The magical force of music

Duke Ling of Wei (533-499 B.C.) was proceeding to Chin. When he had arrived on the banks of the river Pu, he heard at night-time a new tune played on the guitar, which pleased him so well, that he ordered somebody to ask his attendants about it. They all reported that they had heard nothing. Then he called for the music-master Chüan, and told him saying, ” There was some one playing a new melody, I gave orders to ask my followers about it, but they all stated that they had not heard anything. It is, as if a ghost made the music for me. Pray, listen to it and write it down for me.” The music-master Chüan acquiesced, sat quietly down, played the guitar, and wrote down the tune. On the following morning he reported that he had got it, but still required some practice. He therefore asked for one night more to practise. Duke Ling granted this request. Chüan practised one more night, and on the next morning he had mastered it. They then went on to Chin.

Duke P’ing of Chin feasted him on the Shi Yi terrace. When they were flushed with wine, Duke Ling rose and said, ” I have a new tune, which I would like to have played for Your Highness to hear.” The duke consented, and he called upon the music-master Chüan to sit down next to the music-master K’uang, to take the lute, and strike it, but, ere Chüan had finished, K’uang grasped the instrument, and stopped him saying, ” This is a song of a doomed State. You must not proceed.” Duke P’ing inquired, “Where does it come from?” — The music-master K’uang replied, ” It is a licentious melody composed by the music-master Yen, who made this voluptuous music for Chou. Wu Wang executed Chou, hanging his head on a white banner, Yen fled to the east, and, when he had reached the river Pu, he drowned himself. Therefore to hear this tune one must be on the banks of the Pu. If formerly any one heard it, his State was wiped out. It must not be continued.” — Duke P’ing said, ” I am very partial to music. Let him go on.” Chüan then finished his tune.

Duke P’ing said, “What do they call this air? “— The music-master replied, “It is what they call G major.” “Is not G major most plaintive?”, asked the duke. — “It does not come up to C major,” replied K’uang. — ” Could I not hear C major? “, inquired the duke. — The music-master rejoined, ” You cannot. Of old, only princes possessed of virtue and justice were allowed to hear C major. Now the virtue of Your Highness is small. You could not stand the hearing of it.” — The duke retorted, ” I am very partial to music, and I would like to hear it.” K’uang could not help taking up the lute and thrumming it. When he played the first part, two times eight black cranes came from the south, and alighted on the top of the exterior gate. When he played again, they formed themselves into rows, and, when he played the third part, they began crowing, stretching their necks and dancing, flapping their wings. The notes F and G were struck with the greatest precision, and their sound rose to heaven. Duke P’ing was enraptured, and all the guests were enchanted. The duke lifted the goblet, and rose to drink the health of the music-master K’uang. Then he sat down again, and asked, ” Is there no more plaintive music than that in C major? ”

K’uang replied, ” It falls short of A major.” — ” Could I not hear it? “, said the duke. — The music-master replied, “You cannot. Of yore, Huang Ti assembled the ghosts and spirits on the Western Mount T’ai. He rode in an ivory carriage, to which were yoked six black dragons. The Pi-fang bird came along with it, and Ch’ih Yu was in front. The Spirit of the Wind came forward sweeping the ground, and the Spirit of Rain moistened the road. Tigers and wolves were in front, and ghosts and spirits in the rear, reptiles and snakes crawling on the ground, and white clouds covering the empyrean. A great assembly of ghosts and spirits! And then he began to play in A major. Your virtue, Sire, is small and would not suffice to hear it. If you did, I am afraid, it would be your ruin.” Duke Ping rejoined, ” I am an old man and very fond of music. I would like to hear it.” — The music-master K’uang could not but play it. When he had struck the first notes, clouds rose from the north-west, and when he played again, a storm broke loose, followed by torrents of rain. The tents were rent to pieces, the plates and dishes smashed, and the tiles of the verandah hurled down. The guests fled in all directions, and Duke Ping was so frightened, that he fell down under the porches. The Chin State was then visited with a drought. For three years the soil was scorched up. The duke’s body began to suffer pain and to languish thereafter.

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