Guangling San
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02. Guangling Melody 1
- Manshang tuning:2 1 1 4 5 6 1 2
Guangling San
Xi Kang about to die 3 (full image)        
The surviving qin melody Guangling San (san-type melody4 from Guangling5) is one of the grandest of ancient melodies. Based on its earliest surviving printing (1425 CE), interpretations of which average about 20 minutes in length, it is a very complex, virtuosic piece that almost certinly survives largely in its current form since at least the 12th century, with much of it also almost certainly dating from centuries earlier.

For centuries it has been most commonly attributed to the famous essayist and poet Xi Kang (223 - 262). Even more speculatively, some have argued that the origins of the melody may actually go back to the Han dynasty or earlier.6 But much about the origins of the melody remain very speculative.

Likewise, although the story connected to the melody has consistenly been a sympathetic account of the commoner Nie Zheng killing an unjust official for revenge, there were actually two basic versions of this story, with no apparent early consensus about which version was the actual source. The two are::

  1. The Book of History (Shi Ji) by Sima Qian ( c.  145 – c.  86 BCE ; Nie Zheng kills a Han minister [summary]);
  2. The Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong (133 - 192 CE; Nie Zheng kills the Han king [translation]).

As for the music itself, the accompanying "Explanation of the Guqin Piece Guangling San" by Wang Shixiang, in addition to including a lengthy discussion about the two stories connected to the piece, also has extensive details from the Tang and early Song dynasties about the preservation and development of the melody.

There are actually two early titles connected to this melody:

  1. Guangling Zhixi (or Guangling and Zhi Xi7). These are among several titles that occur in Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin (here #7 and #8, though perhaps Guangling Zhixi was actually a single title) as well as being included in at least one qin melody list dating from the seventh century CE (#58) as well as another (#17) dating from around the same time.
  2. Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King, discussed in the Qin Cao (Hejian Zage #19; translation) attributed to Cai Yong (133 - 192 CE).8 Based on the sub-titles of the sections in the surviving Ming dynasty scores one can speculate that the present Guangling San actually had its source in the latter title. Even more speculative would be to accept the claim in Qin Cao that Nie Zheng created the piece himself. Perhaps the suggestion here is that this is the melody Nie Zheng played before killing the king.

Nie Zheng was a retainer skilled in music who lived in the fourth century BCE, and so melodies associated with his story could have dated at least from the Han dynasty, if not earlier. In addition, it has been suggested that such melodies were the same as, or at least associated with, a melody that originally is mentioned using the shortened name Guangling. This melody was a part of many ancient repertoires including ensemble and solo sheng mouth organ, pipa lute and hujia reed pipe.9 Just how many different melodies these stories and titles may have represented, however, is impossible to say. Likewise, if any parts of these melodies survived into one of the later Guangling San melodies it is impossible to say what parts these might be. This uncertainty is accentuated by the variety found in the earliest surviving versions, from 1425 and 1525.10

The aforementioned 2nd century CE introduction to Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King relates a story given with several Nie Zheng biographies. Here is a summary (the Qin Shi version is shorter):

When Nie Zheng was a child, the king had Nie Zheng's father executed for not finishing a sword on time. Nie Zheng went to the mountains and grew up to become a qin master. He then went and played outside the palace of the king. Not realizing who it was, the king invited Nie Zheng to play in the court. Nie Zheng concealed a dagger inside the instrument and while playing suddenly pulled it out and stabbed the king to death. Before he himself was killed, he sliced off his own facial features, to prevent his family from being executed for this. But his mother knew who must have done it and thought he should get credit; so she came, claimed the body, and died at his side.

Although there is no mention here of Guangling, and the preface by Zhu Quan in Shen Qi Mi Pu (SQMP; 1425) discusses only the transmission of Guangling San, without saying anything about its theme, the subtitles in the version of Guangling San Zhu included in his handbook show that his version of Guangling San in fact tells the story related in the Qin Cao. This suggests that Guangling, an ancient name usually referring to a place near Yangzhou in Jiangsu but here quite possibly to one in Henan, may have been the place where at least one form of the actual melody originated.

As for Xi Kang's own association with this melody, it is unlikely this was as the actual creator of the melody, though he might have played some version of it. He lived in the Wei dynasty capital of Luoyang, where he was a leading literary figure and one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. In his poem Qin Fu he mentions "Guangling" together with the titles of several other old melodies. Thus if he actually had a role in the creation of the qin melody Guangling San it would seem to have been by modifying an existing song or instrumental melody. One tradition says he learned it from a qin master named Du Kui11 and/or his son. Nevertheless, the account here in SQMP follows a popular tradition by saying that he learned it from a ghost while stopping at Huayang Pavilion12 on his way from Luoyang to (his ancestral home in) Kuaiji.13 Perhaps one can speculate that if something significant did happen at Huayang Pavilion it was an experience which led to a revised version.

Xi Kang was patronized by the Wei imperial family at a time when real power was being gathered into the hands of the Sima clan, who in 265 were to take over direct rule as the Jin dynasty (later called Eastern Jin; Western Jin ended 420). Meanwhile Xi Kang had been executed for offending an official who had the backing of the powerful Sima elite. According to tradition, Xi Kang played the melody one last time at the exhibition ground (see illustration above).

Textual and melodic connections between the versions of Guangling San published in 1425/1525 and the one(s) played at the time of Xi Kang have been the subject of some research and considerable speculation, with some arguing that a musical connection clearly goes back at least as far as the Tang dynasty, if not to Xi Kang himself.14 The argument centers on such factors as Zhu Quan's own specific commentary on its transmission; the tablature's inclusion in SQMP Folio I, said to consist of the most ancient pieces; the number and titles of the individual sections; the old fashioned nature of much of the actual tablature; and numerous literary references, in particular poems by Yelü Chucai and others.15 At a minimum these arguments show that it is very likely that the SQMP tablature was in existence at the end of Southern Song dynasty. They also make a good case that what this tablature prescribes quite likely was then already very old. However, in the absence of any earlier tablature it is very difficult to assess what musical changes might actually have taken place over the preceding centuries.

The Guangling San published in 1425 is the longest piece in the living qin repertoire (44 sections).16 Its transmission since 1425 (see below) is more certain than what was just described for pre-1425, but it is still complex. Although qin tablature for Guangling San survives in at least 11 handbooks from 1425 to 1911, there is little variety in the full versions (other than the fact that there were two of them, as had been discussed by Zhu Quan); instead there are various shorter versions that are clearly later creations or revisions. Today Guangling San is very popular but usually in versions abbreviated from the 1425 tablature, which was reconstructed in the 1950s (more on this below). The full versions require at least 20 minutes to play, but rarely does one hear a version lasting even one third of that.

Other facts also suggest that the full version of Guangling San may rarely have been played throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties (the article by Wang Shixiang provides somewhat more evidence for it having been played during the Song dynasty). The second surviving tablature, in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539 CE), is simply a copy of the SQMP version, not adding punctuation as it usually does. Zhu Quan wrote that there were two versions from which he could choose, and Xilutang Qintong (1525 CE) has two versions, one related to the SQMP version, though with many differences, and one very different from that in SQMP. The later full editions tend simply to copy earlier ones. In contrast, publications of melodies in the active repertoire tend to show more change over time. Thus the history of the full piece after 1525 seems to suggest that it was highly regarded but rarely played.

The next handbook after 1539 to include the title Guangling San was the 1634 handbook Guyin Zhengzong. What it actually did, however, was introduce a melody with only nine sections that, although it uses the same tuning as the earlier long versions, seems only minimally connected to them. At least six later handbooks have versions of this shorter melody (some may have 10 sections).17 Perhaps because the 1634 handbook was compiled by Zhu Changfang, Prince of Lu, some later handbooks give him a role in creating this shorter version.

