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Qin Poetry and Qin Songs 1 琴詩與琴歌
The Old Toper's Chant : enlarge 2    
As with painting and calligraphy, because qin music was generally created by the same
class of people who created classical poetry, often their themes overlap. Such titles as
Chu Ci and Hu Jia are important to all three: qin, painting/calligraphy and poetry/song.

Qin Poetry can be divided into two categories

  1. Lyrics that mention qin play or players. These include:
    - Over 500 qin poems in
    Qinshu Daquan (1590); only a few have been translated
        many are also in such classic collections as the Book of Songs and the 300 Tang poems 3
    - Poems included in various biographies (search by author; a few of the poems are now online)
    - Poems by qin players, including a selection of Zhu Quan's Palace Poems
    - See also "Other poets", with a variety of connections to qin.

  2. Lyrics that were once sung with qin melodies
    - Zha Fuxi's Guide, Section 10 includes almost all such lyrics in surviving handbooks
        (the Index, last column, shows which melodies have lyrics; few are still sung)
    - Yuefu Shiji: Qin Melody Lyrics (many set to music in Taigu Yiyin) and elsewhere
    - Wen Xuan, by contrast, though often referenced here, has few actual qin song lyrics
    - Songs of the Whitestone Daoist (Baishidaoren Gequ) are all attributed to Jiang Kui (ca. 1155 - 1221)
        (only one was set for qin but perhaps this song could shed light on interpreting his other songs)
    - See also Qin Songs, below, and the page Cipai and Qin Melodies.

Qin Songs accompany qin melodies. General commentary on these can be found in the several entries on this site, including:

  1. Qin Songs (or "qin melodies with lyrics attached")
  2. Cipai and Qin Melodies (including further references)
  3. Xu Jian, Creators of Qin Songs (plus my footnote)
  4. Zha Fuxi, Differentiating qin songs.

My qin song repertoire:

Specific qin melodies with lyrics that I have reconstructed and played can be divided into at least four types. My page has examples of the first two types. On these videos I play the melodies but do not sing the lyrics. Instead most videos show the original lyrics together with Romanization and translation, inviting the listeners themselves to sing or read along.

These four types of melodies with lyrics are:

  1. Qin songs I have personally reconstructed and sung from Ming handbooks (caveat):

    1. Yu Ge Diao; read the transcription and sing along with the recording
    2. Yasheng Cao (Proximate Sage Melody; unique in that it has a refrain repeated at the end of each section)
    3. Gui Qu Lai Ci, a famous poet enjoys being home
    4. Feng Ru Song Ge, a qin song evoking Wind in the Pines
    5. Chun Jiang Qu, song of rivers in spring
    6. Yanyi Ge, Doorbar Song: a wife pleads after her husband leaves (unique in that the L occur only in the first half of each section)
    7. Boya Diao Ziqi, an ardent lament for a lost friend
    8. Feng Qiu Huang, an ardent love song
    9. Yangguan Sandie, one of the most famous farewell songs
    10. Wenjun Cao, like Feng Qiu Huang an ardent love song
    11. Zui Weng Yin, (The Old Toper's Chant, see calligraphy at right)
    12. Kongsheng Jing; a musical setting of Confucius' Great Learning
    13. Qingjing Jing; a Daoist morning chant
    14. Se Kong Jue; a setting for Qin of the Heart Sutra
    15. Jiu Kuang, a serious drinking song

  2. Qin songs I have personally reconstructed from Ming handbooks but have not sung (perhaps cannot: see "Singing qin songs: appropriate performance practice", which outlines four different ways to render the songs). In addition to those in the handbooks dated 1491 and 1511, discussed below):

    1. Shiba Xueshi Deng Yingzhou (Eighteen Scholars Ascend Yingzhou, 1530)
    2. Loushi Ming (Inscription on a Crude Dwelling, 1539)
    3. Dao Yi Qu (Pounding Cloth Melody, 1539)
    4. Gui Geng (Return to Ploughing, 1539)
    5. Da Ming Yi Tong (Unity of the Great Ming, 1539)
    6. Ting Qin Yin (set to a Han Yu's Listening to Reverend Ying Play the Qin, 1589) Qing Shang Diao (Qingshang Modal Prelude, 1589)
    7. Moshang Sang (Mulberry Lane, 1597)
    8. Lin He Xiuxi (set to Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface, 1664)
    9. Qiu Feng Ci (Autumn Wind Ode, 1676)
    10. Qiu Feng Qu (1709; later Qiu Feng Ci Autumn Wind Lyrics)
    11. Xiang Si Qu (Melody of Mutual Affection; four versions plus Gu Qin Yin)

  3. Multi-section melodies I have reconstructed that have lyrics in only one or two sections. This type of melody seems to have been largely unique to Xilutang Qintong. The list here shows first the number of sections in each piece followed by which section numbers have lyrics. (The code is: #T = sections are titled; #L = has lyrics ([in brackets] only this section).

