CHAMBER MUSICAmong ancient Vietnamese folk styles, Quan Ho. (Mandarin style) singing can be considered to be the highest art form of the farming people. Originating from the Ba('c Ninh area in the North, it was made not for individuals but for the entertainment of large groups and it always needed to be enriched by the contributions of artists. Although the educated class of old lived very close to the farmers, they evolved a music of their own from folk music. Since this music was not sung in the fields or in the village square but in houses or theatres, we can call it a chamber music.
The North has "A? Dda`o" singing, the Centre has "Hue^'" singing and the South has "Ta`i Tu+?" music. As with Quan Ho. singing, these styles have attained a very high artistic level, much higher than ordinary folk music. Furthermore, having become the domain of professional singers and musicians, they have undergone a continuous development process. They went into decline when Vietnam was conquered by the French and were all but abandoned once the Vietnamese came into contact with Western culture and their youth demanded a new musical fare. Only later were they revived one way or another.
Hát Ä Ðào (Ca Trù)"A? DDA`O" (Geisha or Songtress) SINGING started in the fifteenth century as a singing style for worship ("ha't tho+`"), celebration ("ha't khao") or ceremonies ("ha't dda'm"). Under the direction of music masters, A? DDA`O was performed during offerings to the gods (temple singing) or at feasts in mandarins' houses (cu+?a quye^`n singing). At its peak, A? Dda`o included many music and dance forms:
* Educational or moralizing songs as in GIA'O TRO^'NG (drum teaching), GIA'O HU+O+NG (incense teaching), DA^NG HU+O+NG (offerings of incense), THIE^'T NHA.C...
* Dances for ceremonies or entertainment such as MU'A BO? BO^., MU'A BA`I BO^NG, MU'A TU+' LINH (Dance of the Four Sacred Animals)... They also included acrobatic acts such as rope dancers bearing trays on their heads.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, when overtaken by more sophisticated acts like "Tuo^`ng" and "Che`o" opera, A? Dda`o singing ceased to be used as ceremonial music and became a refined form of entertainment for the intellectuals. Poets would meet at the A? Dda`o houses and the geishas would recite poems they had written recently, as compliments to each other. The geisha would sing and beat the rhythm with castanets to the accompaniment of a long necked "dda'y" lute. The guests would indicate their approval or disapprobation using "dde^'" drums. All these activities, from composition to performance and appreciation, indicate a very sophisticated high art.
All the poets of the Nguye^~n era seemed to have used A? Dda`o songs to express their thoughts and feelings, using tunes such as HA'T NO'I (Spoken songs), GU+?I THU+ (Letters), NGA^M VO.NG, THE'T NHA.C (name after the old "Thie^'t Nha.c"), BA('C PHA?N, etc. A? Dda`o singing is being resurrected under the name CA TRU`.
A? Dda`o singing
Photo taken in 1952 by Pha.m Duy
HUE^' SINGINGWhile the common folk of the Central regions had many folk styles such as HO` MA'I NHI` (rowing songs), HO` MA'I DDA^?Y (rowing songs), HO` THAI, HO` GIA~ GA.O (rice pounding song) etc., the aristocracy had their ceremonial NHA.C TRIE^`U (court music) and CA HUE^', a refined form of entertainment for the royal entourage and high officials.
Chamber Music Players (aristocrats)
from the left: U+ng Dung, To^n Tha^'t Va(n, U+ng Bie^`u
Ngo^ Pho`, Tra^`n Quang Soa.n, Hoa`ng Ye^'n.
CA HUE^' has the characteristics of a chamber music style and, under Tu+. Ddu+'c's reign (1847-1883), it comprised at least 25 instrumental pieces of which ten had verses (nine in Chinese, one in Vietnamese): LU+U THU?Y (Flowing Water), HO^` QUA?NG, KIM TIE^N, XUA^N PHONG (spring wind), XUA^N TI`NH DDIE^?U NGU+~ (Mood of Spring and Bird Songs), NAM XUA^N (Southern Spring), TU+ MA~ TU+O+NG NHU+, TIE^N NU+~ TO^'NG LU+U NGUYE^~N (Lu+u and N Nguye^~n Taking Leave of the Fairies), BA' NHA KHA^'P TU+? KY` (Ba' Nha Mourning his Friend Tu+? Ky`), TU+. TRA`O (Laughing at Self), TU+. THA'N (Self Lament), TRU+O+`NG THA'N (Long Lament), etc. As with the North's A? Dda`o, Ca Hue^' is a high art to which many well known artists have brought their contributions, such as king Tu+.DDu+'c, prince Tuy Ly' Vu+o+ng, Ca? Soa.n, Nguye^~n Quang To^`n, etc.
Artist Bu+?u Lo^.c, a member of the royal family
Expert in various instruments such as ty` ba` (lute)
dda`n tranh (zither), dda`n nguye^.t (moon lute)...
By the beginning of the 20th century, Ca Hue^' singing has retained a number of ancient songs such as + LU+U THU?Y, KIM TIE^`N, NAM XUA^N, etc. and has added a few new ones such as NAM AI, NAM BI`NH, BI`NH BA'N, CO^? BA?N, TU+' DDA.I CA?NH etc...
Many famous musicians, such as + Vi~nh Tra^n (king Tha`nh Tha'i's son), Vi~nh Phan and Bu+?u Lo^.c were members of the royal family. Many Ca Hue^' songs were composed by famous writers and poets such as prince Nam Sa'ch, Thu'c Gia. Thi. U+ng Bi`nh. The famous revolutionary Phan Bo^.i Cha^u also composed several excellent Ca Hue^' songs..
Hue^' chamber music spread to other areas. In Qua?ng Nam and Qua?ng Nga~i, the original LU+U THU?Y and PHU' LU.C of Thu+`a Thie^n province underwent modifications to become LU+U THU?Y QUA?NG and PHU' LU.C QUA?NG. As it reach the South, Ca Hue^' chamber music became known as Nha.c Ta`i Tu+? Mie^`n Nam (Southern Amateur Music) and also underwent modifications: BI`NH BA'N became ra BI`NH BA'N CHA^'N (restored Bi`nh Ba'n), and new songs were added such as TU+' DDA.I OA'N (Lament of Four Generations), BI`NH XA LA.C NHA.N.
Miss Nho+n, a famous Ca Hue^' star of the early 20th Century
(photo taken in1934) SOUTHERN TA`I TU+? (AMATEUR) MUSIC
Among the new Southern Amateur songs was DA. CO^? HOA`I LANG (Longing for Husband as Drums Sound in the Night) composed in 1917 by Sa'u La^`u. Through the formation and development of CA?I LU+O+NG NAM KY` (Southern Reformed Opera), this song was to evolve into VO.NG CO^? (Longing for the Past), one of the most important composition of this century.
Photo : Sa'u La^`u