After this the SQMP version was again copied in the next two handbooks with this title, dated 1670 but then not again until 1802. However, beginning with the latter handbook all later ones with this title have a version of this shorter melody (see chart), until the compilation of 1911, which repeats the long 1539 version.

None of the versions, either the long ones or short ones, has lyrics.

Guangling San might also be considered one of the most controversial qin melodies, some players saying the theme, particularly its violence, is inappropriate to the qin. Comments by Wang Shixiang, in his long and detailed Explanation of the Guqin Piece Guangling San, show that the controversy about the theme (whether it concerns Nie Zheng killing a king, Nie Zheng killing a minister, or is even a piece commemorating a battle at Guangling) goes right back to the earliest years of the piece.

Reconstruction of Guangling San

Today it can be said that Guangling San is part of the active qin tradition, but that it did not pass into the contemporary repertoire through direct transmission. Until the 1950s its most recent publication in full form dated back to 1802, in a handbook that simply copied it from Shen Qi Mi Pu. This suggested there was an interest in the melody at the time but that it was not actively being played enough that someone made it "their own": such versions are almost always changed from the original.

As for how its reconstruction came about, it has been said that a well-known qin collector, Xia Lianju,18 offered to give the reknowned qin master Guan Pinghu a famous Tang dynasty qin if he would reconstruct the piece, a promise carried out after Guan recorded his interpretation in 1954.19 A transcription of this that had been edited by the 中央音樂學院 Central Music Academy was then published by 音樂出版社 the Music Publishing Society in Beijing in 1958.

Guan Pinghu revived Guangling San in the 1950s, a time when, in spite of the qin's close association with the literati having made its position tenuous, much valuable research was done. Great efforts were made to make the instrument politically acceptable, and for this Guangling San was most appropriate. Much was made of the fact that in this piece the first two strings are tuned to the same note: the first string was said to represent the ruler and the second string the vassal, so tuning the two strings to the same note symbolized their equality.

Recordings of the complete Guangling San from Shen Qi Mi Pu21 (in addition to my own and these others)

Around this time Guan Pinghu was doing his work several other players also did reconstructions; there are some significant differences, but the similarities suggest they were either consulting each other or the others were largely following Guan's lead. The recordings by these other masters were not at first publicly released, but they can now be found in several compilations made since 2016. Later recordings do not use silk strings. For the eight listed here their timings link to the recordings.

Complete recordings from the 1950s:

  1. Guan Pinghu: 22'29"; one of three, each one with a few differences but mostly following this transcription [4.6 MB])
  2. Wu Jinglue:    18'20" (compare Wu Wenguang below; Wu Wenguang also made this transcription [10.2 MB] from the Wu family tradition)
  3. Wu Zhenpin:   20'32"
  4. Xu Lisun:       16'59"
  5. Yao Bingyan: 20'45"

Complete recordings not using silk strings include:

After the Cultural Revolution ended, Guan Pinghu's version was re-released and the piece entered the conservatory repertory, but always in abbreviated versions, ranging in length from 6 to 13 minutes, usually closer to the former. As such it subsequently became one of the most popular in the current repertoire, with at least 20 recordings available. Recordings by Wu Jinglue and his son Wu Wenguang came out later.22 And in 2006 Hugo released a CD that included Xu Lisun's complete version, as above.23 The version by Yao Bingyan recorded and transcribed by Bell Yung is incomplete, but again his complete version is linked above.24

My interpretation of Guangling San: was it a dapu?25

Regarding my own version, which can be heard linked below as well as on one of my CDs, this was the first melody I tried to learn in 1976, right after I left Taiwan. I then had no teacher, so I began learning it by following as best I could the recording then available from Guan Pinghu, and a photocopy of the transcription into staff notation linked above. Eventually, however, I began working directly from the original tablature, which led to my developing some important differences of interpretation. The three main focuses of this work have been,

  1. Re-examining the ancient finger technique explanations. This led to changes in my interpretation of several stroke techniques.26
  2. Following the indicated finger positions more strictly. This resulted in a number of notes at conflict with common ideas of traditional Chinese modality, specifically, that melodies must always follow the pentatonic scale (do re mi sol la, usually written 1 2 3 5 6). Having studied all the melodies in Shen Qi Mi Pu I discovered that there was some logic to the non-pentatonic notes, and that this was usually related to mode.27 Most notable with Guangling San was the alternative use of a flatted third as well as the natural third, a common characteristic of shang mode melodies. This was particularly true in the beginning and to a lesser extent end sections.28

    Trying to understand what feelings and ideas were being conveyed through the section titles as well as accompanying commentary. This is complicated in particular by many section titles being very terse and hence their meaning opaque. I also put more focus on music structures for fear of simply adopting Western music cliches when those of ancient China could have been very different.

In general, for me reconstructing music from old tablature is rather like trying to see into an ancient world. It might be said that this is an attempt to give that world meaning. But putting that meaning into worlds recalls the old saying that if you can put it into words, then it won't be the true meaning (i.e., 名可名非常名 from the Dao De Jing). How enjoyable, then, is it to feel you can express it in music?29

Original Preface 30)
      (其他早期源材料   Other related early Chinese texts)

The Emaciated Immortal, in accordance with Qin History, 31 says,

The account of Guangling San in the Official History of the Jin Dynasty (646 CE) is as follows "Xi Kang, pen name Shu Ye, was from (the town of Zhi in) the kingdom of Qiao (in northwest Anhui province). Once while traveling (from Luoyang) to Kuaiji he spent the night at Huayang Pavilion. (Here) he got out his qin and played it. At midnight a guest suddenly paid him a visit. Saying he was an ancient, he discussed music theory with Xi Kang. The words were clear and precise, so he asked (for the qin), and then played (his version of) the piece Guangling San. The melody was beautiful beyond description. Although he taught the tune to Xi Kang, he (made Xi Kang) swear he would not pass it on to anyone else. In addition, this man did not say what his name was.

"At a time when Sima Yi was a high-ranking general (in the state of Wei), Xi Kang and Zhong Hui32 were senior palace scribes. Whenever Zhong Hui had contact with Xi Kang, Xi Kang did not bother to act politely towards him. Zhong Hui hated him for this, so he made slanderous comments that Xi Kang had wanted to help (a military action by General) Guanqiu Jian33 (to try to restore power to the Cao clan). Since Sima Yi was an intimate, he believed Zhong Hui and destroyed (Xi Kang).

"When Xi Kang was about to be executed at (Luoyang's execution ground, see illustration), the East Market, he looked around at the scenery, took out his qin and played it, saying, 'Formerly Yuan Xiaoni34 (wanted to) study Guangling San from me, but I never would part with it; so Guangling San will no longer exist after today.' At this time (Xi Kang) was 40 years old. All gentlemen within the seas were sore at heart, and when the emperor finally investigated and learned the truth, he was regretful."

In addition the Qin Shu35 says, "Xi Kang's Guangling San originally had 41 divisions; it was had been transmitted to society. Xi Kang's nephew Yuan Xiaoni could play the qin, but whenever he tried to learn it, Xi Kang was unwilling to teach. Later Xi Kang on peaceful evening strummed his qin, playing Guangling San; Yuan Xiaoni stealthily listened to him from outside the door. But when Xi Kang came to (the end of the fifth division) Luan Sheng he took a short breather.36 Guessing someone was there, he pushed away the qin and stopped. He went out the door and saw Yuan Xiaoni. So Yuan only obtained 33 sections (divisions three to five).37

Later (Yuan) Xiaoni was able realize the meaning of "taking a rest",38 and spun it out to make the eight sections (of Hou Xu). These are the 41 sections. (Xiao) Xu (division two, with three sections also called Zhixi) was brought in separately. The world scarcely knows about this."

