patronage from wealthy friends.7

The full title of Gu Yuan is usually given as Baishi Daoren Gequ Gu Yuan (Ancient Lament, from Songs of the Whitestone Daoist, 1202 CE).8 The Whitestone Daoist was a nickname of Jiang Kui. He published Gu Yuan not in a qin handbook, but in this general collection called Songs of the Whitestone Daoist, which also has a number of his other songs, all written with other forms of music notation. Specifically, although Gu Yuan was written using a form of qin tablature quite similar to that still used today, many of the other poems were paired with an early form of Chinese relative-pitch solfeggio notation, while the ritual songs were written with lülü notation, which specifies the actual relative pitch.9

Gu Yuan has also been transcribed by Rulan Chao Pian and Lawrence Picken (references). Professor Pian's transcription yields some strange notes because she did not realize that the method of indicating finger positions prior to the Qing dynasty was different from that used today (more under Tuning a Qin); as a result some of her comments on the modality of the melody are incorrect.10 Picken's original review of Pian's book does not mention these errors, but his own later transcription is correct on this point.

In Jiang's tablature the first string is not indicated, as at present, by the character representing the number "1", but by the one for "big". Since the character for "big" is quite similar in appearance to the character for the number "six" this has led to some further confusion. Several notes in my transcription are different from those in Pian and Picken because in several places I have changed "6" to "big", i.e. the first string. I also have a different interpretation of the final cluster in section 1. In the third section the copyist omitted the first cluster, with the result that in some later copies all the remaining notes were misaligned with the lyrics. All transcriptions have corrected this.

The Jin Gu ("Golden Valley") mentioned in the poem is a valley on the northwest side of Luoyang. The wealthy Jin dynasty writer Shi Chong (249-300) had a villa there. Prominent people would gather at Jin Gu for elegant feasts (ya ji?) involving music, art and poetry. In 300 a certain Sun Xiu accused Shi Chong of political intrigue and he was executed. Supposedly Sun Xiu had demanded Shi Chong's wife but Shi Chong refused; after his death the wife committed suicide there.11

The Fen River runs southward through much of Shanxi province, entering the Yellow River about 100 miles northeast of Xi'an at a place once called Fen Yin (South Bank of the Fen). It was an early cradle of Chinese civilization and famous ancient emperors were buried here; here also the Han emperor Wudi (r.141-87) carried out sacrifices to the earth. Later, though, the place became desolate and remote. This inspired the Tang poet Li Jiao (644-713) to write a poem Fen Yin Xing. The last four lines of the poem tell of Fen Yin's change from glory to desolation, the only inhabitants being wild geese awaiting migration; these lines are paraphrased at the end of Jiang Kui's poem.12

Original preface

Music and Lyrics: Four sections (untitled)
Jiang Kui's lyrics can be translated as follows:
13 (timings follow my recording 聽錄音; see also my transcription 五線譜 (.pdf; 3 pp)

1. (00.00; lyrics sung on repeat: 00.2914)
As sun sets, the surrounding mountains are foggy, obscuring the bank ahead.
I am about to tie up my boat but am unable.
I pursue my predecessors, but can't catch up.
I long for those coming later, but where are they? I turn around and look back.

2. (00.59)
No lyrics; the melody, in harmonics, is very similar to that of Section 1

3. (01.24)
As for worldly affairs, which are reliable?
A hand turning (can bring) clouds and rain.
As it passed through
Jin Gu, a flower died, and was put in the earth.
I mourn (that) beautiful woman's sad fate: who was her protector?
How could there be no more of spring?
This handmaid, for herself distressed, awaits sunset, hair about to turn white.

4. (02.05)
Pleasure have been exhausted, (but) grievances are innumerable.
(My qin) strings want to break (because the) sounds are so bitter.
Eyes filled with rivers and mountains, tears moisten my sandals.
My lord does not see that, year after year, on the Fen River, only autumn geese fly away.

End (02.48)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Gu Yuan references
古怨 Gu Yuan 3308.xxx. It was originally published in Songs of the Whitestone Daoist - see further. See also Xu Jian, Qinshi Chubian 6.B.1-7.

2. Ceshang mode (側商調 Ceshang Diao)
From standard tuning lower the 3rd, 4th and 6th strings. The mode gets its name from the fact that the main note (1. i.e. do) is played by the open second string, also called shang. The modal characteristics of the melody are similar to those of surviving early shang mode melodies (see Modes in early Ming qin tablature): the main tonal center is 1, secondary tonal centers are 2 and 5; 3 is sometimes flatted.

