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Sep 202013

Vietnamese, a member of the Austro-Asiatic family of languages, can be described morphologically as a tonally-inflected tongue with a strong tendency toward monosyllabism. While beautiful in themselves, those particularities do create insurmountable problems in musical composition: they transform every pre-composed melody into a prosodical labyrinth, defeating most lyricists’ resources. Composers in Vietnam therefore almost always write themselves the words to fit their own music. In all the divergent practitioners of these challenging complexities, Trịnh Công Sơn unquestionably stands as the last word (no pun intended). His subtle melodies are more than tunes: they carry the nucleus of a minimalistic verse-form, the vehicle for Công-Sơn’s poetic utterances. Those are sheer perfection: they rank among the best ever penned in his native language. We turn to him in the last four tracks of our CD. Diễm Xưa (A Whiff of Grace) and Tuổi Đá Buồn (Lapidarious Ineffability), both symbolist texts dressed up in impressionistic melodies, created sensation in the Saigon of the early seventies, when the city, contemplating its eventual doom, went through apocalyptic throes. Alone of all the pre-1975 Southern Vietnamese composers, Trịnh Công Sơn made the controversial decision to stay in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, a decision which still creates endless ethical problems. Một Cõi Đi Về (Entrances and Exits), one of his all times masterpieces, written in the mids-1980s reflects a profound nihilism tinged with the philosophy of Zhuangzi and Buddhism, expressed in an angular music-hall tune raised to the level of highest art on the strength of its lyrics, by far the most beautiful 180 monosyllables that Vietnam has produced in this century. Heard a world away from their sumptuous verbal incantations, those delicate préludes may sound strangely destitute. The left-hand imitation of Chopin’s E-minor posthumous Nocturne at the beginning of A Whiff of Grace, the series of Debussyesque chords towards the end of Lapidarious Ineffability, and the quasi-literal quotation from Chopin’s Étude in F-minor, op. 10, n. 9 at the end of Entrances and Exits, would hopefully restore some of the lost poetry back into the original form.

Buy songs by TRỊNH CÔNG SƠN in “Vietnamese Romances” album