There are now two Guangling San tablatures. The one I have here selected was originally accepted into the Sui dynasty imperial palace. When the Sui dynasty perished it was passed on to the Tang; when Tang perished it passed down among the people. Years went by. Then during the Jianyan (1127 - 31) period of the Song emperor Gaozong it again entered the imperial court. It had been exactly 937 years.39. I feel this version is the correct one and so I selected it.

Music (Timings follow my recording: 聽錄音 Listen; 看五線譜 See transcription;
  also:   看視頻 Watch video w/transcription [2 GB]; Links to recordings by eight others
Six divisions and 45 sections: 40   bilingual version

  1. I. Opening fingering (Kai Zhi,41 similar to the later modal preludes);
    (00.00) (no sub-sections; not mentioned in Table of Contents; see comment on a finger technique)

    II. Small Preface (Xiao Xu): Stop and rest (Zhixi) 42

  2. (01.05) 1.
  3. (01.43) 2.
  4. (02.10) 3.

    III. Grand Preface (Da Xu)43

  5. (02.55) 1. Native village
  6. (03.03) 2. Brought up with integrity
  7. (03.41) 3. Following nature
  8. (04.05) 4. What caused this (regarding his father)
  9. (05.10) 5. (A nature) appropriate to the times

    IV. Main sounds 44

  10. (05.51) 1. Must get [rid of] the Han (king; minister?)
  11. (05.57) 2. Call out to the dark (where his father's spirit lies)
  12. (06.19) 3. Forget own's own body
  13. (06.42) 4. Arouse courage
  14. (07.10) 5. Hidden resolve
  15. (07.23) 6. Sinking into thought
  16. (07.43) 7. His spirit returns
  17. (08.08) 8. Accepting fate; or: Move the lamp then sit45
  18. (09.20) 9. Hair-raising anger
  19. (09.35) 10. A grand rainbow (mirroring bravery)
  20. (10.15) 11. A chill wind (strengthens the spirit)
  21. (10.23) 12. Bursting with anger
      Exchange the titles of 22-24 with those of 25-27?
  22. (10.46) 13. Exemplary woman (mother? Compare 別姊 Extraordinary sister)
  23. (11.48) 14. Righteousness revealed (as body claimed)
  24. (12.17) 15. Spread his fame
  25. (12.55) 16. Act of valor
  26. (13.15) 17. Hide from fame
  27. (13.30) 18. Throw away dagger

    Concluding Sounds 46

  28. (14.15) 1. Grand footprints (from brave deeds)
  29. (15.20) 2. Retaining a natural disposition
  30. (16.00) 3. Return to proper order
  31. (17.25) 4. Oath fulfilled
  32. (17.42) 5. Final thoughts
  33. (17.52) 6. Same will (as brother or son)
  34. (18.03) 7. Timely deed
  35. (18.11) 8. Left his native place
  36. (18.21) 9. Anger
  37. (18.42) 10. Secret plans

    VI. Postscript

  38. (19.15) 1. Realize the meaning of "taking a rest"
  39. (19.37) 2. Desperate thoughts
  40. (19.56) 3. Melancholy temper
  41. (20.13) 4. Sigh
  42. (20.24) 5. Long sigh
  43. (20.42) 6. Grievous feeling
  44. (21.15) 7. Hate and anger
  45. (21.29) 8. Death plan
    (22.06) Postscript ends

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 廣陵散 Guangling San references
9693.181 廣陵散 Guangling San: 琴曲名 qin melody name. It begins by telling the story of Xi Kang learning the melody at 華陽亭 Huayang Pavilion. It then quotes

  1. 晉書嵇康傳 The Biography of Xi Kang in Records of the Jin Dynasty
  2. 靈鬼志,嵇康 Xi Kang in Treatise on Spirits and Ghosts (pre-Tang?)
  3. 夢溪筆談,樂律 Music Rules in Mengxi Bitan (not same information as #5 there); quotes 盧氏雜說 Miscellaneous Accounts of the Lu Clan

廣陵 Guangling and 散 San are discussed separately below.

Xu Jian's Qin History discusses this melody in two places (with further references elsewhere)
Chapter 2.B. (Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang Qu, 中文 pp. 19-20;
     -  Chapter 3.B. (Guangling San, 中文 pp.30-36).

The work of Manfred Dahmer
Manfred has written two books in German focused on Guangling San:

  1. Manfred Dahmer, Die grosse Solosuite Guanglingsan: Das berühmteste Werk der frühest notierten chinesischen Instrumentalmusik. Frankfurt, Peter Lang, 1988 (Frankfurter China-Studien); 354pp.
    This book seems basically to be his doctoral dissertation on Guangling San. It includes:

  2. Manfred Dahmer, Der lange Regenbogen (The Great Rainbow). Die Solosuite Guanglingsan für Qin. Das Abenteuer des berühmtesten Werkes der alten chinesischen Musik. Uelzen, Medizinisch Literarische Verlagsanstalt, 2009; 387 pp.
    This book seems to have much more general information about the guqin. This includes:

Both volumes have bright yellow covers and are listed on Amazon; I have the 2009 volume but have only seen the transcriptions from the 1988 volume.

2. Slacken Second String Tuning (Manshang Diao) (慢商調
There is no separate title here for the melody in Slackened Second String Tuning: it is written under the title for Guangling San.

Here diao refers to tuning rather than mode, the directions being to man shang: slacken the second string from standard tuning, so that it has the same pitch as the first string. This tuning is found only in versions of Guangling San. Slackening the second string so that it is the same as the first string facilitates rhythmic repetitions of the same note over these two strings.

In addition, the five strings of the qin are said to represent aspects of society, as follows.

  1. gong = 君 jun ruler, master (君絃 jun xian)
  2. shang = 臣 chen minister, subject
  3. jue = 民 min ordinary people
  4. zhi = 事 shi affairs
  5. yu = 物 wu things

Thus by making the second string have the same pitch as the first string, it is said to symbolize the equality of the master and his vassal. In traditional society many qin players objected to the melody for this reason, but in modern times it led to claims of political correctness.

As for the modal qualities of Guangling San, the main tonal center (based on phrase and section endings) is strongly on do (1; gong); secondarily on sol (5; zhi), but often phases end going from re (2; shang) to do. These are the characterestics of Shen Qi Mi Pu shang mode melodies; in addition, the first two divisions have numerous flatted 3rds, also a characteristic of many shang mode melodies. For more on mode see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature, in particular modal characteristics.

3. Painting by Bai Yunli; see details.

4. 散 San-type melody
13567.0/14 says this refers to the qin melody Guangling San. V/472-3 gives some further musical connections, but neither entry suggests san could mean something like 曲 qu (melody). For this see the essay by Tong Kin-Woon below.

5. 廣陵 Guangling
9693.178 廣陵 Guangling first mentions 江都 Jiangdu, near modern Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, but it also mentions several other places including 息縣 (10855.80) Xi district east of 信陽 Xinyang in southeastern Henan (described as 常為兵爭之地 often a battleground). Near here the tomb of a 楚 Chu prince has been unearthed, yielding sets of stone chimes.

6. Origens of the melody Guangling San
Tracing the origins of melodies based solely on their occurrence as titles is of limited value. The sophistication of the melody written down in the earliest surviving written tablature, in the 6th or 7th century for the melody Jieshi Diao You Lan, suggests there might have been a long tradition of such tablature, but that longhand tablature is quite cumbersome and in any case the music was at that time certainly a largely oral tradition. Quite likely there would have been many versions of any even relatively popular melody.