3. Gu Yuan original tablature
Reformatted onto 1 page from the original in Songs of the Whitestone Daoist. The complete original tablature is linked. Note that in the last section the first cluster (should be paired with "歡") is missing.

4. Publication of Gu Yuan
Apparently the 1202 edition has not survived: see next footnote. Zha Guide 1/5/4 lists it in two handbooks, here and in 1833 (but see also 1898),

5. Early qin tablature from China
Although the original date given for Songs of the Whitestone Daoist (see further) is 1202, the earliest surviving copies apparently date from the Yuan dynasty. Likewise, the other examples of qin tablature said to have been originally printed in the Song dynasty (Golden Oriole and the other brief modal preludes to be found in Shilin Guangji, plus the modal preludes in Taiyin Daquanji) also survive only in Ming dynasty editions. Meanwhile it seems almost certain that some tablature printed first in the Ming dynasty was copied from Song dynasty original hand copies.

6. Jiang Kui (姜夔 c. 1155-1221 CE)
See Nienhauser, Indiana Companion, p.262ff (Chiang K'uei).

7. 鄱陽 Poyang; 漢陽 Hanyang; 湖洲 Huzhou (Wiki); 吳興 Wuxing.

8. Ancient Lament, from Songs of the Whitestone Daoist (白石道人歌曲古怨 Baishi Daoren Gequ Gu Yuan)
There is detailed discussion the complete book here.

9. Jiang Kui's music: Songs of the Whitestone Daoist (白石道人歌曲 Baishi Daoren Gequ
The further details have been moved here. Pian's book also discusses and transcribes some of the other early qin tablature (but see next footnote).

10. Transcription by Rulan Chao Pian
When writing her book, Prof. Pian apparently did not realize that prior to the late Ming dynasty the tablature instruction "8 9" for a finger position did not mean "8.9", as at present, but "somewhere between 8 and 9", in this case 8.5. (Her mention of "6.9", which would definitely be modern, is a mistake for 6 7 - see the pairing with "傷兮" in the original tablature. She also mentions "7 6", which would also be modern, but I cannot find this position in Gu Yuan. On the other hand she seems to interpret correctly "9 10" [opposite "後" and "淚"], which would be nonsense in the modern system, but was "between 9 and 10" in the old.)

As a result of this misunderstanding her comments on pp.79-80 find some notes "curious" whereas they are quite normal within the pentatonic (or diatonic) system. The earlier method for indicating finger positions is discussed under Tuning a Qin. These mistakes were not corrected in the reprint of Prof. Pian's book.

11. 金谷園 Jingu Yuan, the estate of 石崇 Shi Chong at 金谷 Jin Gu (Golden Valley)
On the northeast side of Luoyang (west of the old city) there seems to be a tourist spot/historical site called variously Golden Valley Garden (金谷園 Jingu Yuan), Valley Garden (谷園 Gu Yuan), and Luoyang Golden Valley Springtime Loveliness (洛陽金谷春晴 Luoyang Jingu Chunjing) that is identified as Shi Chong's Villa (perhaps also called a 別墅 bieshu).

There was also a qin melody called Spring in Jin Gu (金谷春 Jingu Chun) published in Taiyin Xisheng (1625; see QQJC IX/140-143, 12 Sections); it has lyrics throughout, beginning "維太乙之氤氳兮....". It seems to concern peonies (牡丹 mudan), and as yet I have found no connection to Shi Chong in either the preface or the lyrics.

For Shi Chong himself (with mention of the villa) see L.E.R. Picken, A Twelfth-Century Secular Chinese Song in Zither Tablature, Asia Major, Vol.16 (1971), pp.102-120. Also 41049.281 and David Knechtges (trans.) Wen Xuan, III, p.202.

12. 汾陰行 Fen Yin Xing by 李嶠 Li Jiao (644-713)
Picken, op. cit. says emperors were once buried at Fen Yin. There is a discussion of Fenyin Xing in Stephen Owen, The Poetry of the Early Tang, pp.118-121.

13. Tablature and lyrics
The tablature can be found in QQJC I/7-8 (and many other places). The original lyrics are:

一 。


滿目江山兮淚沾屨。                                           (屨 ju [sandal], not 履 [shoe])

14. Singing the lyrics
The tablature does not make it clear whether the lyrics should be sung only on the first playing of the melody, only on the repeat, or sung both times. Since the following passage in harmonics largely follows the original melody, but without lyrics, my tendency is to sing the lyrics only during the repeat of the opening passage.

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