Guangling San
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02. Guangling Melody 1
- Manshang tuning:2 1 1 4 5 6 1 2
Guangling San
Xi Kang at death3 (See full image)        
The surviving qin melody Guangling San (san-type melody4 from Guangling5) is 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 The title Guangling Zhixi (or titles Guangling and Zhixi) occur(s) in Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin as well as being included in at least one qin melody list dating from the seventh century CE. However, the present melody may have had its source in one called Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King,7 discussed in the Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong (133 - 192 CE).8 Nie Zheng himself 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 knife 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 Zhu uses with the melody itself show that his version of Guangling San in fact tells the story related by Cai Yong. 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.

In 1634 the handbook Guyin Zhengzong, the next handbook after 1539 to include this title, introduced a version of Guangling San that has only nine sections (later ones may have 10).17 This handbook was compiled by Zhu Changfang, Prince of Lu, and some later versions give him a role in creating this shorter version, which uses the same tuning as the earlier ones but the melody of which seems only minimally connected. The SQMP version was again copied in the next two handbooks with this title, dated 1670 and then not again until 1802, but beginning with the latter all later handbooks with this title have a version of this shorter melody (see chart).

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.

The famous qin player 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.

It has been said that a well-known qin collector, Xia Lianju,18 offered to give Guan a famous Tang dynasty qin if he would reconstruct the piece, a promise carried out after Guan recorded his interpretation in 1954.19 After this several others also did reconstructions, most notably Wu Jinglue, Yao Bingyan and Xu Lisun, but these were not publicly released. The piece subsequently became one of the most popular in the current repertoire, with at least 20 recordings available, but after Guan's always in abbreviated versions, ranging in length from 6 to 13 minutes. Then in 1996 Wu Wenguang recorded on a Taiwan label his father Wu Jinglue's complete version, followed in 1998 by release of an old recording of Wu Jinglue himself on the ROI label.20 And in 2006 Hugo released a CD that included Xu Lisun's complete version.21 The version by Yao Bingyan recorded and transcribed by Bell Yung is incomplete.22

Regarding my own version, which can be heard on one of my CDs, I began learning it by copying Guan's version. Soon, however, I began working directly from the original tablature, which led to my developing some important differences. The two main focuses of this work was,

  1. Re-examining the ancient finger technique explanations. This led to changes in my interpretation of several techniques.23
  2. Following the indicated finger positions more strictly, resulting 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). 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. Interestingly, these occur most commonly in the opening two divisions and again in division five. This is a modal characteristic often found in SQMP pieces using the shang mode, but it may also be relevant to the argument of Wang Shixiang that the central sections of the surviving melody are the most ancient.24

Original Preface (中文)

The Emaciated Immortal, in accordance with Qin History, 25 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 Hui26 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 Jian27 (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 Xiaoni28 (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 Shu29 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.30 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).31

Later (Yuan) Xiaoni was able realize the meaning of "taking a rest",32 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.33. 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 )
Six divisions and 45 sections: 34

  1. I. Opening fingering (Kai Zhi,35 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: Taking a rest (Zhixi) 37

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

    III. Grand Preface

  5. (02.55) 1. Native village
  6. (03.03) 2. Good behavior (as a child)
  7. (03.41) 3. Following nature
  8. (04.05) 4. Asking about what happened
  9. (05.10) 5. (A nature) appropriate to the times

    IV. Main sounds 38

  10. (05.51) 1. Kill Han (king)
  11. (05.57) 2. Call for dead (father's spirit)
  12. (06.19) 3. Dead body
  13. (06.42) 4. Arouse courage
  14. (07.10) 5. Hidden resolve
  15. (07.23) 6. Sinking into thought
  16. (07.43) 7. The spirit returns
  17. (08.08) 8. Accepting fate; also called Move the lamp then sit
  18. (09.20) 9. Hair-raising anger
  19. (09.35) 10. Bravery (grand as a rainbow)
  20. (10.15) 11. Powerful spirit (like cold wind)
  21. (10.23) 12. Anger bursts out
  22. (10.46) 13. Heroic woman (mother or sister)
  23. (11.48) 14. Take back the hero's body
  24. (12.17) 15. Spread his fame
  25. (12.55) 16. Act of valor
  26. (13.15) 17. Not famous
  27. (13.30) 18. Throw away knife

    Concluding Sounds 39

  28. (14.15) 1. Brave deeds (leaving big footprints)
  29. (15.20) 2. Retaining a natural disposition
  30. (16.00) 3. Return power to the government
  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. Do the deed
  35. (18.11) 8. Leave home
  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 both Chapter 2.B. (Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang Qu, pp. 19-20) and Chapter 3.B. (pp.30-36).