This should be kept in mind when reading the following essay.

"Guangling San" by Tong Kin-Woon
Published in 廣陵散對話 Guangling San Duihua, pp 32-4. The booklet, for a 1989 Taiwan performance, also includes photographs of some famous qin as well as informaton about the program and performers. The essay begins as follows:

The qin melody Guangling San developed from a folk song of the 吳楚 Wu Chu area (the modern Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Hunan region) dating from the Spring and Autumn period of the Eastern Zhou. It originally must have had both melody and lyrics but what the melody was called at that time has not yet been discovered. Its coming to be named "Guangling" is probably because it was a folk song of the Guangling region. At the beginning of the Western Han period (ca. 200 BCE) this melody was selected for inclusion in the Yue Fu (Imperial Music Bureau), where it was called Legacy Ballad of Mian Ju (綿駒遺謳 Mian Ju Yi Ou [28343.84 only Mian Ju, adding nothing]; Mian Ju was a famous folk singer from the 齊右 Western Qi region of Shandong during the Warring States period; see 孟子,告子篇 the chapter Gaozi in the book of Mengzi as well as Song dynasty annotations by 朱熹 Zhu Xi and 趙岐 Zhao Qi). Later 李延年 Li Yannian (d. 82 BC; Wiki) edited this melody and made it one of the Six Playings (六彈 Liu Tan; 彈 10085.xx). During the 漢魏 Han Wei period Six Playings was arranged as a suite of 宴樂 banquet music and performed using such instruments as qin, Han dynasty pipa (referring to an old style straight neck round body pipa, resembling a modern ruan or sanxian), big sheng and zheng. During the Three Kingdoms period a Rhapsody on the Pipa 選 selection by 孫該 Sun Gai of Wei (d. 261 CE) said, "(Li) Yannian went through the melodies and the Six Playings were all formed: 岱宗 Dai Zong, 梁父 Liang Fu, 淮南 Huainan, 廣陵 Guangling, 郢都 Ying Du and 激楚 Ji Chu (see 藝文類聚 Collection of Artist Writings); this exactly describes this matter.

Discussing this simply, Guangling was a folk song already existing in the Spring and Autumn period. During the Han Wei period it was formed into a "相和歌 Xianghe Ge" (instrumental melodies with accompanying lyrics) in 楚調 Chu mode. Because of 旋律可賞 its admirable melody it was also formed into a "但曲 Dan Qu" (a purely instrumental melody, not using song), and it could be played connectively (for example, serving as a part of the Six Playings melody set), or played by itself.

Guangling originally used a variety of instruments played together. It is not known when it developed as a solo qin melody, but the book (? 書 !) Qin Cao by Cai Yong, describing the qin melodies with which he was familiar, has in the section Hejian Zage a melody called Nie Zheng Kills the Han King.... (Translation not finished.)

This story from Qin Cao is discussed above. Here the article is quite long and its references difficult to follow. For example, I found reference to "綿駒遺謳 Legacy Ballad of Mian Ju" in what is apparently commentary on a statement about Mian Ju ("昔者王豹處於淇,而河西善謳;緜駒處於高唐,而齊右善歌....") in 孟子,告子篇 the chapter Gaozi in the book of Mengzi), where it says,

In the Western Han the famous music master Li Yannian said, "Legacy Ballad of Mian Ju" is the xiantiao (string-drum?) "Guangling".

But I am not sure of the date or significance of that quote.

Also, Yuefu Shiji (YFSJ) mentions Guangling San in at least three folios (#41, #46 and #56), but I have not yet found mention of either 綿駒遺謳 Mian Ju Yi Ou or 六彈 Liu Tan anywhere in YFSJ. And while at the beginning of YFSJ Folio 41 (Xianghe Ge Ci 16) there is mention of Guangling San (saying it is no longer transmitted), this does not seem to connect to what is written here by Dr. Tong.

7. Zhi Xi 止息: Take a rest? Hold one's breath? Stop breathing?
16609.58 止息: 停息休止 stop, rest. It has numerous quotes:

These seem to have nothing connected to music or to the present story. Although its general meaning is Take a rest, it is tempting to try to connect it to the Nie Zheng story. For example, if he was just "taking a rest", why was that significant? Or did Nie Zheng hold his breath when he was about to attack? Does it mean he stopped the King/minister from breathing? No such translation would be justified based on the three examples just given.

How, then, did "Zhi Xi" come to be used as a subtitle for the Small preface (小序 Xiaoxu)? For more on this see Hui Zhi Xi Yi as well as Yuan Xiaoni, the Guangling Zhi Xi mentioned above, and also further related commentary such as here.

Another title, 報親曲 Bao Qin Qu (Report to Ancestors) is used here.

8. Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King (Qin Cao: 聶政刺韓王 Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang; see translation)
8/xxx; 29829.22 聶政鼓琴 Nie Zheng Plays the Qin quotes the Hejian Zage section of 琴操 Qin Cao (2nd c. CE?; Hejian Yage has "Guangling San" but no commentary) in relating the story given here; note that it does not mention cao as in the title 聶政刺韓王操 Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang Cao Melody of Nie Zheng Stabbing the Han King. At this time the Han kingdom had its capital in what is today Luoyang.

However, although the present Guangling San clearly takes its story from Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King, there is no hard evidence showing a musical connection between the surviving melody and any melody that might have been played in the third century.

As for the association with 蔡邕 Cai Yong and his Qin Cao, note that there are two competing versions of this title:

  1. The one ending with a section called Hejian Zage has as its #19 Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang
  2. The one ending with a section called Hejian Yage has as its #17 Guangling San..

Cai Yong is also sometimes credited with having created the qin melodies Chang Qing and Qiuyue Zhao Maoting, was well as being associated through his daughter Cai Wenji with the melodies Xiao Hujia and Da Hujia.

9. Early instrumental versions of Guangling San
See the TKW article as mentioned above.

10. Variety in surviving versions of Guangling San
Of particular note is the fact that the three surviving versions in the two earliest handbooks (Shen Qi Mi Pu [1425] and Xilutang Qintong [1525]; see appendix) have almost identical section titles and two are musically very similar, but one is very different; then the later full versions simply copy rather than re-interpret the earlier one. Studying the differences could be very instructive for understanding the development of qin melodies and music in general. One of the versions in 1525 seems to be a close re-interpretation of the 1425 melody, while the other 1525 version seems to be a new melody inspired only in part by the 1425 or another older one. This suggests they date from a time the melody was actively played. The later copies, being identical, provide no evidence that the melody was actually played by the compiler - or anyone at that time. It is also perhaps noteworthy that neither of these other two versions seems to have the flatted thirds found in the 1425 edition, discussed further in the next paragraph.

The accompanying article by Wang Shixiang includes a very interesting comparative analysis of these three earliest versions. He concludes that the Shen Qi Mi Pu version is the earliest. Of particular note, he points out the more complex right hand techniques unique to the 1425 version; such emphasis on the right hand is very rare in later music. Unfortunately he does not seem to be aware of the issue of flatted thirds, as mentioned below and discussed further here. The use of both flatted and whole tone thirds in a melody was an ancient characteristic, and a closer study of its use might help date melodies with that characteristic. At present, however, one can only say that it is a characteristic found in melodies that claim origins, varyingly, in the Tang and Song dynasties, but that it could also be a characterstic coming from the Yuan dynasty. (For the possibility of Yuan influence one would want to know about the modality of Yuan opera and how that might have influenced Chinese music in general.)

