Wusheng Qinpu
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Wusheng Qinpu 1
Qin Handbook of Five Tones, by the Lazy Immortal 2
  Wusheng Qinpu page 13 (pdf complete)  
Wusheng Qinpu, the second surviving guqin handbook, has five melodies. None has lyrics, each survives here for the first time, and there is one melody for each of the standard tuning modes. More specifically, the melodies are as follows:

Melodies in Wusheng Qinpu:

  1. 春羽     Chun Yu (Spring Rain); gong mode (I/188; transcription)
  2. 汶陽     Wen Yang (North of the Wen); shang mode (I/190)
  3. 仙山月 Xian Shan Yue (Moon over the Immortals' Mountain); jue mode (I/192; transcription and recording)
  4. 鴻飛     Hong Fei (Flying Geese); zhi mode (I/195)
  5. 盟鷗     Meng Ou (Allied with the Seagulls); yu mode (I/197)

Because of this arrangement, the melodies are each thought to have been designed specifically to show characteristics of that mode.5 In this way the handbook could be quite important to modal studies. However, it is in fact one of the least studied; and its actual melodies seem quite unique, with only one of them appearing in any later handbook. Their modality also seems more adventurous than orthodox. For example, there are many non-pentatonic notes, perhaps related to shifting tonal centers, but there are no explanations for this.

The identity of the author of Wusheng Qinpu remains uncertain. In his preface the author (or compiler) identifies himself only as "Lan Xian", the Lazy Immortal. There has been some speculation that he was a Ming prince, but to my knowledge no one so far has definitively identified who he was. The book's preface itself says nothing personal about the author, focusing on music theory: the five tones.7

Along this line, after the preface, Wusheng Qinpu has a single essay, entitled, "Lan Xian's Five Sounds Correct Permutations Qin Mysteries".6 This essay is in fact identical to one in Xilutang Qintong (1525) entitled "Correct Permutations of the Five Sounds" (Wu Sheng Zheng Bian). However, in 1457 there is no indication of awareness of the 1525 publication, and 1525 does not mention this handbook in connection with this essay, suggesting both versions were probably copied from an earlier source, perhaps the same one.

On the other hand, the compiler of Xilutang Qinpu certainly seems to have been aware of Wusheng Qinpu: it copied a melody from there, Moon over Immortal's Mountain (Xianshan Yue). The two versions are virtually identical, and the 1525 afterword connects its copy of the melody to this handbook, though calling it "Lan Xian's Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces (琴訣五篇 Qin Jue Wu Pian)".8 This perhaps suggests that there may actually have been more than one edition of this handbook. However, this appelation may also refer to a sub-title of the just-mentioned essay that follows the preface. There are also characteristics of the tablature here that may or may not support such a contention.9

On the first page of the 1557 tablature (QQJC I/188), after the handbook title but before the first melody title, are the words "懶仙述 Lan Xian shu: as recounted by the Lazy Immortal". It is generally assumed that this means the Lazy Immortal created the melodies himself (thus further assuming not only that Xian Shan Yue was the only one revised from an earlier melody, but also that Lanxian's revisions were extensive enough that the piece can be considered as his own). Also on the first page of the tablature as well as at the end of the book there are several seals, but these were added much later and so do not help further identify the author.10

Here it should be noted, though, that not only is Xian Shan Yue the only melody in 1557 that has any commentary (the brief afterword saying it was revised from an older melody), it is also the only one of the handbook's five melodies to have closing harmonics: the other four only have the directions to play harmonics from that mode. The significance of this is unclear.11

This being the second surviving qin handbook, in the 1990s (soon after I had completed the Shen Qi Mi Pu and Zheyin Shizi Qinpu recordings that marked the first phase of my reconstruction project) I did my own tentative reconstruction of all five of these pieces. This means I wrote out transcriptions in preparation for working out note values that would turn them into actual melodies However, I was never able to finalize these. After this I periodically reviewed them, again not finishing them.12

Then in 2022 I tried one more time, this time inspired by reading an article about qin handbooks edited by Ming princes. It said that Wuyin Qinpu was such a handbook, and when I tried to find more about that claim I came upon the above-mentioned suggestions (q.v.) that Wuyin Qinpu might itself have been compiled by a grandson of Zhu Quan, Zhu Dianpei, who is also credited with having compiled Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (ca. 1491). These, however, all seemed to copy each other (they were on the internet) with none making any apparent attempt to identify the source of that suggestion.

