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Chapter Six: Song and Yuan dynasties 1  
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp. 102-4

6.B.3. Qin Melodies : Melody Introductions 2  

3. Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers (Xiao Xiang Shui Yun) 3  



(Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers) is a representative work of the famous qin master Guo Chuwang (Guo Mian). The capitulators of the Southern Song dynasty's rulling class planned to destroy the famous general Yue Fei,4 who opposed the Jin dynasty. Related to this they also assassinated Han Tuozhou, who had insisted on the (disastrous) northern campaign, as a result of which Guo Chuwang's patron Zhang Yan was forced out of office, and Shi Miyuan's hidden clique of plotters stole the great strength of the entire Song dynasty army. As national power became precarious, the nationalities were in imminent danger, the situation became more serious with each passing day, and it was as though the Jiuyi Mountains were blocked by layers of cloud and fog, and one could not see the sun in the sky. The Shen Qi Mi Pu preface says of the author that,5

"Whenever he wanted to look at the Jiuyi mountains they were blocked by clouds above the Xiao and Xiang rivers, so he used (writing music about) this to express his loyalty to his country."

This sort of "loyal thoughts" reflected the composer's anxious thoughts about his country. The introduction goes on to say,6

"However, this piece about water and clouds (also) has the suggestion of making one's own enjoyment; the flavor of cloud shapes reflected in sparkling water; and a desire to have wind and rain fall on the head, to wear a grass rain cape by the side of a river, and to use a boat on the Five Lakes (to hide from the world)"

Here the "making one's own enjoyment" refers to the composer acquiring stimulation and enjoyment from observing natural scenery. As for with "wind and rain falling on the head" while "using a boat on the Five Lakes", according to the historical conditions of those days this was the only method a qin master could select for escaping, and it was also when he could no longer find another way out.

The composer utilized exquisite finger techniques for artistic display, splendidly portraying the eccentric fluctuations of the clouds reflecting in the glossy surface of the water, revealing his transforming love for the landscape of his motherland. Ming dynasty qin tablature section titles are (almost all) as follows,7

  1. Mist and rain over Dongting Lake
  2. The Jiang and Han river scenery is broad and clear
  3. Cloud images cast down by a brilliant sky
  4. The sky and water join on the horizon
  5. Waves roll and clouds fly
  6. A wind comes up and stirs the water
  7. Water and sky have the same azure color
  8. Cold river and cool moon
  9. Limpid waves extend 10,000 miles
  10. (Evening) reflections contain all aspects of nature

By the Qing dynasty this version had expanded to 18 sections. In the afterword to the version in Dahuan'ge Qinpu (which had 12 sections) there is a paragraph that is very worthy of study. It says,8

"Now according to the beauty of this melody, the old sounds were stylish, spacious in their tranquil elegance, rather like dimly discernible misty waves. Its two sections with the sound of gathering clouds (as SQMP Sections 3 and 5?), have a light melody passing leisurely, a naturally abundant appeal, not only the insouciance of clouds and water. Beginning with the sounds of distress the fingers never stop, the sound is seamless, suddenly using the effect of rapid clouds and bubbling waters. After the harmonics it is continuously free and easy, soberly musing about faraway matters. (If one has not personally learned the finger methods, how can one achieve this objective? This elegantly restrained tablature also only goes so far as to preserve rough ideas. Excellent students realize these fine points.)"

By combining these literary materials, the analysis of the music of each section is as follows. (Xu Jian does not identify version he uses for analysis. However, it is clearly based on the transcription of Wu Jinglue's performance from the version in Wuzhizhai Qinpu [1722].9)

The first two sections use such finger techniques as up and down harmonic glissandos and stopped sounds with broad vibrato to create the atmosphere of vast and misty waves. The opening phrase is a dominant motif running through these two sections.

Staff notation example 1: omitted.10

Beginning from the third section (the composition) enters the "flavor of the main piece",11 undergoing fermentation, developing the composition's nuclear melodies.

(The analysis has three further examples from the same source as above,12 all giving Xu Jian's interpretation of how the melody describes certain scenery, thoughts and actions. These examples and commentary are not yet translated.)

The final section begins with a dayuan (repeated octave step) passage on fa, providing the suggestion of modal change, and giving people's ears a new feeling.13 The coda has harmonics that provide an ending on shang.14

The whole melody is in shang mode style.15 In the Qin Essays by the Yuan dynasty's Yuan Jue (1266 - 1327) it says,

"(The Song dynasty's) (Mao) Minzhong came from the mountains and began to play (Guo) Chuwang's shang mode. The Agriculture Minister (i.e., Yang Zuan) was startled and happy."

This so-called "shang mode" should be the melody Xiao Xiang Shui Yun. Because of Yang Zuan's support and Mao Minzhong's propagation, the most distinctive composition of the Zhe School qin musicians came into being. During the Ming and Qing dynasties this melody was printed more than 50 times (see chart), making it one of the most welcomed qin melodies of the past 500 years.16

(Continue with Yu Ge)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Chapter 6 covers these dynasties (dates, capital city [modern name]):

Northern Song (960-1126; Dongjing [Kaifeng])
Liao (907-1125; Dading Fu [Daning?])
Southern Song (1127-1280; Linan Fu [Hangzhou])
Jin (1115-1260; Zhongdu [Beijing])
Yuan (1206-1280-1368; Dadu [Beijing])

2. Translation by JT.

3. Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers (瀟湘水雲 Xiao Xiang Shui Yun)
More information as well as links to further references are included with my own separate page on Xiao Xiang Shui Yun.

4. 岳飛 Yue Fei
See in Wikipedia.