11. Du Kui as teacher of Guangling San
Again see TKW, 1989. Xi Kang is also said to have studied with the famous hermit Sun Deng 孫登, learning some tunes from him, but apparently not Guangling San

12. Huayang Pavilion
31910.272 華陽亭 says it is in 河南新鄭縣東南 the southwest part of Xinzheng district of Henan province (south of modern Zhengzhou), adding a different reference from Jin Shu, but still identifying it with Xi Kang; Luoyang was also in Henan, west of Xinzheng. (See also next).

13. 會稽 Kuaiji (or Guiji, or Huiji)
The interpretation that the travel was from Luoyang home is speculation based on the understanding from the above footnote that Huayang Pavilion was on one of the possible routes from Luoyang, where Xi Kang lived, to Kuaiji, his family's ancestral home. The main Kuaiji references under Yu Hui Tushan are to Shaoxing, or a region centered on Suzhou but including Shaoxing. There is also a Kuaiji mountain in Shandong. However, there are no apparent references to Henan or Anhui (where Xi Kang was actually born), hence this comment remains speculative.

14. Tracing the qin melody Guangling San
The transmission of Guangling San is examined in the article by Wang Shixiang translated here, as well as in the article by Tong Kin-Woon partially translated above.

As for transmission since 1425, there are details below in the Appendix. As can be seen there, Zha Fuxi's index 2/11/-- lists Guangling San in 11 handbooks, but only 6 have the long version; others have only 9-11 sections.

15. Poetry on the Guangling San theme
This includes poems by Yelü Chucai, Lou Yue and Xu Zhao.

16. Longest melody in the active qin repertoire
This is a complicated issue, depending on definition of terms. Thus, my recording of the Shen Qi Mi Pu melody Qiu Hong is 20'20' compared to 22'06" for my Guangling San, but these are close enough that changes in tempo could reverse the relative lengths. The second version of Guangling San dated 1525 is presumbably also about the same length, but to my knowledge no one has played that in recent history.

On the other hand, I am not aware of anyone other than myself currently playing a full version of Guangling San. The version in the official syllabus of Chinese conservatories (古琴曲集) consists of only the first four divisions and most people don't even play that much, preferring shortened versions focused on the "exciting parts". In addition, there exists tablature for several other melodies with a large number of sections (such as the ca. 1802 Yuhua Deng Xian with 50!), but none is played today.

17. Shorter versions of Guangling San
Online writings by Julian Joseph (subsequently removed) in connection with the 1907 publication discussed that version and the shorter versions in general. Of the first 1907 version it discussed its differences from 1634 (it also has more flatted notes). The short versions generally played today are different from these.

18. 夏蓮居 Xia Lianju (1884 - 1965)
Xia was also himself a qin player. See further on

19. Guan Pinghu recording
The recording is available in a number of collections including Favourite Qin Pieces of Guan Ping-hu (both the 2 CD 1995 set and the 4-CD 2016 set); An Anthology of Chinese Traditional and Folk Music: A Collection of Music Played on the Guqin, Vol. l, China Records, 1994. (老八張; Timing: 22.22). I originally worked with a photocopy of the transcription into staff notation linked above. The actual pdf copy here was made from the book with the 2016 4-CD set. From this 張世彬 Zhang Shibin did a transcription into Chinese number notation; Tong Kin-Woon published this in his Qin Fu, pp. 2775-2800.

21. Recordings of Guangling San
As mentioned, the listing here includes only complete versions; it also includes only recordings made with silk strings. To my knowledge there have been no recordings of any of the other early versions, of any sort.

22. Recordings by Wu Jinglue and Wu Wenguang
Wu Jinglue is discussed further here; his recordings of Guangling San were included in several collections, including the two listed here. His son Wu Wenguang, one of the most famous guqin players of the next generation, earned his ph.D. at Wesleyan University, writing his dissertation on music of the Wu Family; he then returned to China, teaching for many years at the Chinese Music Conservatory. His Guangling San recording did not have a general release until the ROI album was produced in 1998 on a Taiwan label.

  1. Favourite Guchin Pieces of Wu Wenguang, Chenxi CT 9601 (timing: 19.40)
  2. Jue Xiang: Inimitable Sound, CD 15.
  3. The Qin Repertoire of Wu Jing-lue, ROI RB-981014-2C, 1998 (18.18; here).

Wu Wenguang's qin had nylon-metal strings but this 1998 recording was still based on his father's complete version (compare Wu Wenguang's later recording above).

Wu Wenguang's book The Qin Music Repertoire of the Wu Family, pp.142-176, includes this transcription. It was apparently made by Wu Wenguang based on his father's performance. Wu Wenguang's own performance is largely based on this version, but he says he did not try to follow it too closely, lest it inhibit his own style.

23. Xu Lisun recording
Mei An Qin Music; Hugo HRP 7257-2 (HKG, 2006); timing: 17.06

24. Yao Bingyan recording and transcription
Bell Yung, Celestial Airs of Antiquity, A-R Editions, Inc. (Wisconsin, 1997, CD published together with a book of transcriptions; Guangling San; 15.07 [omits Xiao Xu, Luan Sheng and Hou Xu])

25. My interpretation of Guangling San: is it a dapu?
As discussed above I did not learn Guangling San directly from tablature, I learned it first by copying the recording and transcription by Guan Pinghu, only later revising it based mostly on re-examining the original tablature, including my understanding of what the section titles were intended to convey. According to the account here this makes it a sort of modified dapu.

26. Old symbols and techniques difficult to interpret 倚涓?     -         -        
These four images have examples of techniques with varying interpretations, none of them easy to follow.

  1. 倚涓 yi juan? (left image at right; see further). This is the basic symbol; it is copied there because my computer cannot re-create it (it is written something like 奇 but with 立 replacing on top and 厶 replacing the 口 inside).
  2. 倚涓 yi juan (second image from left) on the fifth and sixth strings with the thumb at the fourth position. This is the symbol as it appears, doubled, in the original Guangling San tablature. The explanation was both hard to find and ambiguous, hence there are differing interpretations. In the present Kai zhi, which seems to be a sort of prelude to Guangling San, it is the fourth and fifth figure (cluster; see my transcription, mm. 3-5). It is also a cluster that Guan Pinghu's reconstruction made in the 1950s interprets as (with the left thumb at the 4th position) 摘 zhai the 5th and 6th strings then 涓 juan both strings, repeated: 6+6 notes in all; all subsequent interpretations other than my own seem to follow this. However, there is no such figure in old finger explanations, so I have interpreted it (see transcription) as a simple yijuan: Hand Aspect Illustration #10 writes yijuan as 倚㳙 (with 立 again replacing () and interprets it as 半㳙 ban juan: half a juan, with only two notes. This interpretation thus results in only 2+2 notes. Yi juan also appears again later in the melody (e.g., mm. 317 and 343).
  3.     huan (third image from left); by itself "abundant". One reference (V/159) says this is short for 喚 (also huan: summon); another (I/97 and referenced here) says it is 換 huan (12709), usually meaning "exchange". When applied to the right hand, 換 huan is used for techniques that require separate use of more than one finger. As a left hand technique (as at the beginning of Guangling San), it is explaned as a type of slide, perhaps down and up. My own interpretation has been that here it is 喚, a left hand technique it is a sort of turn.
    三作 san zuo (bottom of third image from left): by itself, "do three times". However,, in addition to the question of whether this means "do what came before a total of three times" or "repeat what came before three more times", in some old pieces in particular it may not be clear what is to be repeated. Thus, in the example at far right where the instructions after "三作 play three times" say "大日勹" (i.e., "大閒勾 da jian'gou", a multi-stroke technique involving 5 notes ), Guan Pinghu's interpretation is to repeat both the two preceding notes (one of which is ornamented with the huan) and the 5-note technique, making 21 notes in all, three of which have ornamentation. My interpretation is to repeat only the two precending notes then add the 5-note technique, making 11 notes in all, again three ornamented.
  4. 換三指 san zuo with "小閒勾 xiao jian'gou" (right image at right). At the top of the second cluster, without stating the position to be played, the tablature indicates three left-hand fingers (人中夕 means index, middle and ring fingers respectively). My interpretation is that right hand index finger "乚 kicks out" on the open 七 seventh string three times, alternating with the right index finger "打 hitting inward" on the 五 fifth string in the 10th position (this position suggested by context) while the three indicated left fingers 換 in turn stop the fifth string (a technique that requires each of the respective left fingers to slide up into the position. After these six notes there is a 小閒勾 xiao jian'gou that adds three more, making 9 notes to here. The initial six notes are then played again but this time it is followed by a 打閒勾 da jian'gou adding this time 5 more notes to make 11 notes. The described passage thus has 20 notes in all. No other interpreter seems to play the passage this way: the transcription of Guan Pinghu's interpretation shows 33 notes here while that of Wu Wenguang shows 29 notes.