The melody I tried (re-tried again) first was #3 Xian Shan Yue (q.v.), the only melody in 1457 with any commentary. Xian Shan Yue is also the only one of these five melodies to be found in any other handbook: it is copied out as #62 in Xilutang Qintong (1525), where the afterword expresses admiration for the theoretical concepts found in Lan Xian's handbook.13

The 1525 version adds some punctuation and corrects some mistakes (though others it either ignores or apparently doesn't consider mistakes). Perhaps most problematic are the numerous harmonic notes played at several of the "just intonation" positions. On certain strings these produce not just notes with special intonation, but non-pentatonic notes that most people consider mistakes. However, if played in a certain way these can also provide very interesting color. Was that the intention? Or are they actual mistakes, and if so what is the correct pitch?14

In any case, in August 2022 I made a new transcription of Xian Shang Yue followed by a recording; these are now online here. To me they have a strangeness that I quite like and very much enjoy playing.

So I immediately began working on another piece from the handbook (Chun Yu; results pending).

The list of Qin Sages in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu does not mention Lan Xian or his melodies.

Until the publication in 2022 of the CD shown below there were no available recordings of any of the five melodies in this handbook. The booklet and CD are the work of the Tianjin qin player Shi Yu.15

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 五聲琴譜 Wusheng Qinpu
262.1060 五聲 wu sheng: 宮 gong, 商 shang, 角 jue, 徵 zhi, 羽 yu. It also mentions: 辭、色、氣、耳、目 and 陰平、陽平、上、去、入.

The commentary (I/187) also mentions:
    雉朝飛 (Zhi Zhao Fei)
    箕山 Ji Shan (Jishan Cao?)
    洛浦 Luopu (Luo Pu Cao? Luo river bank; connection with Luo River goddess?)
    馮驩 Feng Huan (馮諼 Feng Xuan, a benevolent retainer of Lord Mengchang).
The first three can be melody names, so perhaps also the fourth.

2. 懶仙 Lan Xian: Lazy Immortal
懶仙 11722.xx Lan can also be translated as "idle", "indolent", "reluctant", etc. The following quote, perhaps the only attempt I have found so far to identify his true identity, says he was a grandson of
Zhu Quan, perhaps being the same person as 希仙 Xi Xian, the "Beyond Sounds Immortal" who compiled Zheyin Shizi Qinpu.

As of 2022 you can read this quote here (and elsewhere online):


"朱權善琴影響了他的子孫。國家圖書館藏有一部明代早期琴譜集《五聲琴譜》作者著錄爲懶仙。經學者考證,懶仙就是朱權的孫子朱奠培。....著名琴學家査阜西認爲,這是「十五世紀古琴曲創作的一個例子」。 Zhu Quan's skills at/approval of the qin influenced his descendants. The National Library 's collection includes an early Ming dynasty volume called Wusheng Qinpu. Its creator records his name as 'Lanxian' (the Lazy Immortal). According to research he is actually Zhu Quan's grandson Zhu Dianpei....The famous qin scholar Zha Fuxi reckoned that that was "an example of guqin melodies created in the 15th century".

The source of this information/speculation is not clear - internet sources simply quote or paraphrase it without expressing any interest as to what "researchers" it was who made this claim. It is not in Zha Fuxi's preface to the book's publication in Vol. I of Qinqu Jicheng, and I have not yet found it in his Collected Writings about the Qin.

