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vong co

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vọng cổ

From the Encyclopedia of Vietnamese Music at PBwiki.

 

Vọng cổ is a song, or more appropriately a cycle or pattern, performed in cải lương opera (renovated theater). Although created in the twentieth century, it is most similar to and has its roots in nhạc tài tử chamber music of south Việt Nam. As the central foundation to cải lương opera, it provides a framework for lyricism and instrumentation while being the only piece in the traditional southern repertoire to allow for extended improvisation. A full ensemble performing vọng cổ usually has a lục huyền cầm (guitar with carved fretboard), đàn kìm (moon lute), đàn tỳ ba (pear-shaped lute), đàn nhị (two-string fiddle), đàn tranh (sixteen-string zither), đàn bầu (monochord), and of course a singer.

 


 

History

 

Origin

See also: Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang, Cao Văn Lầu (Sáu Lầu)

 

"Vọng cổ" originally began as the song "Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang" (Awaiting One's Husband) written by musician Cao Văn Lầu in the province of Bạc Liêu in 19__ as a lament for his wife, who his parents forced him to leave when she could not bear him a son. The song itself tells the story of a wife who awaits her husband's return from the battlefield as she listens to the sounds of war drums. Although the subject matter is markedly different, the song was meant to be representative of Cao Văn Lầu's emotional turmoil and distress due to his wife's lamentable circumstances and his love for her.

 

The musical style of this song emphasized traditional modality, using hơi oán (oán mode), as its basic scale system, but with a phrasing and lyrical style that was western-influenced and emphasized a cohesive, personal story. In a time when the society of Việt Nam was torn between its own nostalgia for the ancient songs and the apparent need for change or revitalization, "Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang" filled a very important niche and became instantly popular.

 

"Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang" was composed while Southern Việt Nam's new genre, cải lương (renovated theater), was in its infancy. As both took nhạc tài tử as a main inspiration, the two were naturally brought together, and the melody of "Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang" became a staple of the cải lương stage. Eventually, musicians began to refer to the piece as "Vọng Cổ Hoài Lang," taking the emphasis away from the words "hoài lang" ("awaiting one's husband") and focusing instead on "vọng cổ" ("yearning for the past" or "nostalgia for the ancient ways"). As the melody used in this new context moved further and further from its original form, the reinvented piece became known simply as "vọng cổ" ("Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang" would continue to refer to the original melody and lyrics).

 

 

Piece: "Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang"

Performer: Hương Lan   Composer: Cao Văn Lầu

Album Information: Trên Mảnh Đất Tình Người, 2000

 

Transformation

 

Nhạc tài tử on the cải lương stage was itself adapted from more traditional forms. Instruments were tweaked or introduced from elsewhere (đàn bâu was probably a later addition to the cải lương ensemble, as were western guitars), and pieces were constantly being written or rewritten to adapt to new plays. Due to the eclectic mix of instruments and their unique tunings (đàn tỳ ba, lục huyền cầm, and đàn kìm all have slightly different scales built into their frets), a refinement of hơi oán was also necessary; this became known simply as hơi vọng cổ (vọng cổ mode).

 

The original piece "Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang" was in a slow duple time (two beats per measure) and had twenty four phrases. As the melody was adapted, singers began to slow down the phrasings and added new lyrics that stretched the melody. These divisions each later stretched to four, then to eight, then to sixteen and thirty-two beats, and in its modern form, "vọng cổ" is comprised of six phrases of thirty-two beats. The original twenty four phrases were pared down to six phrases as the piece was lengthened, and they are nearly ubiquitous in usage on the cải lương stage.

 

Each successive stretching of the melody allowed greater improvisation for the singers as well as musicians. Although singers of vọng cổ were restricted by singing the lyrics of the individual songs, they still had freedom of interpretation in terms of rhythm and ornamentation to the melody. With the longer phrases, musicians were allowed to express themselves quite freely within the contour of piece, as long as they came together at specific points. The most important of these "cadence" points were marked with a clap on the song loan woodblock ("gõ song loan").

