NGUYỄN BÌNH ĐỊNH : Traditional musical notation methods for the chordophone in Vietnamese musical history


Traditional musical notation methods for the chordophone in Vietnamese musical history

 

Dr. Nguyễn Bình Định

nguyen binh dinh

 

According to the historical documents of the feudal period[1] and the studies of Vietnamese musical researchers such as Prof. Dr. Trần Văn Khê, Prof. Tô Vũ, or Assoc. Prof.-Dr. Thụy Loan[2], Vietnamese written music appeared around in the 15th century. The historical documents in Lê dynasty show that during the process of developing national music, the great mandarins such as Mr. Thân Nhân Trung, Mr. Đỗ Nhuận, or Mr. Lương Thế Vinh were assigned to research on Chinese music and then applied it to the development of Vietnamese music. It is true that Lương Đăng (Lỗ bộ Ty giám mandarin) wrote the rules of royal music, based on Chinese musical regulations in Ming dynasty. Those historical details provide the hint that our country surely adapted Chinese musical repertoires and notation methods in Lê dynasty.

According to our scientific project “Vietnamese traditional musical scripts, although no concrete evidences have not been found yet, many signs show that traditional music notations in Vietnam have existed since Lý – Trần dynasty (around from the 11th to the 14th century).

Due to the social and historical conditions of the former ages (especially in the middle of the 19th century and earlier), the devastation by war, or weather, we are still facing difficulties in researching on important historic documents as well as in defining the shape of national culture before acquiring exotic elements. The traditional music notation in our country is also in the same situation. Nevertheless, as far as we are concerned, during the formation and the development of Vietnamese musical notation, i.e. traditional musical notation, the acquirement from the Chinese musical notation and then the Western musical notation plays the important role. Particularly, Công Xê phổ notation style, using Hán (Chinese) scripts, is one of the premises contributing to the appearance of the notation methods of Vietnamese traditional music. Thanks to the national self-strengthening spirit and the knowledge about the difference between Vietnamese and Chinese traditional music, Vietnamese people acquired Hán notation method (Công Xê phổ) selectively to find out the notation method, appropriate to Vietnamese music.

As far as we are concerned, September 02, 1945 is the last day of the Vietnamese feudal system, which is a very important historic transitional moment of Vietnamese politics, society and culture. In addition, Vietnamese musical researchers suppose it as the landmark of Vietnamese traditional music (from 1945 and earlier). For that reason, the traditional notation method is supposed to exist from 1945 and earlier and Hán Nôm script is used as signs for pitches. Hán Nôm script is not used in other notation methods, including the note names in Hò Xự Xang system.  It originated from Han script, which was transcribed into the national language for notations. As a result, instead of being considered as traditional musical notation method, it must be called “the adapted traditional musical notation method” or “the renovated traditional musical notation method”.

Traditional notation method for the chordophone

Most Vietnamese people, like other Asian people, prefer the chordophone to the aerophone and the percussions; therefore, they are interested in the chordophone with regard to composition, performance and musical enjoyment. In history, there have been more the traditional notation methods for the chordophone than that for the airophone and the percussions.

The traditional notation method for the chordophone often uses the Letter Notation, in which Hán script, Nôm script, Hò, Xự, Xang, Xê, Công, Liu, and U are used as signs for pitches. From the 19th century and earlier, musical notations were written in vertical lines, from the top to the bottom, and from the right to the left, which is similar to Hán-writing style. From the early 20th century downwards, notations have been written on horizontal lines or graphs[3] and from the left to the right. In addition, at this time, notations have been written horizontally without on lines or graphs; and the signs in Hán and Nôm script have been transcribed into the national language. The traditional musical notations are written with the skeleton notation method, in which the key melody is focused and the performance of other details such as ornaments, nuance, silence, or the correct length of each tune depends on performers as long as it agrees with hơi nuance, điệu mode, the style of each region, and the style of each musical genre.

