Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Guillaume de Machaut and love songs

A couple months ago, my friend Yves Seban sent me a link with a bunch of Middle Ages music by Guillaume De Machaut. When I heard the first one which is Douce Dame Jolie, I immediately wanted to try it on the qin. By listening to its melody, I could almost find all the notes on the qin. So I went online to get the staff notation of this song and then worked carefully for the details, as I wanted to make it as a fingering exercise piece. I also listened to several different recordings on Youtube, including this one from La Morra that Yves sent me too. After a few days, I could play the whole song with confidence. After making a couple of recordings myself, I have fine tuned a few notes and then finally have come up with what I played at the 1/3/2021 yaji. This recording I made two days before the yaji.

For the Yaji records, please visit my guqin yaji blog.

Here are the slides of my 1/3/2021 presentation

Reference about courtly love and A Cultural Perspective on Romantic Love.
Thanks to Yves provided this link:

Marilyn's question during the yaji makes me to review my creation process. I had put some notes down as below.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Do Diao 調 and Yi 意 function as western music "scale?"

 We had this discussion on facebook, I would like to keep them here...

9/15/2020 I asked:

Juni L Yeung
Bin Li
 Do the "diao 調" and "yi 意" in the ancient Chinese guqin music function as the same idea of western music term of those scales ?

  • There's a WHOLE can of worms about diao being "a tune/song", "a tuning", and "a mode" all using the sameword. Yi is a little easier - since it's "a motif" and that's easily understood in English as "an example of music that uses a certain mode, especially to demonstrate the characteristics of it." So we're good on that one.
    • Yea. This video went viral in my composer & educator circle but what is new in the discussion is more about racial/political theory than the music theory (although there is overlap). I agreed on some aspects but not all of them. For example, I certainly agreed on the college curriculum emphasis on Schenkerian analysis (usually a 2 semester courses...). We also need to recognize that music theory & ppl's perception of theory is changing all the time. Also composers do not really think in terms of theory before composing. It is rather the other way around. Composition first then theory. This is evident at Beethoven's music. I also agree we should not use the framework of the western theory to music from other cultures. For comparison OK, but not as the only way to understand. I think Chinese Diao does talk about how pitches are organized similar to the Western scale. Same as 十二律 (e.g. 黄钟,大吕, etc.) similar to the fixed-do/tuning system.
    • scales ... don't have a single function. it depends on the instrument. if fretless - then you are trying to learn both finger agility and to hit the notes. if fretted - then it is all about agility as with guitar players with perhaps a side order of teaching you where notes are to be found but you really don't need to worry about missing the notes because you can't. However there is very little if any musical sense in scales. No one ever says and now I will play you a C scale on the guitar that starts at such and such a position. diao yi or whatever seem to be more or less a set of "riffs" and a higher level function of giving you musical sentences as well as a sense of the mode itself. To me they are very different. To often I think the point of guitar players at least playing scales is to learn how to jam the most notes into the smallest time and I don't find it interesting.
    NB. "Theory" is a post-facto attempt to understand the creative process, whether of music or of a visual art. I don't believe theory ever explains what music is, but in the act of looking at scores, or tablature, and analyzing the form, the phraseology, the sequencing and the textures, we have a way to deepen our understanding of a work. What is "theory" anyway? if it is verbal, it is already a translation into another language, whether it is Western or whatever. Speaking of Beethoven, a number of his scores, or holographs, are extant in the Library of Congress, and the Morgan Library, as are Mozart's. They are enlightening, but how close does it take us to his "music"? they are marks on a page of what went on in his brain/heart, and it is up to the musician(s) who read it to bring it alive in their instruments. Whether the result is what the composer intended, one can only ask a living composer. Am I discussing something completely different from what you have been, Li Bin? When you or Juni or Peiyou speak, it is also an act of interpreting what you are saying, and my trying to determine and fathom your point of view, because what you are saying is only the tip of the iceberg of what you have been thinking about. A musical piece, or visual work, condenses a complex process into a dense gem-like result, like a gem, it has undergone, heat, pressure, and time lapsing. That is why a real gem can hold our attention for so long...do I make any sense here?
    • agreed. theory is nonetheless a process of "generalization". although it provides a framework but the exact framework might limit our appreciation of the music. what is worse: like the video pointed out, a tendency to use western theory for eastern music. that's why i don't really go with the theory when i compose. but for education purpose, i do think theory is important, a more "practical" way to inquire to the past music. but after one studies all the theories, it is also important to realize that sometimes one need to "unlearn" all things learned to appreciate music as it is. in addition, "theory" is changing all the time, as well. even the theory about Debussy 20 years ago is different than the theory about Debussy today.
    • The main difference between Bin (a composer) and I (a player/scholar) is that our critique on the same situation goes in slightly different shades. While he argues that theory too precise hinders the creative process, I argue that the theory hinders the creative process because it either doesn't explain enough, or is providing inaccurate guidelines for said creative processes. And given that Western theory is used to explain Chinese music since the 20th century as the standard curriculum, the "Chinese music" situation is really dire right now. This is why both of us are calling for a return of teaching Chinese "music theory" as it was used to be taught and understood, and perhaps work towards rearranging that knowledge for modern learning and thinking patterns for broad dissemination.
    • Bin Li
       For you as a composer I can see how the history of a musical form, whether from the East or the West, could be a burden, unless your creative drive can overcome that burden. I can see it in an art form like ballet as in music, there is a certain level of training that is necessary -- all the technical aspects, that have to be mastered, unless one is dancing or composing in completely "free form." Certain Schubert, who was not really appreciated in his own day by a wider public, felt the burden of the past that he revered, Haydn, Mozart, especially Beethoven. .....I find it interesting that you mention Debussy, because I do believe he is only being truly recognized today, and even not fully appreciated by many today, for his truly individual sound impressions, whether for piano or orchestrally, his ability to suggest mood, atmosphere, anxiety and even his sense of humor. Even his opera Peléas et Mélisande does not have a wide audience, but I love it: for the orchestration, for the relation of the music to the Fr. language and rhythms, etc ......Juni: I am interested in what you consider standard Chinese curriculum in music theory. When was it taught, that you refer to a return? which instruments would you consider standard (eg. as the keyboard is in western music, circle of 5ths, scales in all keys, etc). Was a standard text written at one time? I am so ignorant. It is only through studying guqin, and my interest in art history and archeaology that I can see certain things coming together, such as the development of percussion, and string instruments. Without audio examples, or illustrations of instruments, etc, any history of music ,Chinese or Western, would be quite dry, almost incomprehensible. I need to re-read Rulan Chao Pian's book in light of what was discussed at our last meeting, and Bill Mak has kindly referred me to several reviews. I acquired her book ( also v. Gulik's classic writings) before I could study qin or heard much Asian music, so now I would read those books quite differently than before....