 

The cải lương musician and composer Viễn Châu and his contemporaries have experimented with sixty-four beat phrases and have written a number of pieces in this style, but the most popular form, and the form most important to the modern cải lương stage, is the variety with thirty-beats per phrase.

 

Theory and Form

 

Because of its parallel development with cải lương theater, the major influence to "vọng cổ" is the music of the nhạc tài tử genre, both in terms melodic contour and rhythms. Specifically, "vọng cổ" became very firmly rooted in hời oán (oán mode), with a few minor modifications.

 

Scale

See also: mode, solfege, musical theory

 

Hơi oán and hơi vọng cổ are virtually indistinguishable except for a wider possible range in the second scale degree in hơi vọng cỏ (the note "xừ," as seen below). The basic pentatonic scale is shown here, both in western and Vietnamese solfege:

 

Figure 1. The basic scale of hơi vọng cổ

 

 

Vietnamese solfege Xừ Xang (~) Cống (Phan) (~) Líu
western solfege Do Mib-Mi Fa (~) Sol La (Tib) (~) Do
C Eb-E F (~) G A (Bb) (~) C

 

Western solfege here assumes a moveable Do
C is "tonic" only for convenience
(~) denotes vibrato ; "b" denotes flat
"Phan" is also seen as "Quang" in some cases

 

 

It should be noted that the Vietnamese system distinguishes between modes in two different ways. First, the actual scale degrees my differ: for example, "xừ" (the second scale degree) in hơi oán or hơi vọng cổ, as shown above, is the western "mi," but in hơi bắc (bắc mode), "xư" is equivalent to a western "re." Secondly, although two scales may be very close and use essentially the same notes, the kind of ornamentation can determine the mode. For example, the main distinction between hơi sa mạc (sa mạc mode, from northern Việt Nam) and hơi oán is that the former has a vibrato on "xừ" while the latter has a vibrato on "xang." Otherwise, the notes themselves are nearly identical.

 

Vọng cổ is based on singing, and although the intervals between notes are constant, the pitches may vary according to whether the piece is being played for a female or male voice. The three major sets of scales used for this purpose are dây đào, dây kép xang, and dây kép xề.

 

Dây đào (Tuning for Female Vocal)

 

"Dây" of course means "string" in Vietnamese, here referring to the key or mode, while "đào" in Sino-Vietnamese refers to a woman, especially in the context of a woman acting in theater. Thus, dây đào is the key used by women when singing cải lương music. It is occasionally used by male singers, most often when singing in a duet with a woman. In this situation, the musicians typically "modulate" to the male key (either dây kép xang or dây kép xề) between phrases, and both singers continue in the new key.

 

In western terms, dây đào in modern cải lương almost exclusively takes Re (D) as its tonic or Hò. Thus the table for dây đào can be modified to the following:

 

Figure 2. Hơi vong cổ: dây đào

 

 

Vietnamese solfege Xừ Xang (~) Cống Phan (~) Líu
western solfege Re Fa-Fa# Sol (~) La Ti (Do) (~) Re
D F-F# G (~) A B (C) (~) D

 

(~) denotes vibrato ; "#" denotes sharp
"Phan" is also seen as "Quang" in some cases

 

 

Dây kép xang (Tuning for Male Vocal at Xang)

 

This key is typically known simply as "dây kép" and is the analog to dây đào for male singers. "Kép" is the Sino-Vietnamese word for a man, especially one in theater, so the two terms parallel one another. Other than a change in starting pitch, the modal relationship of the notes within the scale are identical to those in dây đào. It's full name, "dây kép xang" refers to the fact that it begins on the note "xang" of dây đào, which is Sol (G) in western music.

