Changmen Yuan
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Lament at Changmen Palace
Standard tuning (called huangzhong2): 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
長門怨 1
Changmen Yuan
An earlier version?3  
The earliest printed version of a qin melody entitled Changmen Yuan is to be found in Mei An Qin Pu (1931).4 However, the melody is also included in two hand-copied collections said to be early Zhucheng school handbooks, Longyinguan Qinpu (1799?) and Qinpu Zhenglü (1839?); these supposedly earlier versions, almost identical to each other, are essentially the same as the modern version, though there are a few differences.5

Mei An Qin Pu attributes the melody to the famous Han dynasty poet Sima Xiangru. In contrast the version in Qinpu Zhenglü says the original creator's name is lost. The melody itself quite likely being relatively new, the Meian Qinpu attribution is presumably based on the attribution to Sima Xiangru of a Changmen Fu (Rhapsody on Changmen).6 According to the account with that rhapsody as published in Wen Xuan the composition was written because Han emperor Wudi's Empress Chen, having been replaced in the emperor's favor by a singer named Wei Zifu and confined to Changmen Palace, gave Sima Xiangru 100 catties of gold to write an essay describing her merits as well as her grief. His resulting Changmen Rhapsody is said to have been successful in restoring Empress Chen to favor.

The theme behind this melody is also related in Folio 42 of the Yuefu Shiji. Commentary there credits three sources: Han Wu Di Gushi,7 Han Shu8 and Yuefu Jieti.9 Yuefu Shiji then includes poems on this title attributed to 20 different poets;10 none is said to be by Sima Xiangru.

It is interesting to compare all this with the story and poems, also in Yuefu Shiji Folio 42, telling of the misery of Ban Jieyu, a concubine of emperor Chengdi. As for lyrics attributed to Han Wudi himself, they have been set to the melody Qiu Feng Ci.

Original afterword:11
Only in the 1959 edition of Meian Qinpu, as follows:

This composition belongs solely to the Zhucheng qin school. During the reign of Han Wudi, Sima Xiangru wrote this composition, describing Empress Chen confined in the Changmen Palace. It is somber and depressing, and sounds just like crying. Not just gloomy and noble, but also sobbing and sighing - the cry of an oppressed woman. The beginning uses arpeggio harmonics to describe the sound of girdle pendants jingling, slow walking, and going out. The second section depicts walking and complaining. The entire composition mirrors the sound of a woman walking, particularly manifest in the third section; the brooding low melody reveals unspeakable torment. The fourth section changes into high-pitched sounds, loud crying, the extremity of sadness and lamenting. The fifth setion also has sounds of pacing and sighing. The sixth section describes despair, helplessness, and ends with attempted consolation.

Translation is from Lieberman, A Chinese Zither Tutor, p.106.

Six sections plus a harmonic coda

Although I originally learned Changmen Yuan when I was first studying with my teacher Sun Yu-ch'in, since I left Taiwan my focus has been playing early qin melodies and so have not played this melody in many years. Here, however, is a recording by Zha Fuxi:

5' 16"

The recording was made in the 1950s during Zha Fuxi's guqin research project.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 長門怨 Changmen Yuan
42022.246 樂府,楚調,曲名。 Yuefu melody in Chu mode. It then gives some details as in YFSJ, Folio 42 (pp. 620-625). "Changmen Palace" is actually "長門宮 Changmen Gong".

YFSJ also has lyrics with this title by over 20 poets, but it is not in the qin section and none of the lyrics has been set for qin.

For English commentary and a transcription (without the tablature) see Fredric Lieberman, A Chinese Zither Tutor, pp.106-111.

2. Huangzhong mode (黃鐘調 standard tuning)
In early tablature huangzhong melodies usually use a non-standard tuning, but see the 1511 Huangzhong Diao.

3. Changmen Yuan in Longyinguan Qinpu (page 1 of 6)
This version of Changmen Yuan is said to date from as early as 1798, but see comment.