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Moon River on the Guqin

This is attributed to a friend who is a young mother with two daughters. She told me that her daughters like to sing this song, so she was wondering if this song can be played on the guqin. Here is my adoption. :)


And the notation

Thursday, June 18, 2020

姜夔 角招 Jué sháo by Jiang Kui

Jue Shao is a flute tone in the Jue Mode (the Chinese Jue is like the western mi or la. Jue mode is that the ending note of major phrases and the final note land on mi or la)

This song was said to be in the mode of Zheng Huang Zhong Gong 正黃鐘宮 , the orthodox Huang Zhong Gong mode, which is similar to the western Lydian mode with one # on the fourth note of the scale.

The original music notation was using the Song dynasty popular notation (俗字譜) which was designed for fingerings for the flute. I have briefly studied three interpretations from Mrs. Rulan Chao Pian 卞趙如蘭, Mr. Laurence Picken and Mr. Yang Yin Liu 楊蔭瀏, and one recording from Mrs. Liu Chu Hua 劉楚華 from Hong Kong, where the pitches are a half step higher than Picken and Yang's interpretations, and one and a half step higher than Pian's interpretation.

To play this piece on the cello, I decided to take Pian's interpretation of the key where the first and last notes land on E.

To see Laurence Picken's interpretation, please visit John Thompson's website (白石道人歌曲角招).

Jiang Kui's (1155 -1221) note about this piece: Translated by Laurence Picken (1909-2007, an ethnomusicologist from England)

In the spring of 1194, I travelled with Yu Shang Qing in leisurely fashion to the West Lake.
We gazed on the plum-blossom in the western hamlet on Gu mountain:
jade-plum and snow illuminating each other,
the wafted fragrance all-pervasive. Shang Qing returned to Wu Xing.
I followed after along.
Across the mountains hung spring mist. Fresh willows swept the water.
The carefree traveller flew through the flowers.
In a mood of depression I composed this and sent it. Shang Qing was a good singer.
His singing was not professional.
It is my practice to play all the songs I compose myself on the vertical Xiao flute.
Shang Qing, singing on the spur of the mountain, joined in.
It really had the feeling of mountain and forest swathed in mist.
Now I know the grief of separation; Shang Qing has gone to be an official.
I fear this pleasure will not come again.