 

The scale system is presented below:

 

Figure 3. Hơi vong cổ: dây kép (xang)

 

 

Vietnamese solfege Xừ Xang (~) Cống (Phan) (~) Líu
western solfege Sol Tib-Ti Do (~) Re Mi (Fa) (~) Sol
G Bb-B C (~) D E (F) (~) G

 

(~) denotes vibrato ; "b" denotes flat
"Phan" is also seen as "Quang" in some cases

 

 

Dây kép xề (Tuning for Male Vocal at Xề)

 

Sometimes, instead of transitioning up to "xang," the performers choose to have the male voice in a key based on "xề," hence the term "dây kép xề" or "dây xề kép." Because this key is rare in comparison to dây kép xang, it is almost always mentioned together with the word "xề" to differentiate it from "dây kép" (dây kép xang).

 

This scale is only a whole step above the previous one and is shown below:

 

Figure 4. Hơi vong cổ: dây kép (xề)

 

 

Vietnamese solfege Xừ Xang (~) Cống Phan (~) Líu
western solfege La Do-Do# Re (~) Mi Fa (Sol) (~) La
A C-C# D (~) E F (G) (~) A

 

(~) denotes vibrato ; "#" denote sharp
"Phan" is also seen as "Quang" in some cases

 

 

 

Summary of vọng cổ scale systems

 

The chart below summarizes the three keys typically used in vọng cổ as outlined above:

 

Figure 5. Vọng cổ keys summarized

 

 

Vietnamese solfege Xừ Xang (~) Cống Phan (~) Líu
dây đào Re Fa-Fa# Sol (~) La Ti (Do) (~) Re
D F-F# G (~) A B (C) (~) D
dây kép xang Sol Tib-Ti Do (~) Re Mi (Fa) (~) Sol
G Bb-B C (~) D E (F) (~) G
dây kép xề La Do-Do# Re (~) Mi Fa (Sol) (~) La
A C-C# D (~) E F (G) (~) A

 

 

Deviations from western scales

 

The scales above suggest that "vọng cổ" can be played according to a western scale. In fact, a perfectly tuned piano or keyboard could not correctly play this song, for multiple reasons.

 

First, not all notes fall exactly on the western pitches. Xang and Phan are consistently sharp compared to the equivalent western pitch, for example, and Xừ ranges from 1½ intervals above tonic () to 2 whole intervals. This does not mean that if is C, Xừ is either E flat or E natural; instead, in vọng cổ performance, the note can at any given time be E flat, E natural, or anything in between.

 

Secondly, hơi vọng cổ, like hơi oán, is distinguished by vibrato of two specific notes, xang and phan. Thus, instruments without mechanisms for vibrato cannot accurately perform vọng cổ. On the other hand, any instrument that can satisfy the two requirements (modified pitches and vibrato of specific notes] can easily be incorporated into vọng cổ performance.

 

For this reason, the Vietnamese are particular fond of guitars in modern renditions of vọng cổ. These guitars are modified by carving out deep trenches between the frets (phím) to allow greater flexibility in pitch-bending. This instrument is known in cải lương as lục huyền cầm (six-stringed instrument) or ghi-ta phím lõm (guitar with pitted frets).

 

Sáu Câu (Six Phrases)

 

Modern vọng cổ is made up of six phrases of thirty-two measures. A noticeable cadence ends each sub-phrase of four measures. At this cadence, all instruments (and the vocalist) come back together, usually hitting the same note. At eight measures before the end of a phrase, the song loan is tapped twice consecutively by the leader (usually the đàn kìm player) to signify that the phrase is ending. On the last measure of a phrase, the song loan is tapped once more to make sure everyone ends together. At that point, the performers may move on to the next phrase, transition to a different song, or end completely.

 

Câu Một (Phrase One)

 

The first phrase of vọng cổ always begins with a rao, an improvised introduction by all the musicians. If there is a vocalist, the music fades away and then he begins singing the first line of text with no accompaniment. This vocal line, also part of the rao, is improvised in both melody and rhythm. The next-to-last note is typically drawn out for a very long time before the singer cadences on and all musicians join him. This first declaration is considered the "crowd-pleaser," and well-performed renditions are always met with applause as soon as the cadence hits.