The traditional notations for the chordophone are written with two basic methods:

Hán Nôm script is written vertically without on lines or graphs

Hán Nôm script is written horizontally without on lines or graphs. The script, written on lines or graphs, is called phổ biểu tone)[4].

The main content of these notation scores is the pitch of the skeleton melody, in which the length of each tone is not shown clearly; instead, tones are marked at strong beats. At these strong beats, song loan are beaten to keep rhythms. There are no signs, representing silence, nuance and strength. Many notation scores have no signs of performance techniques, such as vibrato, accent, legato, mordent, and glissando. In addition to the signs of pitches and strong beats, some notation scores have only one or two signs of performance techniques. For example, some notation scores for the nguyệt two-stringed Vietnamese moon lute in the 19th century only have a sign relating to nguyệt, i.e. the sign of playing the open string. For example, for Tồn (存) letter in a notation score, the instrumentalist will play Xàng (上?) on the open string of the great string of the nguyệt moon lute. Sometimes, only one sign of the performance technique is found in a whole notation score of thetranh 16-chord zither; that is á (亞), referring to a technique, in which the finger glides on a series of strings in order to play many notes.

For pitch notations, people use Hán Nôm script of Hò Xự Xang[5] to describe pitches and the position of the octave as below:

     合? 四 衣ß (or 伵) 上? 尺 工 反  (or 宛)[6]⁾   六 五     

Supposing that Hò (合? ) = Đồ, pitches will be described as follows:

 
Notes:

– Liu (六) is the tone at the octave, above Hò (合?)

– U (五) is the tone at the octave, above Xự (四)

– To make the notations for Xang Xê Công Liu at the above octave, people write a “nhân đứng” sign[7] before the note.

Some different pitch signs are used in different regions. For example, musicians in the Middle use Y ( – pronounced as Ý) as the sign for the note at the octave, above Cống (工).

  

Musicians in the Sourthern Vietnam use Y (衣ß) and Ý () as the signs for two notes (an octave, distant from each other) under Xáng.

For the notation, people use suitable pitch signs, basing on the nuance, the scale and the mode of the work.

With regard to Bắc tune, the following pitch signs are used:                     (Supposing that Hò = Đô)

With regard to Nam tune[8], the folowing pitch signs are used:

         

 With regard to Oán tune, the pitch signs are used as follows:      

 

(Supposing that Hò = Đồ )

We will present the notations for the chordophone, in which Hán Nôm script is written on vertical lines as below.

Firstly, regarding pitch signs, the notations for the chordophone, in which Hán Nôm script is used, is based on Hò Xự Xangsystem as mentioned above. These signs are written and read in accordance with Hán script, i.e. from the top to the bottom and from the left to the right. Each word must be written in the following order: the upper strokes are written first and then the lower ones; the horizontal strokes are written first and then the vertical ones. The words succeed each other from the top to the bottom vertically without on lines.

Basing on the mark of strong beats at the beginning of a measure, people divide the notation method for the chordophone, in which Hán Nôm script is written vertically, into three types:

+ Type 1: marking the strong beat at the beginning of a measure with a grave and leaving a space

+ Type 2: marking the strong beat at the beginning of a measure by leaving a space

+ Type 3: marking the strong beat at the beginning of a measure with a grave

– As for type 1:

To make the notations for the chordophone such as the nguyệt, the tranh 16-chord zither, and the nhị two-chord vertical fiddle), people write pitch signs in accordance with Hò Xự Xang system of Hán Nôm script vertically without on lines or graphs. To mark the strong beat at the beginning of a measure, people write a grave[9]below and on the right of the pitch sign of the note at the strong beat, and leave a space right below the pitch sign of the strong beat. The  length of this space is enough to write a pitch sign as below.

