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Spring Dawn in a Grotto-Heaven
Standard tuning, gong mode ( 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 ) 2
洞天春曉 1
Dongtian Chun Xiao 
  Dongtian Chun Xiao illustration from Kuian Qinpu 3        
Grotto-heavens, also mentioned in the melody title Cranes Dance in a Grotto-Heaven, should be remote scenic areas, otherworldly in appearance and at best having good geomantic properties. In many parts of China today there are still many places claiming such properties.4 Some are natural areas, though usually over the years greatly modified by human hand; others are completely artificial, having been built into private gardens. Grotto-heavens are also a popular theme in literati painting, and one might naturally assume that they should be good places to play the qin.

This particular evocation of a grotto-heaven, Dongtian Chun Xiao, is the third melody in Zangchunwu Qinpu (1602); it follows the modal prelude Shenpin Gong Yi,5 as well as the short Harmonious Spirit Intonation (He Qi Yin6), the three of them seeming to form a set. This assumption is supported by commentary inserted here in the 1602 handbook between Shenpin Gong Yi and He Qi Yin.7 The commentary mostly concerns the qin player Shen Taishao and his creation of these two titled melodies.

The same commentary also mentions the third melody in this handbook attributed to Shen, Xishan Qiu Yue (compare Jishan Qiu Yue), but not the fourth, Feng Xiang Xiao Han.

Although He Qi Yin does not appear in any later handbooks, during the Qing dynasty Dongtian Chunxiao became one of the most common, surviving in 28 handbooks from 1602 to 1946.8 Nevertheless, it is not at all clear how widely it was actually played. Truly popular melodies tend to develop considerably over the years, but my preliminary examination of the various versions of Dongtian Chunxiao through 1802 (I have not yet seen any of those published after that date) suggests they all have a remarkable similarity.

According to Zha's Guide, none of the versions has section titles (but see 17029) and only four (1602, 1705, 1722 and 1914) have direct commentary, none after this earliest one seeming to mention Shen Taishao. In addition none of the commentaries says anything about the significance of the title.

My present working assumption is that Shen Taishao either created this melody or gave it its earliest full form; one might speculate that there is a connection between the fact that he was living (and teaching) in Beijing and the fact that modally his version stands out for the many occurrences of non-pentatonic notes, in particular the note fa (see further). Shen's student Yan Cheng learned it and developed his own version, often changing fa to mi; the other early Yushan school qin master Xu Hong almost completely eliminated the instances of fa, and in this form (see 1673) it subsequently became a melody particularly associated with the Yushan School.


Original preface10
This handbook, published in 1602, has some relevant comments (original Chinese) after the modal prelude, but prefaces specifically for this melody can only be found in three later handbooks.

Music 11
18 sections, untitled

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Spring Dawn in a Grotto Heaven (洞天春曉 Dongtian Chun Xiao) (VI/294)
17777.9-13 and 5/1143 have various dongtian but no qin reference or mention of this title. For Chun Xiao see under Chunxiao Yin. Other melodies also mention either dongtian or chunxiao (e.g., He Wu Dongtian and Chun Xiao Yin), but there seems to be no musical connection.

Perhaps there is some relevance with 洞天福地 Dongtian Fudi (Grotto Paradise, a Daoist term): elsewhere Dongtian Chun Xiao is associated in some way with these Daoist grotto paradises. (See appendix.)

2. Gong mode (宮調 gongdiao)
Standard tuning, here 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, in some other modes is considered as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2. For further information on gong mode see Shenpin Gong Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Kuian Qinpu Illustration (QQJC XI/7)
The illustration above, which has no inscription, is placed directly below an illustration that seems to serve for the whole book.

4. Grotto-Heavens in China
An internet search for "洞天" or "grotto-heaven" emphasizes the places that are tourist attractions.

5. Celestial Air Introducing the Gong mode (神品宮意 Shenpin Gong Yi)
See also gong mode above. The gong modal prelude from 1602 is a relatively long version drawing on several earlier versions.

6. Harmonious Spirit Intonation (和氣吟 He Qi Yin)
3600.163 only heqi: friendly; yin and yang in balance. This melody title only here (see in ToC).

7. Commentary between Shenpin Gong Yi and He Qi Yin
This commentary, which mostly concerns Shen Taishao, is as follows (not yet translated):



The final sentence, which could be translated "As known by the Henan enquirer into mysteries Hao Ning", is written under the title for He Qi Yin.