4. Tracing Changmen Yuan
Zha Guide 44/--/-- (i.e., no prefaces; no lyrics) only mentions Meian Qinpu but this melody is also included in two other sources generally said to be early Zhucheng handbooks. The three are thus:

  1. Longyinguan Qinpu (1799?); only photocopied versions from the Van Gulik library seem to be available
  2. Qinpu Zhenglü (1839?); QQJC XXIII/46; almost identical to previous
  3. Meian Qinpu (1931); QQJC XXIX/208; the main difference from the earlier two versions is that here both Section 3 and the coda begins a bit earlier. This version also adds a few notes and ornaments. It has no afterword, as that was not included in this handbook until its 1959 edition.

See also the comment below on Zhucheng school handbooks.

5. Versions in earlier Zhucheng school qin handbooks
The two versions mentioned here, in Longyinguan Qinpu (not in QQJC; 1799?) and Qinpu Zhenglü (QQJC XXIII/46; 1839?), both survive only in modern editions said to have been copied from earlier originals. The reliability of such claims is difficult to assess. It is unusual for melodies actively played to be changed so little over such a long period of time, and little evidence has been provided to support the early dating of these Mei'an handbook predecessors. One possibility is that at the time the modern Mei'an handbook was published there were differing versions in the active repertoire (i.e., there were differences in existing handcopied tablatures) and so the editor made the Mei'an Qipu versions by copying or revising from the older texts.

6. Changmen Rhapsody (長門賦 Changmen Fu)
The complete original text can be found on Chinese Wikipedia. There is a translation in David Knechtges, Wen Xuan Volume Three, pp. 159-165 ("Rhapsody on the Tall Gate Palace"). According to the story, when the emperor turned his attentions to the dancer 衛子夫 Wei Zifu, 陳皇后 Empress Chen plotted against her with the result that the emperor ordered that she "be sequestered in the Tall Gate Palace, a detached palace 20 km. southeast of Chang'an" (Knechtges, p. 406). Knechtges adds that an anachronism in this account shows that Sima Xiangru could not have written the explanation himself, and that there is no mention elsewhere in the historical record that Empress Chen regained favor.

7. Han Wu Di Gushi 漢武帝故事 (YFSJ, Folio 42 [p. 620])
"The Precedents of Han Wudi" is thought to date from the 3rd C. CE. It has not yet been translated. The text does not mention Sima Xiangru.

8. Han Shu 漢書 (YFSJ, Folio 42 [p. 621])
Not yet translated; does not mention Sima Xiangru.

9. Yuefu Jieti 樂府解題 (YFSJ, Folio 42 [p. 621])
Not yet translated.

10. Changmen Yuan poems in Yuefu Shiji
See Folio 42; details not yet added here, but none is by Sima Xiangru. YFSJ also does not have his Changmen Fu.

The third of the poems is attributed to 徐賢妃 Xu Xian Fei (Worthy Consort Xu), the early Tang dynasty woman poet 徐惠 Xu Hui. Her version of Changmen Yuan is translated in Women Writers of Traditional China, p.8a.1.

11. Original text of the 1959 preface
The text begins,

本曲為諸城琴宗所獨有,為漢武帝時司馬相如寫陳皇后謫居長門宮之曲。 極盡愁悶悲思,其音如泣如訴,既幽揚而慷慨,復唏噓而惆悵,蓋女子被壓迫之呼聲。 起首以索鈴狀環珮玎璫之聲緩步而出。第二段是且行且訴。全曲多表示女子步行之聲,第三段尤為顯著。 而低徊曲訴有不得伸訴之苦。第四段即轉入高聲長號,極盡哀怨之能事。第五段中且有頓足長嘆之聲。 第六段則又有萬不得已時,無可奈何、聊作寬慰之狀而終結。

The actual source of the melody is not made clear.

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