Bell Yung Gives Lecture-Recital on the Qin


March 26, 2012 - 4:30pm

Professor Bell Yung will give a lecture recital on "Qin Music and the Confucian Cardinal Human Relationship of Friendship: Selections from the 15th-century Repertoire"

The repertoire of the instrument qin (pronounced “chin”), or guqin (ancient qin), embodies China’s three major religious-philosophical systems of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. A major tenet in Confucianism lists five cardinal human relationships, of which the one between friends is a prominent theme in the qin repertoire. I shall discuss and play three pieces with the theme of Friendship.


A Fine Evening [Liangxiao Yin 良宵引]

Attribution: He Ruobi (544-607)
Earliest notation: Songxianguan Qinpu  松絃館琴譜 (1614)
This version: Wuzhizhai Qinpu 五知齋琴譜 (1722)
My teacher: Tsar Teh-yun 蔡德允

Flowing Waters [Liushui 流水]

Attribution: Bo Ya 伯牙, mythical musician (c. 8th century BC)
Earliest version: Shenqi Mipu 神奇秘譜 (1425)
This version: same as above
My teacher: Yao Bingyan 姚丙炎

Crows Cry in the Night [Wuyeti 烏夜啼 ]

Attribution: Liu Yiqing (403-444)
Earliest version: Shenqi Mipu 神奇祕譜 (1425)
This version: same as above
My teacher: Yao Bingyan 姚丙炎

Parting at Yangguan [Yangguan Sandie 陽關三疊]

Attribution: None
Earliest notation: Zheyin Shizi Qinpu 浙音釋字琴譜 (1491)
This version: Qinxue Rumen 琴學入門 (1867)
My teacher: Tsar Teh-yun 蔡德允
Performance joined by Kelson Law

Bell Yung began studying the qin in 1978 with Tsar Teh-yun (1905-2007) and two years later with Yao Bingyan (1920-1983), and has since lectured and performed on many university campuses and in museums. He has published two books on the subject: Celestial Airs of Antiquity (1997) on the repertory of his teacher Yao, and The Last of China’s Literati (2008), a biography of his teacher Tsar. He has also published numerous articles, produced and performed in a compact disc Qin Music on Antique Instruments (1998), and edited an exhibition catalogue Gems of Ancient Chinese Zithers (1998).

Kelson Law is a second year graduate student in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. His major interests lie in Kant, German Idealism, non-applied ethics, ancient Greek philosophy, and classical Chinese philosophy. Kelson began studying the qin with Bell Yung in September 2010.


A Fine Evening
A Fine Evening was described by commentators through the ages as “Even though this piece is short, its tones are grand and mysterious, … it will move you and transform you” (1692), “This piece though small is calm and relaxed, without one bit of vulgarity” (1914). A 1876 qin handbook cites a Song dynasty source which says that the piece was composed by He Ruobi ( 544-607), whose music is comparable to the poetry of Tao Qian ( 366-427). The biography of the scholar-official Wang Ya (764-835) refers to how Wang often played this piece to entertain his guests.

Flowing Waters
A celebrated qin composition, always paired with its companion “High Mountains,” has one of the best known qin stories documented in the earliest classical texts, including Lüshi Chunqiu and Liezi: Tangwen Chapter. The composition celebrates the power of music that forged a deep friendship between the literati Bo Ya and the woodcutter Ziqi, a friendship that crosses social and educational boundaries.

Magpies Cry in the Night
The editor of Shenqi Mipu, Zhu Quan, who was a royal prince of the Ming Dynasty wrote an explanatory note to the piece, abbreviated here:

This composition was attributed to a prominent writer Liu Yiqing (403-444), a royal prince of the Song Dynasty. In the year 440, Liu Yikang, another royal prince, was banished by the Emperor Wen to a region where at the time Liu Yiqing was the governor. When the two cousins met, they wept. Hearing about it, Emperor Wen was displeased, and ordered Liu Yiqing to leave his post and return to his hometown. There, the entire family was in great fear of what might befall them. One night, Liu’s wife heard magpies crying. She said to him that it was an auspicious sign indicating that he would be pardoned. Later that year, he indeed was and thus composed the piece Wuyeti.

Parting at Yangguan
This composition, as appeared in the 1491 qin notation and all later versions, has a famous short poem written alongside the notation called Song of Weicheng 渭城曲 by the eminent Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei (699-759). Wang wrote the poem as he bade farewell to a friend at the town of Wei who was travelling beyond the Western frontier. The piece has since been performed with or without the poem being sung. The tune has become the best known among the qin repertory. The poem reads:

In the city of Wei the morning rain wets the soft dust;
At the guest house, green, green are the fresh hues of the willows.
I urge you to empty another cup of wine;
West of Yangguan there will be no more old friends.

View the complete program as a pdf.

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