This short melody, dating from 1549, depicts the fall season at Dongting 洞庭湖 in Hunan 湖南 province. This lake basin is fed by four river: the Xiang 湘, Zi 资, Yuan 沅, and Li 澧.
The piece is divided into three parts, with the first and last parts in one key, and the middle part in another key that is a minor third above the original. No one really knows what the original key was really in, but in today’s convention, the piece starts in G major, cuts to B-flat, and reverts back to end in G.
The guqin handbook 悟雪山房琴譜 describes the wistful meditations of this piece (with my translation).
|I once set out a small boat under the skies of Chu,
With tears and full of mournful meditations;
In dreams the Xiang mountain moon now twenty years past,
Clarity tonight flows from the seven strings.