In addition, many stroke techniques here are not only difficult to distinguish, they are repeated in ways that make it easy to confuse them. For example, 蠲 juan on string 1 is two notes and juan on strings 1 and 2 is four notes, but is the sequence 1 1 2 2 or 1 2 1 2 (which would be like a "全扶 quan fu", but this technique rather surprisingly does not appear in Guangling San)?. In this regard, when I originally learned the piece I tried to keep this all straight. Eventually, though, I came to the conclusion that it was more important to use a variety of these techniques than to remember exactly where and how they occur in the tablature.

27. Non-pentatonic notes (see also modal characteristics above and below)
Traditional Chinese music is said to be pentatonic, with melodies always following the scale do re mi sol la (today usually written 1 2 3 5 6). When I first learned Guangling San in 1976/7 I simply followed the interpretation by Guan Pinghu, in which he "corrected" almost all the notes that as written were non-pentatonic. However, after reconstructing many melodies from Shen Qi Mi Pu I noted that most non-pentatonic notes occurred with a logic that made it clear that they actually were intentional. So I then re-did my interpretation, playing the notes as written instead of continuing to follow Guan's changes.

By far the most common non-pentatonic notes in Guangling San are flatted 3, 4 (fa), and 7 (both flatted and unflatted). In modern reconstuctions of Guangling San the most commonly changed notes are the flatted 3s. Specifically the original versions are here in my transcription; four are shown at right:

In none of the recordings linked above do the players play the flatted thirds. As for the flatted and unflatted 7s, these are less likely to be changed. And although they are not listed here, it has been my observation that, while there are both flatted and non-flatted 7s throughout, the outer sections seem to have fewer of the non-flatted 7s. The significance of this is also unclear.

28. Changing modality of the six sections of Guangling San
Interestingly, the flatted thirds listed in the previous footnote all occur in the opening two divisions and again in division five. This is particularly interesting because of the argument by Wang Shixiang that the central sections of the surviving melody are the most ancient, perhaps even dating from before the Tang dynasty. He also seems to suggest that the outer sections were gradually added during the Tang and/or later. Is it significant that these flatted thirds not seem to occur in You Lan, and yet this is a modal characteristic often found in SQMP pieces (particularly those like Guangling San using a shang mode).

This characteristic continued to be found in other early- and mid-Ming dynasty handbooks, then it gradually disappeared. According the Zhu Quan, the compiler of Shen Qi Mi Pu, he was trying to rescue the qin by reviving melodies he had found from sources apparently from the Song dynasty. Could it be that flatted thirds and other characteristics specific to such melodies as these include characteristics specific to the Song dynasty?

To my knowledge at that time there had been no research done comparing the modality of these sections.

In this regard see also the comments and links above under Man Shang Diao.

29. Expressing meaning Nie Zheng's sister claims his body (Sections 22-24)  
The image at right concerns the "exemplary woman": it is said to be from the 新刊古列女傳八卷 New Printing of the Old Biographies of Exemplary Women (#107 中文). Because it shows Nie Zheng's sister (姊 jie; see 別姊 Extraordinary sister [1955/5: 決也, as in 別材、特別]), this is the story from Shi Ji and does not include guqin, but it can still be used as an example in studying how something might be expressed not just in art but in music. It clearly relates to Guangling San Section 22-24 (烈婦、收義、揚名 ), the title of 23 literally translated as "Reveal (her brother's) righteousness" and clearly showing Nie Zheng's sister claiming his body so that his virtue will become known. The scars on Nie Zheng's face relate to the part of the story told in Section 24 and in both Shi Ji and Qin Cao, where he cuts his face so that people would not recognize him and hence harm his family. The third person in the room presumably is an official. Notice, though, the sister's apparently calm demeanor. Modern depiction would probably have her holding out her chest heroically and perhaps raising her fist in defiance. Here does she have no emotions, or does this show the sister was holding back emotions that are clear to anyone who knows the story? When I play the music for this section I feel it must be the latter (listen).

For poetry see this poem by Yelü Chucai and this poem by Lou Yue. (Details to be added after translation.)

As discussed here, understanding "meaning" in music usually involves knowing the significance of cliches used in that idiom. But what do you do when reconstructing melodies that have not been played in centuries? Following the conventions of modern (especially Western) may prove satisfactory to many but will it create the feeling (illusion) of connecting with an ancient world?

As I have discussed elsewhere, when I reconstruct a melody I first look at the musical idiom and structure, and only when I feel some comfort with that do I look closely at the meanings applied to the melody (such as through the titles, sub-titles and commentary). A problem with Guangling San, then, is that some of the sub-titles I do not fully understand, and in general many of them seem jumbled rather than being arranged in a coherent manner.

Furthermore, in discussing this, one should also consider whether it is appropriate for the music, as with poetry, to be too obvious or explicit about what it expresses. Here consider the story of Boya and Ziqi: when Boya plays a melody (most famously Flowing Streams [Liu Shui]) only Ziqi realizes what Boya is trying to express, the point being that only a 知音 knowledgeable person (this term also means "soulmate") will realize what someone is playing.

What does this say about the popularity of the 19th century (72 gunfu Liu Shui version of Liu Shui, which seems to be designed so that anyone can understand what is being expressed? Is this applying a modern standard to an ancient aesthetic?

Taking this further, when it comes to musical cliches, with Western music listeners may have an idea that there is something sad or angry or anxious going on, but not the further specifics unless someone tells them. Likewise with qin melodies.

On the other hand, if you know what the melody is about then you might be able to say, "Oh, yes, I can see/understand that." Likewise, when playing Guangling San, if you can play it instinctively enough that you don't have to think about what techniques you need to use, but instead think about what the titles say it should express, you can often think, "Yes, I can feel that there is anger (or whatever was mentioned) here", though you may not feel the anger yourself.

As a sidelight: Does this connect to the ideas of balance associated with Confucius and yin-yang? When applied to the qin, perhaps this suggests when you hear something expressing "hair raising anger" you should be able to think, "Yes, I can hear this refers to hair-raising anger and appreciate that", but at the same time I do not wish to feel this myself, because if it did it might put me out of balance."

To explore this further, watch the video from Sections 18 to 23 of my recording:

Watch: start at 9'25"

As I listen I can recall trying to play it in a way that seemed appropriate to the section titles, and now I still feel that it is in fact appropriate, though I do change somewhat the phrasing accordingly.

Similar feelings also come to me when listening to that section of Guan Pinghu's recording:

Listen: start at 10'38".

What's more, I can imagine visual imagery going with the music that would also make the music seem appropriate to the feeling. Beyond that, why should I want to hear really angry sounds? (N.B., I am also not a big fan of horror movies.)