8. Tracing Dongtian Chunxiao
Zha Guide (28/223/--) lists 28 handbooks to 1946, as follows:

  1. 藏春塢琴譜 (1602; VI/294; many occurrences of fa)
  2. 陽春堂琴譜 (1611; VII/354; partially written using decimal system, but not consistent)
  3. 松絃館琴譜 (1614; VIII/73; earliest Yushan school handbook; fewer fa but still many)
  4. 思齊堂琴譜 (1620; IX/17)
  5. 樂仙琴譜     (1623; VIII/442; largely a copy of 1611)
  6. 徽言秘旨     (1647; X/55; 1692 same)
  7. 愧菴琴譜     (1660; XI/7; illustration: see above)
  8. 臣卉堂琴譜 (1663; XI/119)
  9. 大還閣琴譜 (1673; X/328; after 1611 the second most important Yushan school handbook; most fa changed to mi)
  10. 德音堂琴譜 (1691; XII/473)
  11. 琴譜析微     (1692; XIII/40)
  12. 蓼懷堂琴譜 (1702; XIII/185; each section subtitled)
  13. 誠一堂琴譜 (1705; XIII/327; first with commentary)
  14. 五知齋琴譜 (1722; XIV/422; introduces "省 short rests" in opening phrase)
  15. 臥雲樓琴譜 (1722; XV/; facsimile)
  16. 蘭田館琴譜 (1755; XVI/188)
  17. 琴香堂琴譜 (1760; XVII/21)
  18. 自遠堂琴譜 (1802; XVII/300; copy of 1722 五知齋)
  19. 裛露軒琴譜 (>1802; XIX/; "熟派 Yushan school"; "copy of 1722 五知齋")
  20. 琴譜諧聲     (1820; XX/)
  21. 琴學軔端     (1828; XX/)
  22. 鄰鶴齋琴譜 (1830; XXI/)
  23. 悟雪山房琴譜 (1836; XXII/)
  24. 天聞閣琴譜 (1876; XXV/ , but not in ToC on p. 171ff of Zha's Guide, or the Columbia University edition)
  25. 天籟閣琴譜 (1876; XXI/)
  26. 響雪齋琴譜 (1876; ???/)
  27. 希韶閣琴譜 (1878; XXVI/)
  28. 詩夢齋琴譜 (1914; ???/)
  29. 沙堰琴編     (1946; XXIX/)

Four handbooks include commentary on Dongtian Chunxiao:

  1. 1602; (after Shenpin Gong Yi [中文]; details above)
  2. 1705 (XIII/327; "溫舒廣大 calm-carefree and vast"),
  3. 1722 (XIV/422; preface: "its beauty is calm and soothing"; afterword: "洵古調 truly an old melody", but difficult)
  4. 1914 ("最難得其冲和古淡之意 very difficult to attain its diffuse and anciently subtle meaning").

The 1705 comment comes from the Record of the Historian, Book of Music, description of the effect of listening to melodies in gong mode ("聞宮音使人溫舒而廣大").

9. Subtitles in 蓼懷堂琴譜 (1702)
In Liaohuaitang Qinpu each section has a subtitle written in small print after the section number, as follows:

  1. 啓明清旦 (The planet) Venus is visible at dawn
  2. 金雞三唱 A golden pheasant crows three times
  3. 月淡星稀 The moon and stars are faint and scattered
  4. 玉殿鐘鳴 From a jade palace a clock strikes
  5. 群仙朝會 A crowd of immortals meets at dawn
  6. 鸞鳳和鳴 Male and female phoenix call out together
  7. 光含萬象 A brightness encompasses myriad images
  8. 鶴舞洞天 Cranes Dance in a Grotto Heaven
  9. 九皋聲徹 Sounds penetrate the nine marshpools
  10. 仙珮迎風 Fairy jade in the Wind
  11. 九霄步虛 In the ninth layer of heaven strolling in emptiness
  12. 風雲際會 Wind and clouds happen to meet
  13. 萬樹桃花 Myriad trees with peach blossoms
  14. ____ (? None)
  15. 金雞離海 A golden pheasant emerges from the sea
  16. 玉兔西沈 The jade rabbit (i.e., the moon) sinks in the west
  17. 彩霞萬叠 Rosy clouds in myriad layers
  18. 雲迎旭日 Clouds welcome the rising sun

Zha's Guide does not include them and I have not yet found them in any other handbook.

10. Original preface
The Chinese original of the commentary prior to He Qi Yin is not yet online.

11. Music
In 2010 I transcribed this earliest version and compared it with later ones, 1611 and 1614 in particular. The major differences are of ornamentation and, in early editions, the interpretation of certain notes as either mi or fa. As I comment with the 1614 version of the melody Autumn River Night Anchorage, an increased appearance of fa seems to have been a significant modal trend in certain handbooks published around 1600; and as with that melody, once again here the occurrence of fa seems to diminish or disappear in the later versions. Most notably the version in the earliest Yushan handbook, 1611, has many occurrences of fa, but these are almost all changed to mi in its successor, 1673.

Interpreting this is complicated by some confusion in the finger position indications (e.g., 六七 or 六半 vs 六下). For some reason the old system, quite capable of precision if used properly (see comment under the decimal system), was by 1600 no longer being used with precision. In fact, one might speculate that it was a resulting confusion that led to the introduction (perhaps in Yangchuntang Qinpu, 1611) of a decimal system for indicating finger positions. Unfortunately, the earliest use of this system was not yet very precise.

A cursory examination of the later versions (listed above) suggests that this melody relatively unchanged at least through 1802. This perhaps suggests that, although it was considered a very important piece, it was not widely played, perhaps because of its difficulty: players had to continually refer back to earlier tablature rather than simply play it from memory.

There has been some online commentary that discusses the music in Chinese only, but the main example I have seen of this has since been removed.


The following, found on the internet, may be relevant. It mentions Dongtian Chunxiao right after Eight Views of Guishan, but I am not sure of the connection.

溈山探幽之二 Exploring the hidden Mount Gui (in Hunan), #2






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