 

We will find that notation method in the score book Di tình nhã điệu[10], one of the rare documents about the ancient notations in Hán Nôm script. This score book comprises 42 notation scores of Huế Court music in Nguyễn dynasty, among which are 32 notation scores for the chordophone, such as Ngự cung, Lưu Thủy khúc, Phú lục, or Ngũ đối,  and 10 notation scores for Huế songs, such as Quả phụ, Tư mã phụng cầu khúc, Kim Vân Kiều toàn ước, and Đào hoa lưu thủy.  The clear and methodic content, layout, and fine writing shows that the author must be a musical mandarin, a royal instrumentalist, or a person, who has profound knowledge about Huế royal music [11].

With regard to notation scores for the chordophone, we can find that in a notation score, written in Hán Nôm scrip vertically, for the nguyệt  lute, the strong beat at the beginning of a measure is marked with a grave and a space. Below is an example of the notation score Tây mai cung.

 

The instrumentalist, looking at this notation score, will understand the issues as below:

– This score is written for the nguyệt lute because there are two Tồn (存) letters in this score, which refers to the performance of Xàng tone by plucking the open string on the đại string of the nguyệt lute.

– This score consists of 18 measures since there are 18 marks for the strong beat at the beginning of a measure.

– This score is written in accordance with Bắc mode, using the following pitches:

 

The pitches on this notation score are the basic pitches in the skeletal melody of Tây mai cung musical piece. According to the regulations of Vietnamese traditional music, instrumentalists can base on this skeletal melody to make variations, pursuant to the principle of respecting the tones at the strong beats at the beginning of measures, and at the beginning and at the end of sentences or paragraphs. In addition to basic pitches, the instrumentalist enriches the melody by performing the auxiliary chord and ornamentation notes. Moreover, he/she playes the tones at weak beats in accordance with his selection of rhythms and performs instrumental performance techniques, for example, vibration and pressing, in order to express the content and the style of the musical piece.

In this way, people can perform many different variants from a musical piece, but remaining the content and the style of that musical piece. Tây mai cung for the nguyệt lute can have Western musical notations as follows[12].

The score book Di tình nhã điệu consists of many other musical pieces for the nguyệt lute with the above notation method, including Lưu thủy, Phú bản, Chinh phụ ngâm, Tẩu mã, Bình bán, Nam thương, etc. In addition, there are some notation scores for the tranh 16-chord zither such as Lưu thủy khúc, Phú bản, and Cổ bản Nam điệu.

Below is the notation score Phú bản nê điệu (forthe tranh 16-chord zither) in the score book Di tình nhã điệu:                                                                         

Looking at this notation score, people can understand the following issues:

– This notation score was written for the tranh 16-chord zither, since there are the signs (亞), referring to the glide technique on the strings ofthe tranh 16-chord zither. This technique is called arpeggio.

– This musical piece has Nam mode with the tones as follows:

          

– This musical piece comprises 36 measures, since there are 36 marks of strong beats at the beginning of measures. According to the principle of traditional music, the melody of Phú bản forthe tranh 16-chord zither can be written in the form of musical notations on the 5-line staff as below:

 

Regarding the notation method for the chordophone written in Hán Nôm script vertically, people write pitch signs in accordance with Hò Xự Xang system vertically from the top to the bottom. without on lines, and without on square graphs.  Musical notations are written from the right to the left. To mark the strong beat at the beginning of a measure, a space is left under the pitch sign of the tone at that strong beat. The length of the space is enough for writing a pitch sign.             People use a sign, which has a similar shape to two parallel grave accents, in order to repeat a certain tone. This mark is written under the pitch sign of the repeated tone. The number of grave accents is equal to that of tone repeat.

In the score book Cầm phả[13]dated from the 19th century, more than 20 musical pieces for the chordophone (mainly for thenguyệt lute andthe tranh 16-chord zither) are written with the above second notation method.

For example, the notations forthe tranh 16-chord zither of Lưu thủy in Cầm phả score book:

 

The skeletal melody of Lưu thủy musical piece forthe tranh 16-chord zither in the score book Cầm phả was written in notations on the 5-line staff as below:

 

In comparison with the first notation method for the chordophone, written in Hán Nôm script vertically, the second one has the sign of marking weak beat via the letter 外 (ngoại). This sign is used to show the strong beat and no pitch is located at the beginning of a measure, which means that the strong beat is situated at the rest, or the syncopation at the end of a previous measure lasts until playing the strong beat of the next measure. The notation score for the nguyệt lute in Cầm phả scorebook is an example.