    1. Gujiao Xing (12 [8L]; Going with Old-Style Relations); Guanzi and Bao Shuya
    2. Kang Qu Yao (7 [6L]; Ballad of the Highroad)
    3. Xing Tan (11 [10L]; Apricot Tree Pavilion)
    4. Jiang Yue Bai (9T [4 & 5L]; White Moon over the River)
    5. Han Gong Qiu (8 [5L, Autumn in the Han Palace]; particularly interesting as it does not have lyrics but related lyrics do fit one section)
    6. Zhaojun Yuan (9T [7L, not Yue Fu]; Zhao Jun's Lament)
    7. Chu Ge (10T [7L, from Yue Fu]; Song of Chu)
    8. Feng Qiu Huang (10 [3 & 8L, from YFSJ]; A Male Phoenix Searches for its Mate)

  4. Multi-section melodies that have lyrics throughout, but the pieces are basically instrumental, with no indication they were ever sung. These include, for example, almost all the melodies in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491) and some of the pieces in Taigu Yiyin (1511); these are mentioned further below.

All these types are also discussed further under Qin songs.

Singing qin songs
Issues of how to perform qin melodies with lyrics are discussed further under
Qin Songs (see in particular Appropriate Performance Practice) and Cipai and qin melodies (in particular Qin songs: pairing lyrics and music).

Early handbooks with significant numbers of qin "songs" include:

  1. Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491; my cd and book) has music which for the most part was originally instrumental, but there are lyrics all the way through (they are linked through its ToC). The lyrics seem to be newly created; but although some of it can be sung, the pairing method means that often there are rather awkward passages, for example, the finger running across the seven strings and so there are seven syllables to be sung. Reading them while listening to the music may increase appreciation, but it is unlikely that they were intended actually to be sung. Most of the lyrics were apparently written by the 15th century prince who compiled the book.
  2. Taigu Yiyin (1511) has 38 qin songs. The pairing method is the same, but most of the lyrics are well-known old poems, especially from the famous collection Yuefu Shiji (including the 10 Qin Songs of Han Yu. From my understanding, having transcribed and played all of them, most were clearly intended to be sung. The music is less ornamented, and seems designed to be played more slowly.

For all the above I have written out transcriptions, but for many of those in the 1511 handbook need more work. I have also reconstructed songs from several later handbooks. One of the most interesting of these is Xilutang Qintong, the only handbook that seems to have songs where the lyrics don't continue from beginning to end.

Later handbooks that consist only of qin songs include,

  1. Chongxiu Zhenchuan Zhengzong (1585)
  2. Luqi Xinsheng (including Hujia Shibapai; 1589)
  3. Sanjiao Tongsheng (Daoist and Confucian hymns; Buddhist chant; 1592)
  4. Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin, part of Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu (<1609)
  5. The Jiang Xingchou (Toko Etsu) qin song handbooks preserved in Japan

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qin Poetry and Qin Songs
What is written here about qin songs in particular must be considered very tentative. Although I have spent much time transcribing many songs, and have also recorded quite a few of these (examples), I make few claims for "authenticity" (other than that they express my authentic feelings for and beliefs about the music). Since the information I have been able to find from other sources, whether ancient or contemporary, is often either very sketchy or contradictory, I have been putting my observations here (including my tentative singing of a number of songs) largely in hopes of getting reactions that will help me and others get a fuller understanding of the songs and their potential. Some issues include:

  1. Value of the songs: I find some of them very beautiful according to my understanding of the way they were written down, and yet in history there are qin masters who seem to have categorically condemned all qin songs. (See, for example, the comments above about syllabic setting together with the criticism of this outlined elsewhere.) How can these two extremes be aligned?
  2. Pairing the words and music: Since nothing seems to have been written about this in classical sources, many people have different ideas about how the lyrics and music should be paired. In one sense none of the attempts should be considered incorrect. On the other hand, it is possible sometimes to say, "It is unlikely that in the past they were sung in this way" (e.g., using a bel canto voice); or to say, "Although there is no textual evidence supporting this way of singing the songs, there is also nothing to say they were never done in that way" (e.g., singing them in ways other than following the common syllabic formula). On the other hand, I cannot help but question people who say they must be done, or must have been done, in any particular way, and that any other way is incorrect.
  3. Pronouncing the words: Once again nothing seems to have been written about this in classical qin sources. In classical Chinese there were regional pronunciations that would have accorded to some degree with local dialects, as well as (over time) ones considered as national pronunciations. Did people in the Ming dynasty who set lyrics to a song imagine them sung their local dialect, a perceived national one, or a perceived archaic one? In the absence of a definitive answer, presumably any of these pronunciations could be justified.

Although guqin music is often perceived as a written tradition, since so much of the music was written down, it has also always been an oral tradition. Here one must always keep in mind that, although writing down qin music aided its transmission over time and space, requiring it to be written down also limited some of its possibilities. Obvious barriers included devising new finger technique symbols and writing down songs/melodies that quite likely were performed quite differently on different occasions. This is why, although no specific examples seem to have been transmitted, it is is difficult to imagine that qin players who also loved opera would never have tried, for example, to sing a beloved opera song while devising appropriate qin accompaniment.

2. Illustration
See further.

3. Classic collections
References in the Book of Songs are included on a page devoted to mention of qin in ancient records. Other collections such as the Chu Ci do not mention qin directly, but their poems have become the subject of several qin melodies. 300 Tang Poems is also worthy of mention:

300 Tang Poems (唐詩三百首; Wiki)
This might also be written 300 Poems of the Tang Dynasty or Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Dynasty. Poems in this collection that mention qin include the following:

Others do not mention qin but their lyrics have been used as lyrics for qin songs. Qin songs using such lyrics include:

In addition the melody Autumn River Night Anchorage says it was inspired in part by Zhang Ji's poem Maple Bridge Night Anchor.

Return to top, or to the Guqin ToC