5. 每欲望九疑山,為瀟湘之雲所蔽,以惓惓之意也。 The end is literally "thoughts of dwelling in sincerity".

6. For the original text see 瀟湘水雲.

7. Xiao Xiang Shui Yun section titles
There is some commentary linked to these subtitles with my commentary on the SQMP version (1425). Not all Ming dynasty versions have section titles, but those that do all seem to have the same 10 as in SQMP (1425; see original Chinese) except those with the version in Xilutang Qintong (1525). This version, which is generally more elaborate than 1425, has 11 section titles; it seems to have added some extra material to form its Section 4. 天光雲影 (in 1425 it is #3) is divided into #3 波濤雲影 and #5 天光蕩漾; musically #5 corresponds with #4 of 1425.

8. Afterword in 大還閣琴譜 Dahuan'ge Qinpu (1673)
The original of this afterword (see QQJC X/438-9) is punctuated but a few characters are not very clear. The part below in brackets (from 今按... to ...旨趣?) is included in Zha's guide. Here Xu Jian discusses 「今按...幽深思遠,」 (not 幽思深遠). I have added in brackets a translation to the end. (Note: "fine points" is from 三昧: 10.912 gives a variety of explanations involving three steps in learning.)

瀟湘一曲,向婁東陳愛桐獨擅其玅。不輕傳於世,獨傳之張渭川,渭川珍秘尤甚。幾同__夜廣陵散,徐君青山,景慕之極。師事而淂之,其間音節奧妙,揣摩經月乃成。青以又獨授之夏子於澗,於澗遂獨步一時。 (「今按其曲之妙,古音委宛,寬宏澹宕,恍若煙波縹緲。其水雲聲二段,輕音緩度天趣盎然,不啻雲水容與。至疾音而下,指無沮滯,音無痕跡,忽作雲馳水湧之勢。泛音後,重重跌宕,幽深思逺,」非親授指法,奚能得其旨趣。)茲雖勒譜,亦不過存其粗跡而已。善學者,然自悟其三昧。仁菴蔡毓榮跋

9. Transcription and performance by 吳景略 Wu Jinglue of Xiao Xiang Shui Yun from Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722)
A recording can be heard on The Qin Repertoire of Wu Jinglue, CD 1, Track 1. A transcription has been published in Guqin Quji, Vol. 1, pp. 181 - 189.

10. Staff notation example 1
See transcription, p.181, line 1 (beginning of Section 1). The fu (upwards glissando) shown in these two bars are almost the same as the opening of the SQMP version. However, in Wuzhizhai Qinpu this is immediately followed by a gun (downwards glissando) before the fu is repeated. SQMP repeats the fu but does not have the gun.

11. 本曲趣味 This phrase is from the preface to the version in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (QQJC XIV/546).

12. The other three staff notation examples are as follows (with comparison to Shen Qi Mi Pu, 1425):

Example 2: transcription, p.182 end and 183 beginning (midway through Section 3; compare beginning of 1425, Section 3.
Example 3: transcription, p.186, lines 2 and 3 (beginning of Section 11; compare 1425, Section 5).
Example 4: transcription, p.189, line 4 (end of Section 18; compare end of 1425, Section 9).

Examining these shows how much more elaborate the 1722 version is than the one in 1425.

13. In SQMP this occurs at the beginning of it final section, Section 10. To me it is intended to suggest a temple bell in the distance (see comment).

14. Closing note
The shang note at the end of Wuzhizhai Qinpu is produced by harmonics in the seventh position on the first and sixth strings; this note is re (shang). However, in Shen Qi Mi Pu, while the last section ends on re, the closing harmonics end on the seventh position on the fourth string: la.

15. Modality of Xiao Xiang Shui Yun
Xiao Xiang Shui Yun uses ruibin (raised fifth) tuning. As for its mode, Xu Jian calls it "shang mode" (see above) but does not make clear what criteria he uses other than historical claims connecting the shang mode to Guo Chuwang, the supposed creator of Xiao Xiang Shui Yun. Since the surviving versions of Xiao Xiang Shui Yun all use ruibin (raised fifth) tuning, the inclusion with shang mode should be based on modal characteristics. As Xu Jian points out, the 1722 version ends on the note shang. In addition, an examination of the transcription from 1722 shows many phrases and sections ending on shang; however, it seems to show just as many endings on la. According to my own analysis, one of the characteristics of the Shen Qi Mi Pu version of this melody is the way the tonal center shifts between la and mi, with re also being prominent, but apparently less so than in later versions.

One can in fact make a good case that the melodies associated with Guo Chuwang and the state of Chu use a type of shang mode (see argument and note the existence of a chushang mode). However, this requires using a definition quite different from the one that seems to prevail with Shen Qi Mi Pu shang mode melodies. This is not a point considered in this chapter of QSCB.

16. Was Xiao Xiang Shui Yun a shang mode melody
Unfortunately, this attempt to connect Xiao Xiang Shui Yun with the shang mode pieces of the Song dynasty does not consider what to me are the most interesting possible connections (for example, the fact that it apparently originated as a qiliang mode melody; qiliang pieces, many or most of which seem to be associated with the old Chu region, mostly have shang as their primary tonal center; see my further comment above). The argument here seems to be only that Yang Zuan was fond of Guo Chuwang's shang mode pieces and Guo Chuwang created Xiao Xiang Shui Yun with shang as a prominent note. In addition, Xu Jian's decision to analyze a version published almost 500 years later causes complications in trying to understand the Song dynasty music this chapter is intended to cover.

Perhaps there is some further information to support Xu Jian's analysis. In any case, much further research is needed in order to come to a better understanding of modes as used during the Song dynasty.

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