Translation of the lyrics: (by Laurence Picken)
Because of the spring I am worn thin.
How can I bear again to go round the West Lake where everywhere are weeping willows?
From gazing at the peak beyond the mist,
I remember being with you on the lake, hand in hand,
You went back not long ago.
A thousand acres of fragrant red have fallen early.
A leaf-like boat crosses wavy mistiness,
Traversing the Thirty-six Imperial Lodges, causing the traveller to turn his head.
Still there are on pleasure-boats those who screen themselves behind sleeves,
Green towers where, with fans athwart, each shines on the other, striving in loveliness.
Bright kingfisher-tail diadems gleam.
With care they apply the Palace Yellow paint. But at the present season,
Wounding spring is like the past.
My unsettled spring-heart is like wine.
Writing for the silk of Wu (means the guqin), I play to myself,
Asking: Who can explain the intention of this song?
The friend with me in the presence of the flowers?


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Song of Red Love-beans

Song of Red Love-beans is from the very famous Chinese classical novel [Dream of the Red Chamber] by Cao Xueqin (1715-1763). This Song was singing by the main character, a young man, Jia Baoyu, and the lyrics uses a series of comparison sentences to express the situation of young people in love who are troubled by love.

In 1943 Mr. Liu Xue-An composed the melody for it.

English translation of the lyrics by David Hawkes:

Still weeping tears of blood about our separation.
Little red love-beans of my desolation.
Still blooming flowers I see outside my window growing.
Still awake in the dark I hear the wind a-blowing.
Still oh still I can’t forget those old hopes and fears.
Still can’t swallow food and drink, ‘cos I’m choked with tears.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, tell me it’s not true.
Do I look so thin and pale, do I look so blue?
Mirror, mirror, this long night how shall I get through?
Blue as the mist upon the distant mountains,
Blue as the water in the ever-flowing fountains.

紅豆詞  詩詞:曹雪芹
展不開眉頭 捱不明更漏
啊…… 啊……
作曲 劉雪庵 (1943)

My cello playing or Song of Red Love-beans 

姜夔 暗香

今日讀到, 姜夔的詞呈現明顯的賦化, 即心即物, 即物即心, 著意於物, 也著意於心. 兼詩歌與散文於一體.

Today I read that Jiang Kui's poem are obviously influenced by Fu (poetry) style. That is, the heart (or the mind) is the object; the object is the heart. And the focus is on both the object and the heart, with the style that the poetry and the prose are as one.


An Xian (Secret Fragrance) preface:
"In the winter of 1191, I took ship through the snow to visit Shi-hu and stayed a whole month. He gave me notepaper and asked for my verses. He also asked for new tunes. I made these two songs. Shis-hu's pleasure knew no end. He caused two singing-girls to practice them. As he found the melodies pure and the harmony agreeable, he gave them the title 'Secret Fragrance'and 'Dappled Shadows'." -- Jiang Kui (English translation by Laurence Picken)

In former times, the moon's countenance
(Probably on  occasions) has shone upon me beside a plum tree, playing the flute.

I called my beautiful love to rise regardless of the cold; together we picked the blossom.

Ho Shun now is slowly ageing. He has forgotten the springtime style of his early verse.
(* Ho Hsun was a sixth century poet famous for his verses on plum-blossom. Jiang Kui identifies himslef with him.)

Even now, surprisingly, beyond the bamboos, there are scattered flowers. The fragrance coldly enters the banqueting hall.

The River Country is lonely indeed. Sighing I send my thoughts over the long road; the evening snow begins to pile up.

Into the kingfisher-blue wine-cup tears freely flowed; Red-calyx did not speak, disturbed by mutual memories.

Long shall I remember the places where I led you by the hand. A myriad trees screen the West Lake's chill jade-green.

Petal by petal, all is blown away. When shall we be able to see it again?
(English translation by Laurence Picken)

宋 張炎 [辭源] :白石詞...不惟清空, 且又騷雅, 讀之使人神觀飛越
清 先著 程洪 [詞潔輯評]:用意之妙, 總使人不覺, ... 用字高, 煉句密, 泯其來蹤去跡矣

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Guqin 心經 Heart Sutra (three versions)

(silk string)

(Nylon string)
This is a Ming dynasty version which is the most interesting version to me, and it took me a while to accept the melody from the bottom of my heart.
According to the footnote of Se Kong Jue from the Ming dynasty Qin Handbook, Tai Yin Xi Sheng 太音希聲, this piece was composed by Chen Da-bin 陳大斌 who might have lived around the early 17th century. Chen played the guqin for 50 years and published the qin handbook [Tai Yin Xi Sheng] during the Tianqi 天啓 period (1621-1627) under some friends' financial help.
Composer's footnote: The Heart Sutra. Simple words, deep meaning, which can brighten the mind and find one's own true nature. Once the true nature has been found, one can enter the way. If one can actually practice the way, one's character is settled and one's life can be protected. I chant it often and now compose it with the qin. Hoping to convey the lyrics into music, and the soundless meaning into melody, and share this music tablature to a few friends selflessly.