 

Because of the rao, the first phrase is shortened to only sixteen measures, with cadences as follows:

 

Figure 6. Câu Một Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase One)

 

 

--- ---
--- --- --- (+) Xê
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- --- (+) Cống

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

The first Hò at the beginning of the table represents the last cadence of the rao introduction. Measures with dashes through them represent free improvisation (within the constraints of the hơi until the cadence.

 

From câu một, one always transitions to another phrase.

 

Câu Hai (Phrase Two)

 

Figure 7. Câu Hai Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase Two)

 

 

--- --- ---
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- ---
--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Xê
--- --- --- Xê or Xang
--- --- --- (+) Xang

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

The second phrase can be used as a passing phrase, especially in the "one, two, three" pattern, or it can be used as a closing phrase, with the final cadence on Xang adding an emotional charge suitable for laments and grief-laden drama. The preceding cadence floats between and xang, although might be used to soften the transition to Xang at the end.1

 

Câu Ba (Phrase Three)

 

Figure 8. Câu Ba Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase Three)

 

 

--- --- ---
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- ---
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- --- (+) Cống
--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Hò

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

Câu ba (phrase three) usually appears as a transition from câu hai (phrase two). It works well as a closing phrase, because it ends on (tonic). For the same reason, one rarely continues directly from this phrase to another one; instead, musicians may transition to another song, perform another rao, then finish the vọng cổ cycle with "four -> five -> six" or "five -> six".

 

Câu Bốn (Phrase Four)

 

Figure 9a. Câu Bốn Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase Four)

 

 

--- --- ---
--- --- --- Xề
--- --- --- Xề
--- --- ---
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- --- (+) Cống
--- --- --- Xang or Xê
--- --- --- (+) Hò

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

The notable aspect of this phrase is to distinguish between , with circumflex only, and Xề, with circumflex and grave (see diacritics for details). represents the pitch above shown previously, while Xề represents one octave below that note. Both are used in this phrase as cadences.

 

Câu bốn is occasionally used as the opening phrase in a vọng cổ performance. In this case, it is truncated to sixteen measures (the last four cadences) and then merged with câu một (details below in "Phrase Order"). The new phrase, which is treated just like câu một, becomes:

 

Figure 9b. Câu Bốn Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase Four), shortened

 

 

--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Xê
--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Hò

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

Câu Năm (Phrase Five)

 

Figure 10. Câu Năm Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase Five)

 

 

--- --- ---
--- --- ---
--- --- ---
--- --- ---
--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Xê
--- --- --- Xang or Xê
--- --- --- (+) Xề

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

Câu Năm is typically not recognized throughout by its melodic nature, but by its rhythm. While other phrases show stresses on the beat, this phrase begins with syncopated stresses and novel rhythms. It also boasts the most unique ending cadence, on the pitch Xề in the low register. This closing cadence is often referred to as "xuống xề" (going down to the xề pitch).

 

This phrase typically continues to câu sáu, because xề does not have the melodic finality of xang or .

 

Câu Sáu (Phrase Six)

 

Figure 10. Câu Năm Vọng Cổ (Vọng Cổ: Phrase Five)

 

 

--- --- --- Xề
--- --- ---
--- --- --- Xang
--- --- --- Cống
--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Xề
--- --- ---
--- --- --- (+) Hò

 

(+) denotes a song loan clap

 

 

The use of and xề continuously can be seen as strengthening the return to in similar fashion to the use of the "dominant" (fifth) in classical western music. The finality of this phrase is always evident during performance.

 

Phrase Order

 

The phrases can be played in order, but this is not always the case. Popular combinations of phrases include:

 

  1. one, two, three
  2. one, two, three, break, four, five six
  3. one, two, break, five, six
  4. one, five, six

 

 

Other combinations are possible, but these patterns represent the majority of cases. The break in some patterns represent a transition to some other piece. Possibilities include ngâm thơ (poetry declamation, tân nhạc (modern popular music), nhạc cổ (traditional music), dân ca (folk songs), or even another rao (improvised introduction).

