Have You Ever Listened to

Have You Ever Listened to "Nhac Tien Chien" (Vietnamese pre-war music)?

Rachel Tran Rachel Tran | Published Feb 06, 2020

“Outside on the veranda, the autumn rain is gently falling. The somber sky is quieting, suspended clouds are scattering. Amidst the muffled wind blowing past in the autumn rain, who’s crying? who’s grieving…” are the so beautiful lyrics of a popular “Nhac tien chien” song named “Autumn Rain Drops” (or “Giot Mua Thu” in Vietnamese) by Dang The Phong, that makes us feel nostalgic

Meaning & History of Vietnamese Pre-war Music?

The appellation “Nhac tien chien” (Vietnamese pre-war music) was properly originated from the name Tho tien chien (pre-war poetry), which was very popular in South Vietnam after 1954. “War” here is the 9-year war against French colonies from 1945 to 1954. Although Vietnamese music historians have the tien chien period ending in 1946 or 1947 with the resumption of hostilities with the French, some songs associated with this genre were written as late as 1954. While they continued to find a loving audience in the South, the nhac tien chien songs were, although not banned outright, absent from the stage and airwaves of North Vietnam from 1954 until the 1980s. That is the context out of which nhac tien chien was born.

These songs continue to be popular among Vietnamese, both overseas and in Vietnam, especially among the older generation. They are regularly performed at the concert hall of the Hoi Nhac Si Viet Nam (Vietnamese Association of Musicians) in Hanoi under the appellation nhac tru tinh or lyrical music. When this Association in 1994 presented a festival commemorating 50 years of Vietnamese song, these songs were well represented.

History of Vietnamese pre-war music

Nhac tien chien songs carry with them an air of nostalgia, perhaps nostalgia for an era when Vietnam was still unified, the era preceding nearly 20 years of civil war. After 1954, the country was split into two very different regimes, the communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam, and the Republic of Vietnam or South Vietnam. At that time, some tien chien composers went South, while others remained in the North. Most of the Northerners either ceased composing or followed the dictates of the regime for writing songs to mobilize the masses and strengthen the revolution. Southerners continued to write romantic songs. Since the North’s victory resulting in Vietnam’s reunification in 1975, the country’s culture has continued to be divided between resident and overseas communities. As nearly all music and literature of a romantic or sentimental basis was banned by the communist regime, many of Vietnam’s creative minds left the country in 1975 for Western countries like the United States, Australia, and France. Although differences between these two communities continue until this time, nhac tien chien is one of the few popular song genres that can be heard on the stage of both Vietnam and among the overseas community.

Although Vietnamese music this period has gone through many movements: patriotic songs, “huong dao” songs, happy songs, folk songs, etc., the longest lasting movement is still love song movement. That is the music movement with greatest composers like Văn Cao, Phạm Duy, Lê Thương, etc. and with ever-lasting love songs like. Amongst the best-known ones are Em đến thăm anh một chiều mưa (“I Come to See You One Rainy Afternoon”) by To Vu; Gửi gió cho mây ngàn (‘Send the Wind to Blow Away the Clouds’), Thu quyến rũ (‘Seductive Autumn’) and Lá đổ muôn chiều (‘Leaves Falling in the Afternoon’) by Doan Chuan; Dư âm (‘Resonance’) by Nguyen Van Ty; Cô láng giềng (‘The Girl Next Door’) by Hoang Quy; and Thuyền và biển (‘Boat and Sea’) by Phan Huynh Dieu ); Giọt mưa thu (‘Drop of Autumn Rain’) and Con thuyền không bến (‘The Boat isn’t Docking’) by Dang The Phong.

Nhac tien chien is known as the origin of Vietnamese popular music. Harmonious, sentimental and melancholy, many romantic songs of Nhac tien chien have become regarded as national treasures and are still performed widely…


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