At the same time I can also see this might not work for everyone. But then I also have to wonder whether this has to do not with the music itself but with the listener not being able to set aside innate ideas of how music should work.

30. This preface and other original commentary
This page has the originals of this and other related commentary, beginning with the original of the preface above. These texts were mostly copied from Zha Fuxi's Guide to Existing Guqin Pieces in Tablature, which includes a collection of all available prefaces and afterwords for all the melodies in the handbooks it indexed, plus that from some other early sources.

The handbooks that actually have Guangling San tablature are listed below in this chart. Here is an outline of their commentary.

Mostly not yet translated.

31. Qin History (琴史 Qin Shi)
The contents of Zhu Changwen's Qin Shi (Folio 3, #84 Xi Kang) is different. In some cases Zhu Quan's sources are problematic, and here it is not clear whether this refers to the name of a book or just to the history of qin in general.

32. 鍾會 Zhong Hui (225 - 264)
Zhong Hui (41566.123; Bio/1723; Giles) was a noted scholar/official in Wei during the Warring States period. Once rebuffed by fellow senior scribe Xi Kang, Zhong Hui became so angry that he later accused Xi Kang of treason, leading to his execution (see Gulik, Hsi Kang, pp. 29-34 as well as the above Original Preface to Guangling San).

33. 毌丘儉 Guanqiu Jian
17088.1 Guanqiu says it is a place name in Shangdong and a double surname. 17088.3 identifies Guanqiu Jian as a man of Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. (Bell Yung, op.cit. mistakenly has Mu Qiujian.)

34. 袁孝尼 Yuan Xiaoni (Yuan Zhun)
The biography of Yuan Xiaoni says he learned part of Guangling San, particularly Guangling Zhixi (see Section II.).

35. Qin Book (琴書 Qin Shu)
in this footnote from the Preface to Shen Qi Mi Pu.

36. 至亂聲小息 zhi luansheng xiaoxi; xiaoxi, "small breath" (or Taking a rest) is the name of the Small Preface; another translation could be that he got to a section of Luansheng called Xiaoxi, but it would then be more difficult to make the numbers add up.

37. Yuan Xiaoni's version of Guangling San
This story, as quoted in Qinshu Daquan (1590, V/268 under Zhixi [see next footnote], not Guangling San), has two more phrases here: "餘七伯覓上得,故有止息 The other seven (sic) sections he couldn't do, so there was a break." See also in Qin Yuan Yao Lu.

38. Realize the meaning of "taking a rest" (會止息意 Hui Zhixi yi)
See the title of the first section in division six, Houxu. Regarding zhi xi itself see above. The meaning here seems to be that Zhixi was created by Yuan Xiaoni according to his understanding of the whole piece. There being such differing Ming versions of Guangling San as the one here and the two in Xilutang Qintong, combined with Zhu Quan's mention of two versions, shows that by then Zhi Xi was a completely integral part of the existing piece.

39. 937 years
僅(經)九百三十九年 The calculation of 937 years seems to be in error. If the calculation is from the Jianyan period (1127-31) back to the death of Xi Kang in 262 the range is 865 to 869 years. 937 years after Xi Kang died would be 262+937=1199 CE. Wang Shixiang suggests it should be 837 years, this being the number of years from the end of the Chen dynasty (557-588) until 1425, the year Zhu Quan published SQMP. The only other possibility seems to be that he was quoting something originally written in 1199, which would have been about the time 張巖 Zhang Yan was collecting old materials that were later incorporated into 楊瓚紫霞洞琴譜 Yang Zan's Zixiadong Qinpu.

40. Guangling San original titles        
See also this bilingual outline for 1425 and this comparative transcription of all three

The original of these translated titles are as follows (those from the two versions in Xilutang Qintong are added for comparison:

Shen Qi Mi Pu (I/112)
Xilutang Qintong A (III/237)
  Melody is different
Xilutang Qintong B (III/243)
  Melody more like SQMP
I. 開指 Kai zhi
慢商意 Manshang Yi
          (before GLS)
慢商品 Manshang Pin
          (before GLS)
II. 小序 Xiao xu II. 小序 Xiaoxu II. 小 Xiao yin
2-4. 止息 Zhi xi
1-3. 止息 Zhi xi 1-3. (no subtitle)
III. 大序 Da xu III. 大序 Da xu III. 大序 Da xu
  5. 井里 Jing li   4. 井里 Jing li   4. 井里 Jing li
  6. 申誠 Shen cheng   5. 申誠 Shen cheng   5. 申誠 Shen cheng
  7. 順物 Shun wu   6. 順物 Shun wu   6. 順物 Shun wu
  8. 因時 Yin shi   7. 因時 Yin shi   7. 因時 Yin shi
  9. 干時 Gan shi
  8. 干時 Gan shi   8. 干時 Gan shi
IV. 正聲 Zheng sheng IV. 正聲 Zheng sheng IV. 正聲 Zheng sheng
10. 取韓 Qu Han   9. 取韓 Qu Han   9. 取韓 Qu Han Xiang
11. 呼幽 Hu you 10. 呼幽 Hu you 10. 呼幽 Hu you
12. 亡身 Wang shen 11. Wang shen 11. 亡身 Wang shen
13. 作氣 Zuo qi 12. 作氣 Zuo qi 12. 作氣 Zuo qi
14. 含志 Han zhi 13. 含志 Han zhi 13. 含志 Han zhi
15. 沉思 Chen si 14. 沉思 Chen si 14. 沉思 Chen si
16. 返魂 Fan hun 15. 反魂 Fan hun 15. 反䰟 Fan hun (𠫓/鬼)
17. 徇物 Xun wu
      一名移燈就座 (Yi ming Yi deng jiu zuo)
16. 徇物 Xun wu
16. 徇物 Xun wu
18. 衝冠 Chong guan 17. 衝冠 Chong guan 17. 衝冠 Chong guan
19. 長虹 Chang hong 18. 長虹 Chang hong 18. 長虹 Chang hong
20. 寒風 Han feng 19. 寒風 Han feng 19. 寒風 Han feng
21. 發怒 Fa nu 20. 發 Fa shu (mistake?) 20. 發怒 Fa nu
22. 烈婦 Lie fu 21. 烈婦 Lie fu 21. 別姊 Bie jie
23. 收義 Shou Yi 22. 收義 Shou Yi 22. Bao yi
24. 揚名 Yang ming 23. 揚名 Yang ming 23. 揚 Yang ming
25. 含光 Han guang 24. 含光 Han guang 24. 含光 Han guang
26. 沉名 Chen ming 25. 沉名 Chen ming 25. 沉名 Chen ming
27. 投劍 Tou jian
26. 投劍 Tou jian 26. 投劍 Tou jian
V. 亂聲 Luan Sheng V. 亂聲 Luan Sheng V. Qi Sheng
28. 峻跡 Jun ji 27.峻跡 Jun ji 27.峻跡 Jun ji
29. 守質 Shou zhi 28. 守質 Shou zhi 28. 守質 Shou zhi
30. 歸政 Gui zheng 29. 歸政 Gui zheng 29. 歸政 Gui zheng
31. 誓畢 Shi bi 30. 誓畢 Sh ibi 30. 誓畢 Shi bi
32. 終思 Zhong si 31. 終思 Zhong si 31. 終思 Zhong si
33. 同志 Tong zhi 32. 同志 Tong zhi 32. 同志 Tong zhi
34. 用事 Yong shi 33. 用事 Yong shi 33. 用事 Yong shi
35. 辭鄉 Ci xiang 34. 辭鄉 Ci xiang 34. 辭鄉 Ci xiang
36. 氣衝 Qi chong 35. 氣衝 Qi chong 35. 氣衝 Qi chong
37. 微行 Wei xing
36. 微行 Wei xing 36. 微行 Wei xing
VI. 後序 Hou xu VI. 後序 Hou xu VI. 後序 Hou xu
38. 會止息意 Hui zhixi yi 37. 會止息意 Hui zhixi yi 37. 會止息意 Hui zhixi yi
39. 意絕 Yi jue 38. 意絕 Yi jue 38. 意絕 Yi jue
40. 悲志 Bei zhi 39. 悲志 Bei zhi 39. 悲志 Bei zhi
41. 嘆息 Tan xi 40. 嘆息 Tan xi 40. 嘆息 Tan xi
42. 長吁 Chang xu 41. 長吁 Chang xu 41. 長 Chang hu
43. 傷感 Shang gan 42. 傷感 Shang gan 42. 傷感 Shang gan
44. 恨憤 Hen fen 43. 恨憤 Hen fen 43. 憤恨 Fen hen
45. 亡計 Wang ji 45. 亡計 Wang ji 45. Wang ji