   

Phú lục bản

If notations are written on the 5-line staff, the first four beats of Phú lục bản for the nguyệt lute in Cầm phả will be noted as below:          

                  

In addition to the above principles, in some notation scores, some other pitch signs are written according to the habit of the musicians in the Middle of Vietnam, including musicians and instrumentalists in Huế Court. They are some pitch signs at high register (the second octave).

    Its pitches can be specified by writing them on the five-line staff as below:

 Those pitch signs can be found in the notation score Long đăng for the nguyệt lute in Cầm phả scorebook.

 

If the first nine beats of Long Đăng for the nguyệt lute are written in the form of notations on the five-line staff, its melody will be noted as follows:

 

This notation method can be found in other musical pieces in Cầm phả score book such as Ngũ đối for the nguyệt lute, Cổ bản forthe tranh 16-chord zither, Nam Xuân, Bình bán for the nguyệt lute, or Bát bản cổ forthe tranh 16-chord zither.  It also can be found in the score book Đại Nam Quốc âm ca khúc compiled by Mr. Nguyễn Công Trứ, for example, the musical pieceTam thiên tụng.

With regard to the third traditional notation method for the chordophone, people also use Hán Nôm script to represent pitch signs according to Hò Xự Xang system, written vertically from the top to the bottom, from the right to the left, without on lines, and without on graphs. The way to distinguish the octaves is similar to that of the first and second notation methods. The signs of the tones at high registers has nhân đứng letter ( ) ahead[14]. Two notes of the octave, above and Xự (合?, 四) are written as Liu and U ( 六, 五 ).

 

To mark the strong beat at the beginning of a measure, a grave accent is written, which is a comma in Hán script, underneath and on the right of the pitch sign of the tone at that strong beat. The space between letters remains unchanged. There is no sign, marking the weat beat, which is one of the weaknesses of this notation method.

In Phả nhạc cổ, a valuable heirloom of Mr. Hoàng Ân’s family, living at precinct 2, Điếu Ngao hamlet, Đông Hà town, Quảng Trị[15],there are 25 notation scores for the chordophone, which were written with the above notation method. The main contents of these notation scores are pitches without clear rhythms and the tones at the strong beats at the beginning of measures. These tones are marked with grave accents and no space is left. Most of those notation scores have no signs, representing the performance technique of a specific chordophonic instrument. Therefore, these notation scores are for the chordophone in general. They can be used for the tranh 16-chord zither, the nguyệt  lute, and the nhị Vietnamese two-chord fiddle. To perform a  certain instrument, the instrumentalist must apply the suitable instrument-playing techniques to perform these notation scores. These notation scores, in some cases, are used for chordophonic

ensemble, similar to Huế chamber music. The notation score Long hổ in Phả nhạc cổ Quảng Trị is an example.             

 

The melody of Long hổ musical piece is written in the form of notations on the five-line staff as below:       

                

Only 3 out of 25 above notation scores for the chordophone can be recognized as the musical pieces for the nguyệt lute because there are the signs of playing the open string of the nguyệt lute, namely Tồn letter (存). This is the sign of performing Xàng tone on đại string of the nguyệt lute with the technique of playing the open string[16]. Some notation scores include this sign only one time, for example, the notation scores Xuân Phong and Liên hườn. However, this sign is used up to 8 times in the notation score Cổ bản for the nguyệt lute in Phả nhạc cổ Quảng Trị:

  The notation score Cổ bản for the nguyệt lute is changed from Hán Nôm script into the five-line staff. Below is its extract of the first five beats.                      