Manfred Dahmer 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); 354 pp.
    This book seems basically to be his doctoral dissertation on Guangling San.
  2. Manfred Dahmer, Der lange Regenbogen. Die Solosuite Guanglingsan für Qin. Das Abenteuer des berühmtesten Werkes der alten chinesischen Musik. Uelzen, Medizinisch Literarische Verlagsanstalt, 2009; 387 pp.

Both volumes have bright yellow covers and are listed on Amazon, but I have only actually seen the 2009 volume. Perhaps the former is a closer copy of his doctoral disseration. The latter book also has much more general information about the guqin, with numerous illustrations, plus a CD with Dahmer's recording of Guangling San on 46 tracks, first separate tracks for the 45 sections, then the whole piece together.

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

  1. gong = 君 jun ruler, master
  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.

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. Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King (聶政刺韓王 Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang)
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?) in relating the story given here; however, it does not mention 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 second century.

8. Association with 蔡邕 Cai Yong
Cai Yong is also associated with the melodies Chang Qing, Qiuyue Zhao Maoting, 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.

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 have an old copy of a transcription into staff notation. However, all I know of its origins is that it was published somewhere on pp. 9-33; the same transcription can be found in the book with the 2016 4-CD set, again not citing the source. 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.

20. Wu Jinglue recording
See Favourite Guchin Pieces of Wu Wenguang, Chenxi CT 9601 (timing: 19.40), and
The Qin Repertoire of Wu Jing-lue, ROI RB-981014-2C, 1998 (18.18).

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

22. 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])

23. Old finger techniques difficult to interpret 倚涓
These two techniques have varying interpretations, none of them easy to follow.

  1. 倚涓 yi juan (see further): The left image at right is the basic symbol; right of it is the symbol as it appears, doubled, in Guangling San. The explanation was both hard to find and ambiguous, thus now with differing interpretations. The fourth figure (cluster) in the present Kaizhi, which seems to be a sort of prelude to Guangling San, it is a right hand technique that my computer cannot re-create, hence the original image at right (it is written something like 厶奇, but with the 厶 inside the lower part of 奇, replacing 口, and the upper four strokes of 立 replacing 大 on top of 奇). Reconstructions made in the 1950s interpret this as (with the left thumb at the 4th position) 摘 zhai the 5th and 6th strings then 涓 juan the two, repeated, 5+5 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 厶奇 (with the upper four strokes of 立 again replacing 大 on top of 奇), but following other precedents one can put the 厶 in the 奇, replacing the 口; the interpretation as yijuan results in only 2+2 notes.
  2. huan; by itself "abundant"; one reference (V/159) says it 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 it is a sort of turn.


24. Changing modality of the six sections of Guangling San
See also the comments and links above under Man Shang Diao. According to the argument of Wang Shixiang the central sections of the surviving melody may date from before the Tang dynasty but the outer sections were gradually added during the Tang and/or later. To my knowledge at that time there had been no research done comparing the modality of these sections. However, according to my own observation since then there are many occurrences of flatted 3s in divisions 1, 2 and 3, then none in 4, just one in 5 and none in 6. Looking at Wang Shixiang's chart, one is tempted to see this as suggesting that perhaps the flatted thirds are Song dynasty additions to older material (though this would also suggest that Division 3, Da Xu, must have been modified during the Song or Yuan dynasty).

In addition, while there are both flatted and non-flatted 7s throughout, the outer sections seem to be have fewer of the non-flatted 7s. The significance of this is also unclear.

25. 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.

26. 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).

27. 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.)

28. 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.).

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

30. 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.

31. 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.

32. 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. (16609.58 止息﹕停息休止 stop, rest; quotes Shi Ji and Li Sao). Zhi Xi is a title in some Tang qin tablatures listed in Qinshu Cunmu, and also in Qinshu Daquan, ibid. The meaning of this 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.

33. 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.