3. Image: Wusheng Qinpu page 1 (pdf complete; at right: seals) Seals        
QQJC I/185; QQJC I/185-201 (1981: I/171-197). This presumably has the entire contents, but if there were original and back cover pages they were not included (the present edition added a new title page at I/183). The complete pdf was copied from the 2010 edition so although otherwise identical the pagination given in this table of contents is different.

None of the seals is contemporary to the book. The standard characters for the three seals shown at right, from top to bottom on the first page of tablature, are:

Thanks to 孫小青 Sun Xiaoqing for his help in reading the seals.

5. Modal characteristics
Not yet properly studied. Studying this is complicated by some of the seeming inconsistencies outlined under Characteristics of the tablature, below.

6. 懶仙序 Preface by Lan Xian
Much of the preface was quoted from a variety of sources: segments in brackets mostly show words or phrases added from one of these other sources. The original was unpunctuated and undivided; here an attempt has been made to arrange it thematically, but it still has both corrections and copy errors.

The complete preface is as follows. It is not yet translated.

和平沉厚麄大而下者宫之聲也。 勁凝明峻從上而下歸於中者商聲也。 角則圓長通徹中平而王而仰揚流利。 從下商歸中正者謂之徵。 喓喓而遠,細而高者羽也。謂
後生學者惟悅耳是趨彼此遷飾滋遁以紊。且宮商角羽之不分猶不指五色而繪也。 矧足語其幾乎。古風廖廖千載而下。其無駸駸於下俚者詎可望耶。 此聲之所以不能不蕪於琴矣。

Towards the end the writer says, "暇日聊製五調", which I understand to mean that during some free time he tentatively created these five melodies.

The preface also includes such detail as a description of the cycle of fifths (宮生徵,徵生商...). Lan Xian discusses some of the associations ascribed to the modes, mostly quoting a variety of old sources. In this he does not seem to say anything that describes the actual musical characteristics of the modes.

7. Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces (琴訣五篇 Qin Jue Wu Pian
"訣 Jue" might more precisely be defined as secret formulas only taught to insiders. As for this in a title, although the afterword in Xilutang Qintong to melody 3, Xian Shan Yue, refers to "Lan Xian's Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces" (懶仙所諸琴訣五篇; 21570.xxx), there does not seem to be any references elsewhere to such a title.

8. 懶仙五聲正變琴訣 (Lan Xian's Five Sounds Correct Permutations Qin Mysteries
As mentioned, the only commentary in this handbook (other than the preface and the the afterword to the melody Xian Shan Yue) is the essay of this title. It is in fact identical to an essay in Xilutang Qintong (1525) entitled Correct Changes of the Five Sounds (五聲正變 Wu Sheng Zheng Bian; III/42) and both were probably copied from the same earlier source, most likely the Qin Tong of Xu Li, much of which was copied into 1525.

As for its content, the essay begins (and ends) as follows:

宮   宏盛而玄、圓而重。
商   簡易而通、方而疏。
角   幽雅而潔、長而邃。
徵   開爽而文、洪而密。
羽   縝凝而備、細而輕。

懶仙曰:五聲之變,進則乘其 所勝,退則召其所稟。不能則 復有有餘則相於所生而亦兼 所勝。此必然之理也。夫宮慢 則入徵,商慢則入宮,角慢則 入羽,皆召所稟而相之。太蔟(太簇?) 引角召羽而不能乃復相徵 者也。泉鳴又引之則下相於 商乃不入徵而入商也。宮慢 而入徵矣。黃鐘進羽而乘之。 宮又召徵而不變乃宮得......"

Another 16 lines like this, then it ends,

...... 宜乎。曲乘而入者宜乎。操知 此則可得言矣。學琴者大 要不可不明於正變之聲而 尤不可失於曲操之意。若 《馮諼》、《雉朝飛》皆羽;《箕山》、《洛浦》皆慢角,而《馮諼》不可雜以《雉朝飛》之聲、《洛浦》有不可有《箕山》之意也。姑舉一隅,於是達之者當有辨焉。

No translation yet.