 

When one starts with a phrase other than câu một, it's necessary to merge the two phrases (the new phrase and câu một to make a new opening phrase that is both recognizeable and cohesive. First, one can remove the first sixteen measures, cutting the phrase to sixteen measures like câu một (phrase one). This leaves the necessary space for the rao. Afterwards, the phrases are merged, so that the first eight measures are exactly the same as câu một and the last eight measures are the last eight measures of the other phrase. This was how the diagram for câu bốn (phrase four) above was prepared. Because the first, fourth, and fifth phrases are the phrases used most as the starting phrase after the rao, this technique is typically only used for the fourth and fifth phrases.

 

Supporting melodies

 

Before, during, and after the vọng cổ piece, especially in modern cải lương performance, various songs may be played to transition in or out. Sometimes these are dân ca (folk songs), such as Trăng Thu Dạ Khúc or Lý Con Sáo. In other cases, they are famous traditional pieces, such as Nam Ai or Lưu Thủy Trường. An extension of this kind of music is modern music written in tradition style, such as the piece Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang which was the predecessor of vọng cổ, or other famous works such as Đoạn Khúc Lam Giang. The cải lương genre also borrows heavily from Chinese opera in the hồ quảng style, so Chinese folk melodies also appear often.

 

Poetry declamation, known in South Vietnam as nói thơ (ngâm thơ in the north), also features prominently as a transition piece for vọng cổ.

 

In modern times, one sees direct transitions between modern pop music and vọng cổ in many cases. This new genre of music is known as tân cổ giao duyên.

 

Tân cổ giao duyên

 

Much of the new cải lương repertoire comes in the form of modern plays that weave modern style composition (mostly pop ballads) with traditional vọng cổ. These plays and their music are referred to collectively as tân cổ giao duyên, literally meaning "modern (tân) ancient (cổ) exchanging (giao) charms (duyên).

 

A typical format for one song in a tân cổ giao duyên play might be as follows:

 

  1. Opening with a western orchestra and drum/guitar section and a singer who sings a portion of a pop ballad. The singer may sing a verse or two, then ends the song.
  2. When everything fades out, he goes into a traditional rao to enter the vọng cổ piece.
  3. On his cadence, the music returns with a traditional nhạc tài tử orchestra.
  4. After a few phrases, he returns to the pop ballad, singing another verse or two.
  5. He transitions back to vọng cổ (with or without another rao section) and finishes the song.

 

This style is still quite new, so composers are still continuously experimenting with it. The example above is just one of many ways that modern and traditional music may be fused in the genre.

 

Famous Songs Based on Vọng Cổ

 

As has been stressed above, vọng cổ has more to do with a system of music than any particular song. No two performances of vọng cổ music will ever be the same, and futhermore, writers have penned many different verses to be used in vọng cổ for many different performers and plays.

 

Some of the most renowned vọng cổ pieces have come from the prolific composer Viễn Châu. Some of his famous verses include the lament by Võ Đông Sơ for his lover Bạch Thu Hà in the play Võ Đông Sơ Bạch Thu Hà and the lament by Lan as she becomes a Buddhist nun in the play Lan và Điệp. See below for audio clips of these songs, and view the individual articles for lyrics.

 

Piece: "Lan's Lament" from Lan và Điệp

Performer: Út Bạch Lan   Composer: Viễn Châu

Album Information: Tình Anh Bán Chiếu

 

Piece: "Võ Đông Sơ's Lament" from Võ Đông Sơ Bạch Thu Hà

Performer: Minh Cảnh   Composer: Viễn Châu

Album Information: Tình Anh Bán Chiếu

 

Sources

 

  1. http://vnthuquan.net/diendan/tm.aspx?m=108768
  2. http://www.thoangsaigon.com/saigon/vhnambo/vongco.asp

 

See Also

 

http://www.vnhoathinhdon.net/giangtuyen


 

Contributors: Mạc Vũ

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