Nha Nhac, Vietnamese court music
Nhã nhạc is a form of Vietnamese court music. Nha Nhac means “elegant music”. It refers to a broad range of musical and dance styles performed at the Vietnamese royal court from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century i. e. from the Trần dynasty of the 13th century to the Nguyễn dynasty, which ended in the early 20th century. It was performed by highly trained and skilled court musicians. Besides musicians, dancers also make this form of music a highlight of the Vietnamese courts. All the performers wore elaborately designed costumes during their performances.
Instruments commonly used for nhã nhạc include kèn bầu (conical oboe), đàn tỳ bà (pear-shaped lute with four strings), đàn nguyệt (moon-shaped two-string lute), đàn tam (fretless lute with snakeskin-covered body and three strings), đàn nhị (two-stringed vertical fiddle), sáo (also called sáo trúc; a bamboo transverse flute), trống (drum played with sticks), and other percussion instruments.
Among the numerous musical genres that developed in Vietnam, only Nha Nhac can claim a nationwide scope and strong links with the traditions of other East Asian countries.
The Court Music was officially formed along with the rise of Nguyen Dynasty in the early 19th century. In about 1947, 1948, Madame Tu Cung (mother of King Bao Dai, wife of King Khai Dinh) gathered once again some court music artists, helping to maintain some genres of Hue Court Music and dance. In the 1980s, it began to attract attention of the Ministry of Culture and local authorities. In the 1990s, Hue Court Music enjoyed renaissance. Thereafter Hue Court Music has been introduced much abroad.
The different genres of the Hue Court Music include worshipping ritual music, court ritual music, court dances, chamber music and opera (royal classical opera – tuong).
In the former times, Hue Court Music consisted of various genres: Giao Nhac used in the sacrifice ceremony to the Heaven and the Earth. Mieu Nhac used in worshipping ceremonies at the temples of meritorious ancestors of the Nguyen clan, Confucius, Nguyen Dynasty’s literature doctors, national heroes; Ngu Tu Nhac used in Than Nong, Thanh Hoang, Xa Tac worshiping ceremonies; Dai Trieu Nhac used in great ceremonies or receptions of foreign ambassadors;Thuong Trieu Nhac used in ordinary court ceremonies; Yen Nhac used in great royal banquets; Cung Nhac (or Cung Trung Nhac) used inside the royal palaces.
Hue Court Music was created by the process of integrating and adopting Chinese and Champa culture and the influences of Buddhism and Confucian. It is the synthesis of the various art genres, instruments, rhythm, melody and ensemble forms and environment. Therefore, Court Music can bring audience good sense of both audio and vision generating different shades of emotions and inspirations.
The events that shook Vietnam in the twentieth century – especially the fall of the monarchy and the decades of war – seriously threatened the survival of Nha Nhac. Deprived of its court context, this musical tradition lost its original function. Nevertheless, the few surviving former court musicians continue to work to keep the tradition alive. Certain forms of Nha Nhac have been maintained in popular rituals and religious ceremonies and serve as a source of inspiration for contemporary Vietnamese music.
In Nov 2003 Hue Court Music was recognized as the oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. This recognition remarked the great progress of the culture preservation of Vietnam and its importance to the humanity’s art values.