所彈乃根據杜大鵬演奏,善元音演唱之版本 A modern version based on Du Dapeng's playing, Shan Yuanying's singing.

根據陳長林先生打的以六正五之齋琴學秘譜, 清 光緒元年(1875)收錄 Based on Mr. Chen Changlin's dapu of the Yi Liu Zheng Wu Zhi Zhai Qinpu (1875).

Heart Sutra in Chinese and English (two versions of translation)

RP (Red Pine 2004): The Noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva.

EC (Edward Conze 1904-1979): Homage to the perfection of wisdom, the lovely, the holy!

RP: While practicing the deep, practice of Prajnaparamita.

EC: Avalokita, the holy lord and bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the wisdom which has gone beyond.

RP: Looked upon the five skandhas, and seeing they were empty of self-existence

EC: He looked down from on high, he beheld but five heaps, and he saw that in their own being they were empty.

RP: Said,  Here, Shariputra,  Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness. Whatever is form is emptiness, whatever is emptiness is form.

EC: Here, O Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; what ever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form; 

RP: The same holds for sensation and perception, memory and consciousness. 

EC: the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

RP: Here, Shariputra, all dharmas are defined by emptiness.

EC: Here, O Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness

RP: Not birth or destruction, purity or defilement, completeness or deficiency.

EC: They are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.

RP: Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no memory and no consciousness. No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind.

EC: Therefore, O Sariputra, in emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; no eye, ear nose, tongue, body mind;

RP: No shape, no sound, no smell, no taste, no feeling and no thought; no element of perception, from eye to conceptual consciousness;

EC: No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind. no sight=organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element;

RP: No causal link, from ignorance to old age and death; and no end of causal link, from ignorance to old age and death.

EC: There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death.

RP: No suffering, no source, no relief, no path. No knowledge, no attainment and no non-attainment.

EC: There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.

RP: Therefore, Shariputra, without attainment. Bodhisattvas take refuge in Prajnaparamita.

EC: Therefore, O Sariputra, it is because of his non-attainmentness that a Bodhisattva, through having relied on the perfection of wisdom, dwells without thought-coverings.

RP: And live without walls of the mind, without walls of the mind and thus without fears. They see through delusions and finally nirvana.

EC: In the absence of thought-coverings he has not been made to tremble, he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to nirvana.

RP: All buddhas past, present and future, also take refuge in prajnaparamita, and realize unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.

EC: All those who appear as buddhas in the three periods of time fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment because they have relied on the perfection of wisdom.

RP: You should therefore know the great mantra of prajnaparamita, the mantra of great magic, the unexcelled mantra, the mantra equal to the unequalled.

EC: Therefore one should know the prajnaparamita as the great spell, the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell, the unequalled spell,

RP:Which heals all suffering and is true, not false.

EC: allayer of all suffering, in truth - for what could go wrong?


RP: The mantra in prajnaparamita spoken thus, 'Gate Gate, Paragate, Parasanagate, Bodhi Svaha'

EC: By the prajnaparamita has this spell been delivered. It runs like this: Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all-hail! This completes the heart of perfect wisdom.

— 玄奘法師译,般若波羅蜜多心經
Xuan Zang's version of Prajna-paramita-hridaya Sutra (649)

Meaning of the title

Prajna-paramita-hridaya Sutra 般若波羅蜜多心經

般若 prajna means "wisdom" "befor" (pra 般) "to know" (jna 若)
波羅蜜多 paramita means "perfection" or "beyond" (para 波羅) "gone" (ita 多/陰性詞) --> "what has gone beyond, " or "what is transcendent, " or "what (or she who) leads us to the other shore" 到達彼岸, 完滿完成
Prajna-paramita means "perfection of wisdom", and the personified Goddess of Wisdom.
Hridaya means the heart, the core, the essence.
Sutra means "wise saying"

Another English translation of Heart Sutra  from Upaya

如來藏 成公亮作曲 葉力嘉演奏