9. Characteristics of the tablature
Characteristics include,

Further study will probably provide more examples.

20. Seals
See above.

11. Only modal prelude
To be examined further: Is there a difference here in the way it treats the mode? Does the lack of a modal prelude in the other melodies reinforce the possibility that they were newly created by Lan Xian?

12. Not "completing" a reconstruction
What this means is that I had worked out the notes and given them tentative note values in order to copy them by hand into staff notation. I tried again in 2009 when I made digital copies using the transcription program Encore. Although I then printed this out and added the original tablature underneath, I was still unable to play, and thus record, this tentative interpretation. In general, when this happens it means that the note values I have selected so far have not yet revealed underlying structures that satisfy me enough to allow me to play the pieces in a way I find potentially convincing (starting with I actually enjoy the melody). Here, If the tablature is accurate, its music seems to have been quite different from that of other early handbooks.

13. Music theory in Wusheng Qinpu
I do not fully understand the theoretical arguments, but it would have been surprising if Xilutang Qinpu's compiler Wang Zhi had not approved of these theories, since they are all expressed also in Wang Zhi's own handbook, as further discussed above.

14. Problems with the tablature
There seem to be quite a few mistakes in the original tablature: most seem to be inaccurate finger positions, but in addition much of the punctuation seems to be missing. Because it is the only piece also found in a later handbook I have focused on Xian Shan Yue (Moon over the Immortals' Mountain). It has a few changes from what is here, but none seems particularly significant.

More specifically, the differences between the tablature for Xian Shan Yue in Xilutang Qintong compared to here in Wusheng Qinpu tend to be changes single clusters, not phrases. In some cases this seems to be a correction; in others clear errors from the earlier copy are unchanged. This leaves open the possibility that the version in Xilutang Qintong was copied from another source (Qin Jue Wu Pian) rather than corrected from Wusheng Qinpu.

15. A set of recordings by 石玉 Shi Yu Cover of booklet with CD  
(Announcement; available from Taobao: 五聲琴譜樂詮附CD精裝版)

The image at right shows the cover of 五聲琴譜樂詮 Wusheng Qinpu Yue Quan by 天津石玉 Shi Yu of Tianjin. Published in 2022, it includes a CD of Shi Yu's recordings of all five melodies using a guqin with composite strings. It also has a 178-page booklet with commentary, the original tablature, and transcriptions of all five pieces.

As can be seen in the second image, just below that, the transcriptions include both staff notation (showing modern Western pitch based on A=440Hz: open 1st string = C) and number notation (showing the traditional relative pitch: e.g., open 1st string is 1 if it is the tonal center, but if the tonal center is the open third string then the open 1st string = 5, even though it is still the Western C). For more about the difference between these two see this further comment. The red text in the column is mostly Shi Yu's editorial comments. Note also, as with my own transcriptions, the indicated rhythms should be flexibly interpreted: they may not be interpreted exactly the same each time.

In August 2022 I found out about these recordings just as I was finalizing my own reconstruction of Xian Shan Yue. I was able to obtain a copy quite quickly but did not open it until I had actually finished my own transcription and recording: because the tablature does not directly indicate note values, it is important for there to be independent reconstructions so that people can use the different interpretations to learn more about how note values are determined today and from that have a better understanding of the parameters within which the original notes might have been played.

Having said that, according to my preliminary observation of his interpretation of Xian Shan Yue, they seem quite familiar to me when working in passages where we can follow the original punctuation. However, one of the major difficulties with Wusheng Qinpu is lengthy passages with no punctuation. This is not such an issue in Xian Shan Yue, where one can compare the punctuation from Xilutang Qintong. In other pieces, though, such as #1 Chun Yu, according to my undertstanding (I am now re-visiting my old transcription) we are finding some quite different phrasing.
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