 

The traditional notation method for the chordophone, written in Hán Nôm script vertically, was used most in royal music and folk ceremonial music in Trị Thiên – Huế region in Nguyễn dynasty in the 19th century. However, at present, the documents about those notation scores are very valuable in terms of history, science, and art. The traditional notation scores in the score books such as Di tình nhã điệu, Cầm phả, or Phả nhạc cổ Quảng Trị, helppeople to understand how the ancestors (at least in Nguyễn dynasty) played music and made the notations;  what notation scores were used for the chordophone in the court; what performance techniques were used for the tranh 16-chord zither and the nguyệt lute in the 19th century in Vietnam; and what notation scores were used for playing Cổ bản, Lưu thủy, Phú lục, Tây mai, and Long đăng. In addition, those documents reveal the theory of Vietnamese traditional music and the musical difference between Vietnam and such other countries as China and India. Those issues are greatly important for traditional-music composition, performance, research, and training in Vietnam.

                                                                                          (To be continued)

 


[1]. The historical documents such as Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (Complete annals of Great Việt), Vũ trung tùy bút (Notes taken on rainy days), and Khâm định Đại nam hội điển sự lệ.

[2].  The documents such as Vietnamese traditional music (The doctorate thesis of Prof. Dr. Trần Văn Khê), The vitality of Vietnamese traditional music (of Prof. Tô Vũ), Summary of Vietnamese musical history (of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyễn Thụy Loan).

[3]. Graphs or Âm phổ biểu are used in the notation scores, in which Hán Nôm script is used. Graphs include vertical and horizontal lines.  Horizontal lines are used for pitch signs and differentiate between musical lines. Vertical lines are used to distinguish beat squares and mark the positions of strong and weak beats.

[4]. In this paper, we only mention the way of writting Hán Nôm vertically without on lines or graphs.

[5]. Vietnamese people acquired Hò Xự  Xang system from China and Chinese people acquired it from Mongolia.

[6]. The word Oan (宛) is sometimes written as Oán (怨?).

[7]. Nhân đứng (  ) is one of the basic components of Hán (Chinese) script.

[8]. It is sometimes called Ai tune.

[9]. It is called grave according to the modern Vietnamese, and this mark is used as a comma in Hán scripts

[10]. This score book does not indicate the author name, the date and the place of publication. However, on its first page and last page are the seals from the library of Pháp quốc Viễn Đông school (a French training school in Vietnam during the period of French domination). This documentation is now archived at Hán Nôm Institute with the code AB – 446.

[11]. The content and the writing style of this score book shows that it was written around in the first half of the 19th century.

[12]. The notation scores, in which Western musical notes are used, in this paper are made by Nguyễn Bình Định.

[13]. Cầm phả or Cầm phổ is a Hán Nôm score book, including notation scores of royal musical pieces such as Nhã nhạc(ceremonial music), Huế singing, and royal Tuồng. On the titles of musical piecs are the seals of the Court in Nguyễn dynasty. This documentation is now archived with the code A.1508 at Hán Nôm Institute.

[14]. To make a pitch sign at a low register, people put one dot on the top: .  However, most Vietnamese traditional musical pieces have only two octaves. Therefore, there are no notation scores with such pitch signs at low registers.

[15].  Phả nhạc cổ Quảng Trị was found on December 09, 1993 at the musical sacrifice ceremony for the progenitor of Hoàng family, organized at Mr. Hoàng Ân’s house. This score book includes the notation scores for chordophonic instruments, wind instruments (airophonic instruments), and drum (the percussions). Notation scores are divided into three kinds, including Thi nhạc (chamber music and songs), Thiền nhạc (Buddhism music), and Lễ nhạc (ceremonial music). This notation score was printed in the book, entitled Âm nhạc cổ truyền Quảng Trị (traditional music of Quảng Trị), published in 1997 by the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology in collaboration with the Department of Culture & Information and the Culture & Art Assocation of Quảng Trị province.

[16]. This sign and this performance technique were very popular in the Middle and the South of Vietnam, and then they has been written in the national language afterwards.

http://www.vienamnhac.org/articles/traditional-music/traditional-musical-notation-methods-for-the-chordophone-in-vietnamese-musical-history

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