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Ziye Song of Wu
- Standard tuning2 : 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
子夜吳歌 1
Ziye Wu Ge
Tablature for Ziye Wu Ge from 1676 3      
The qin song Ziye Wu Ge uses as lyrics one of the Ziye Sishi Ge4 (Songs of the Four Seasons) by the famous Tang dynasty poet Li Bai. The one set to lyrics here is the poem for autumn, and as such it is also occasionally called Ziye Qiuge (Ziye Song of Autumn). It is perhaps best known for its inclusion in the famous collection called 300 Tang Poems.5 All four poems for the four seasons are included in one section of the compendium Yuefu Shiji, where they are joined by many other sets of lyrics, generally under the title Ziye Wu Ge.6

The "Ziye" in Ziye Wu Ge (Ziye Songs of Wu) is based on the idea that the lyrics are all in some way structured on originals attributed to a woman of the Jin dynasty known as Zi-Ye ("Lady Midnight").7 Most are written from the supposed perspective of a woman. As for Wu Ge (Songs of Wu), this originally referred to songs from the Suzhou area. Such songs are said to have a very ancient tradition.8 Here most of them have the structure (5+5) x 3 , so in theory all could be sung with the present lyrics.9

Several books have been published in China with transcriptions into staff notation for old qin songs.10 These include at least one melodic setting of the Ziye Wu Ge lyrics based on qin tablature in an old Japanese handbook.11 That transcription was based on old tablature that apparently has been preserved only in Japan. Since the transcription was published several further attempts have been made to revive this qin song.12

Qinqu Jicheng has published three almost identical editions of qin tablature for this very short song.13 All are from Japanese handbooks, as follows:

  1. Hewen Zhu(yin) Qinpu (#9; XII/185),
  2. Minghe Ben Donggao Qinpu (#6; XII/252) and
  3. Dayuan Zhilang ben Donggao Qinpu (#11; XII/266).

A comment at the end of the song in the Hewen Zhu(yin) Qinpu edition says "revisions were made by the hand of Toko Shin-etsu".14 This may suggest that Shin-Etsu brought the melody with him when he went from Hangzhou to Japan in 1677, then revised it for his students in Japan. However, no qin melodies on the Ziye theme are known to have been preserved in China.15

Intriguingly, Zhang Chen, p. 50, p. 230, translates a poem by Han Biao which includes the line,

Last year’s Cold Food Day, at a Suzhou guesthouse, I chanted Ziye’s Songs of Wu.

It would be very interesting indeed to know what precisely it meant to "吟 yin" such a song.16

Original preface

Music (timings follow my recording (聽我的錄音 listen; 看五線譜 see transcription)
One section; a mostly syllabic setting of the lyrics18 Several translations are available online including one from chinese-poems.com and the one by YK Chan included below as part of his translation of Li Bai's 子夜四時歌 Ziye's Ballads of the Four Seasons. Witter Bynner's rendition is,

00.00 (Closing harmonics played solo as a prelude)
00.19   A slip of the moon hangs over the capital;
                  Ten thousand washing-mallets are pounding;
            And the autumn wind is blowing my heart
                  For ever and ever toward the Jade Pass.
            Oh, when will the Tartar troops be conquered,
                  And my husband come back from the long campaign!
00.45 (End)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Ziye Wu Ge references (QQJC (XII/185 & 252)
ZWDCD has three references:

子夜 7072.212 midnight (子時 zishi is 11 PM to 1 AM); name of a woman (see below) of the 晉 Jin dynasty.
子夜吳歌 .213 same as 子夜歌 Ziye Ge, quoting Li Bai
子夜歌 .214 Refers to YFSJ Qingshang lyrics originally from 吳 Wu, often associated with the four seasons
not: .214/2 name of a 詞牌 cipai, same as 菩薩蠻 Pusa Man (Bodhisattva Headdress)

Because ziye can mean midnight, the poem Ziye Wu Ge is often translated Midnight Poem of Wu. However, this does not take into account the association with the other Zi-Ye poems of this title (see below).

Ziye Lyrics (or Ziye Songs) are discussed in a footnote below. They are often called 子夜吳歌 Ziye Songs of Wu; for Songs of Wu see another footnote below.

2. The Japanese handbooks say "商音 Shang Yin". (Return)

3. Tablature for Ziye Wu Ge from 1676
Copied from QQJC XII/185. The name 李青蓮 Li Qinglian under the title seems to refer to the creator of the melody (or perhaps the tablature). At the end 東皋心越校 suggests that Shin-Etsu did some sort of revision.

4. Ziye's Ballads for the Four Seasons (子夜四時歌 Ziye Sishi Ge)
The four ballads, with their translation by 陳耀國 YK Chan (the source is as follows):

  1. 春歌 Spring Song

    秦地羅敷女         Maiden Luofu in the land of Qin,
        採桑綠水邊         Picks mulberry leaves by the river.
    素手青條上         Her pale arms stretched across the green bough,
        紅妝白日鮮         In bright sunlight her red dress shimmers.
    蠶飢妾欲去         Silkworms famished I’d like to go,
        五馬莫留連         Ought not to loiter here your five-horse carriage.

  2. 夏歌 Summer Song

    鏡湖三百里         Mirror Lake stretches far and wide,
        菡萏發荷花         Teeming with lotus blossoms nigh.
    五月西施採         In the fifth moon when Xi Shi the beauty picks the flowers,
        人看隘若耶         Onlookers amass in Yuoye for such a spectacular. (Youye was Xi Shi’s hometown)
    回舟不待月         Before moonrise her boat returns,
        歸去越王家         To the royal house as heads turn.