41. Opening fingering (開指 Kai zhi
Kai zhi seem to have been preludes to specific melodies, as opposed to the more general diao yi. For more on kai zhi ("opening fingering") see #12, Kai Zhi

42. Small preface (小序 Xiaoxu): Take a rest (止息 Zhi Xi)
16609.58 止息 has nothing connected to music. However, see Yuan Xiaoni, the Guangling Zhi Xi mentioned above, and also further related commentary such as here.

43. Grand preface (大序 Daxu)
It has been suggested that this section reflects on the youth of Nie Zheng.

44. Main Sounds (正聲 Zheng Sheng)
16611.449 正聲 discusses correct and appropriate sounds; esp. see ref. to Shen Gua 沈括 .

The 18 sections of Zheng Sheng seem to be the heart of the piece. In addition, or perhaps because of this, there seems to have been an effort made for them to be chronological - and they would be quite chronological if the titles (not the music) of Sections 22-24 were reversed with those of 25-27. Zheng Sheng would then pair nicely with the Grand Preface, which speaks of Nie Zheng's earler life.

45. Move the lamp then sit (移燈就座 Yi deng jiu zuo); 8/81xxx. About this I have seen some speculation that says the night before Nie Zheng was to avenge his father he moved the lamp to sit and contemplate what had led him to what he was about to do.

45. Concluding Sounds (亂聲 luan sheng)
220.153 亂聲 defines luan sheng as "雜亂之聲音也 mixed sounds". However, luan can also mean "tidy up a mess", and so luansheng came to be used for the final section of a music piece.

Appendix: Chart Tracing existing Guangling San tablature
For earlier transmission see

This chart is based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 2/11/--. He lists it in 11 handbooks, but only 6 have the long version; others have only 9-11 sections.

      Qinpu 琴譜
      date; vol # / page #
Those aligned left are related to the Shen Qi Mi Pu version
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/112)
45: Kai zhi + 3 + 5 + 18 + 10 + 8; no phrasing indicated
2.a. 西麓堂琴統 (A)
      (1525; III/237)
1 (Manshang Yi) + 44 (3 + 5 + 18 + 10 + 8); no separate commentary; transcription
 still musically related, though often seeming completely different from 1425
2.b. 西麓堂琴統 (B)
      (1525; III/243)
1 (Manshang Pin) + 44 (3 + 5 + 18 + 10 + 8); afterword still no phrasing indicated; transcription
          related to 1425 but many changes in both section titles and music (e.g., loses flatted thirds)
  3.  風宣玄品
      (1539; II/198)
45: Kai zhi + 3 + 5 + 18 + 10 + 8; no phrasing indicated (seems identical to 1425)
4.a. 古音正宗 (A)
      (1634; IX/382)
"廣陵真曲 Guangling Zhenqu"; "慢商調開指 Manshang mode Kai zhi";
1 section; no apparent relation to 1425 except the tuning
4.b. 古音正宗 (B)
      (1634; IX/382)
廣陵散 ; 9 sections; "by Xi Kang", but little apparent musical relation to
long versions except for the tuning (note use of 九下, giving flatted 3rd)
  5. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/443)
no phrasing indicated
6.a. 裛露軒琴譜 (A)
      (>1802; XIX/352)
no phrasing indicated
6.b. 裛露軒琴譜 (B)
      (>1802; XIX/363)
廣陵真趣 Guangling Zhenqu; 10; although title is like 1634A, melody is like 1634B;
10 sections: it splits 1634 Section 1 into 2 sections, perhaps treating Section 1 as a Kai zhi
  7. 蕉庵琴譜
10; very similar to >1802 B
  8. 希韶閣琴瑟合譜
      (1890; XXVI/458)
10+1; has afterword;
like 1868, adding paired se tablature  
  9. 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/401)
10+1; "黃林變調...lowered second string";
afterword mentions 臞仙, i.e., Zhu Quan 
10.a. 十一絃館琴譜 (A)
      (1907; XXIX/5)
"廣陵散   真曲 Guangling San, Authentic Version";
"閩中雲在青較 as revised by Yun Zaiqing" and
"金陵汪安侯演正 correctly played by Wang Anhou"; 10;
also credits Xi Kang but says 潞藩(王) Prince of Lu (i.e. 1634) version (further comment)
10.b. 十一絃館琴譜 (B)
      (1907; XXIX/12)
"廣陵散新譜 New tablature for Guangling San; 10;
"New" here means it was revised (or just edited) from the "authentic version" 
11.a. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/245)
"= 1868"; 10; also QF/1013;
indicates rhythm 
11.b. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/428)
"= 1539"; preceded (419ff) by finger explanations and further commentary; indicates rhythm;
not included in the 琴府 Qin Fu edition

Return to top, to the Shen Qi Mi Pu ToC, or to the Guqin ToC.

Appended comment

If someone says they like something that I am unable to appreciate or understand, I might question them, but in general is it not good when everyone has their own artistic tastes and prejudices? Workers songs for the guqin? Concertos for guqin and orchestra? Pop music with guqin? Why not?

When it comes to guqin it is good to hear people experimenting with all sorts of new music. Some of it I quite like but with guqin my natural inclination is towards the old music: by playing old music directly from the tablature I can never get enough of it. Based in part on its seemingly endless variety, my own prejudice is that it is better than the new music. But this is indeed just a prejudice, and not something I want to enforce on others.

At the same time I am happy to recount how one of the things that has drawn me to guqin is that by playing music according to my understanding of the principles of historically informed performance (HIP) I can at times imagine I am somehow getting a unique, perhaps direct, insight into the world of some amazing people who lived centuries if not millenia ago. But for this I need certain triggers.

A good example of this is recordings of the melody 廣陵散 Guangling San. Modern recordings are usually abridged versions, often following the Chinese conservatory standard, which is about seven minutes long. Some of these sound wonderful, well deserving their high regard. But at the same time I find them all somehow unsatisfying.

Is it because of my Western perspective that hearing a 7 minute version of such a classic seems to me rather like hearing a version of a Beethoven symphony where the orchestra is only looking for the highlights?

Likewise, the metal string conservatory interpretation may be very evocative, and certainly many people think that it allows them to get into the aesthetic world of the people who created the melody. I cannot do so: I can only appreciate it as what seems to me: clearly a modern take.

For me, much of the attraction of this piece comes from playing (or listening to) the entire melody on the instrument that was used to create (silk string guqin); related to this, if I like a melody I then always enjoy it when I can follow up on the art and commentary that it has inspired.

Some of this commentary is above. This includes links to more (such as my translation of Wang Shixiang's article about it). Of particular interest should also be my recording of the complete original tablature.