34. Guangling San original titles         (Return to top)
The original titles are as follows (those from the two versions in Xilutang Qintong are added for comparison:

Shen Qi Mi Pu
Xilutang Qintong A
Melody is different
Xilutang Qintong B
Melody similar to SQMP
I. 開指 Kaizhi
慢商意 Manshang Yi
          (before GLS)
慢商品 Manshang Pin
          (before GLS)
II. 小序 Xiaoxu II. 小序 Xiaoxu II. 小 Xiaoyin
2-4. 止息 Zhixi
        移燈就座 (Yideng jiu zuo)
1-3. 止息 Zhixi 1-3. (no subtitle)
III. 大序 Daxu III. 大序 Daxu III. 大序 Daxu
  5. 井里 Jingli   4. 井里 Jingli   4. 井里 Jingli
  6. 申誠 Shencheng   5. 申誠 Shencheng   5. 申誠 Shencheng
  7. 順物 Shunwu   6. 順物 Shunwu   6. 順物 Shunwu
  8. 因時 Yinshi   7. 因時 Yinshi   7. 因時 Yinshi
  9. 干時 Ganshi
  8. 干時 Ganshi   8. 干時 Ganshi
IV. 正聲 Zhengsheng IV. 正聲 Zhengsheng IV. 正聲 Zhengsheng
10. 取韓 Qu Han   9. 取韓 Qu Han   9. 取韓 Qu Han Xiang
11. 呼幽 Huyou 10. 呼幽 Huyou 10. 呼幽 Huyou
12. 亡身 Wangshen 11. Wangshen 11. 亡身 Wangshen
13. 作氣 Zuoqi 12. 作氣 Zuoqi 12. 作氣 Zuoqi
14. 含志 Hanzhi 13. 含志 Hanzhi 13. 含志 Hanzhi
15. 沉思 Chensi 14. 沉思 Chensi 14. 沉思 Chensi
16. 返魂 Fanhun 15. 反魂 Fanhun 15. 反魂 Fanhun (/鬼)
17. 徇物 Xunwu 16. 徇物 Xunwu 16. 徇物 Xunwu
18. 衝冠 Chongguan 17. 衝冠 Chongguan 17. 衝冠 Chongguan
19. 長虹 Changhong 18. 長虹 Changhong 18. 長虹 Changhong
20. 寒風 Hanfeng 19. 寒風 Hanfeng 19. 寒風 Hanfeng
21. 發怒 Fanu 20. 發 Fashu (mistake?) 20. 發怒 Fanu
22. 烈婦 Liefu 21. 烈婦 Liefu 21. 別妹 Biemei
23. 收義 Shouyi 22. 收義 Shouyi 22. Baoyi
24. 揚名 Yangming 23. 揚名 Yangming 23. 揚 Yangming
25. 含光 Hanguang 24. 含光 Hanguang 24. 含光 Hanguang
26. 沉名 Chenming 25. 沉名 Chenming 25. 沉名 Chenming
27. 投劍 Toujian
26. 投劍 Toujian 26. 投劍 Toujian
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 Guizheng 29. 歸政 Guizheng 29. 歸政 Guizheng
31. 誓畢 Shibi 30. 誓畢 Shibi 30. 誓畢 Shibi
32. 終思 Zhongsi 31. 終思 Zhongsi 31. 終思 Zhongsi
33. 同志 Tongzhi 32. 同志 Tongzhi 32. 同志 Tongzhi
34. 用事 Yongshi 33. 用事 Yongshi 33. 用事 Yongshi
35. 辭鄉 Cixiang 34. 辭鄉 Cixiang 34. 辭鄉 Cixiang
36. 氣衝 Qichong 35. 氣衝 Qichong 35. 氣衝 Qichong
37. 微行 Weixing
36. 微行 Weixing 36. 微行 Weixing
VI. 後序 Houxu VI. 後序 Houxu VI. 後序 Houxu
38. 會止息意 Hui zhixiyi 37. 會止息意 Hui zhixiyi 37. 會止息意 Hui zhixiyi
39. 意絕 Yijue 38. 意絕 Yijue 38. 意絕 Yijue
40. 悲志 Beizhi 39. 悲志 Beizhi 39. 悲志 Beizhi
41. 嘆息 Tanxi 40. 嘆息 Tanxi 40. 嘆息 Tanxi
42. 長吁 Changxu 41. 長吁 Changxu 41. 長 Changhu
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

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

37. 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.

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

39. 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. (Return)

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: Kaizhi + 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);
 often seems completely different from 1425, but more similar towards the end
2.b. 西麓堂琴統 (B)
      (1525; III/243)
1 (Manshang Pin) + 44 (3 + 5 + 18 + 10 + 8); still no phrasing indicated
            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: Kaizhi + 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"; "慢商調開始 Manshang mode Kaizhi";
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;
like 1634 B but splits Section 1 into 2 sections
  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.