  3. 秋歌 Autumn Song

    長安一片月         The moon shines bright over Chang An City;
        萬戶搗衣聲         Household laundry bats are stirring the night.
    秋風吹不盡         Autumn breezes forever blow and blow,
        總是玉關情         Always carry my heart to Gate Jadeite.
    何日平胡虜         When will all the Tartars be conquered,
        良人罷遠徵         To let my dear husband quit this distant fight?

  4. 冬歌 Winter Song (set by Wang Di)

    明朝驛使發         Next morn the courier is setting off;
        一夜絮徵袍         My warrior’s gown has to be sewn tonight.
    素手抽針冷         Slender hands pulling a chilly needle;
        那堪把剪刀         Those scissors can hardly be held tight.
    裁縫寄遠道         To send the tailored garment far away,
        幾日到臨洮         When will it reach Lintao and be alright?

These Ballads (or Songs) of the Four Seasons are included in YFSJ, p.653.

5. 300 Tang Poems
My Taiwan edition with a translation by Witter Bynner ("A Song of an Autumn Midnight", p54) uses 子夜秋歌 Ziye Qiuge as the Chinese title. The title Ziye Wuge apparently comes from the inclusion in a Yuefu Shiji section called 吳聲歌曲 Songs with Wu Sounds (see below). (Return)

6. 子夜歌 Ziye Songs (Songs associated with Lady Midnight; see above)
Ziye Songs are preserved in the 清商曲辭 Qingshang Melody Lyrics section of Yuefu Shiji: all of Folio 44, then Folio 45 to p.655. All the Ziye poems are in 5-character lines; most have four lines. Those of the first set, 42 such poems, are the ones most closely associated with Zi-Ye herself; some also claim for her the 75 after that, making 117 in all. After this are more anonymous poems, then some by known poets, including the 子夜四時歌四首 Four Ziye Songs of the Four Seasons by Li Bai; the third of these, about autumn, are the lyrics for the present song. (Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature, pp. 237 - 240 discusses Zi Ye under "Yue-fu of the South, and translates some poems from the first set. She is not included in Chang and Saussy, Women Writers of Traditional China.)

7. 子夜 Zi-Ye (Lady Midnight)
Zi-Ye is said to have been a fourth century courtesan, but nothing is known about her. Though Ziye poems tend to be presented as in the voice of a woman, it is unknown how many (if any) of the Ziye lyrics she actually wrote, or even how many were actually written by women. Ziye lyrics are discussed further in the next footnote. (Return)

8. 吳歌 Wu Ge (Songs of Wu)
The cultural center of the Wu region is often said to be Suzhou. There is a long tradition of "Songs of Wu" (note the claims on a popular account at Wu Songs, which mentions Ziye songs), but there is no apparent way to connect their melodies or melody types to either the ancient melodies of Ziye songs, or to the short surviving melody from a Japanese qin handbook. (Return)

9. Interchangeable structure
For some reason this seems almost never to be done with qin songs; more likely the lyrics will remain the same but the melody will differ. (Return)

10. Published transcriptions of qin songs
This was written in the 1990s. Since then there have been a number of new publications. The transcriptions referred to here were originally published in a book by Wang Di called Qin Songs. They have since been re-published in a collection of old Chinese songs. See also Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao.

11. Transcription from an old handbook
This refers to Wang Di's transcription of Ziye Wu Ge on p. 64 of the 1983 publication and p. 135 of 1989; neither is specific about the source. The note values used are identical, but whereas the former begins on A and ends on D, the latter has been transposed down four notes, so it begins on E and ends on A. There is no explanation for this. (N.B. This happens in the middle of Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao, clearly a mistake!)

Also without explanation, but presumably because the melody is so short, Wang Di has added Li Bai's poem on winter from the same set, to serve as lyrics for a second verse (repeating the melody of the first verse). Since all four poems have the same structure ([5 + 5} x 3), presumably one could just as well sing all four of Li Bai's poems to this melody. (Return)

12. For example, on the NAGA website has reported one such effort. (Return)

13. Tracing Ziye Wu Ge
Zha's Guide 34/--/503 is not clear on this, but the three editions are in QQJC XII, pp. 181, 246 and 260. Wang Di does not specify which edition she used, but in fact all three are identical except that the two Toko Kinpu (Minghe and Dayuan) give different notes for the characters 良人 liang ren (harmonics at the seventh stud) than does Hewen Zhu(yin) Qinpu (harmonics at the fifth stud).

14. 東皋心越挍

15. No Ziye songs published in China
It seems quite possible that many short qin songs were played in China but never written down.

16. yin
For example, could 吟 yin include humming? The modern term 哼 heng seems quite rare in classical poetry. See further comment here.

17. Preface
The Japanese handbooks have little commentary other than perhaps naming the person who did the music and/or lyrics, and they are often vague about that.

18. Lyrics
The original lyrics by Li Bai are, once again:

長安一片月,萬戶擣衣聲。   Cháng ān yī piàn yuè, wàn hù dǎo yī shēng.   (擣 = 搗 as in Dao Yi Qu)
秋風吹不盡,總是玉關情。   Qiū fēng chuī bù jìn, zǒng shì yù guān qíng.
何日平胡虜,良人罷遠征。   Hé rì píng hú lǔ, liáng rén bà yuǎn zhēng.

Note the mention of Pounding Cloth 擣衣 Dao Yi. There are several qin melodies called 搗衣 Dao Yi.

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