By the early 1930s many popular French songs had been given Vietnamese words, giving rise to a hybrid genre known as hát bài ta theo điệu Tây
('Our words following western melodies'). Soon after this there appeared the first Vietnamese popular songs in the western style. The earliest examples were composed and performed by one Nguyễn Văn Tuyên, a native of Huế whose performances in Hà Nội in 1938 inspired the establishment of two important groups - Myosotis (French for 'forget-me-not'), led by Thẩm Oánh (1916-1996) and Dương Thiệu Tước (1915-1995) and Tricéa, comprising Văn Chung (Mai Văn Chung, 1914-1984), Lê Yên (Lê Đình Yên, 1917-1998) and Doãn Mẫn (b 1919). Heavily inspired by the ideals of the New Poetry Movement (Phong trào Thơ mới
, see Literature below), these groups wrote, published and performed numerous new works in the years prior to 1945. They were soon joined by numerous other composers, including Văn Cao (Nguyễn Văn Cao, 1923-1995) and Lê Thương (b 1914-1996) from Hải Phòng and Đặng Thế Phong (1919-1942) from Nam Định.
The romantic music of this period is commonly known as nhạc tiền chiến
('pre-war music') although it continued to be composed throughout the final war with the French. Harmonious, sentimental and often melancholy, many popular romantic songs from both before and after 1945 have since become regarded as national treasures and are still performed widely. Amongst the best-known ones are Thu trên đảo Kinh Châu ('Autumn on Kinh Châu Island') by Lê Thương; Biệt ly ('Separation') by Doãn Mẫn; Bên hồ liễu ('At Willow Lake') by Văn Chung; Trên Sông Hương ('On the Perfume River') and Đêm đông ('Winter Night') by Nguyễn Văn Thương (b 1919); Tạ từ ('Saying Goodbye') and Em đến thăm anh một chiều mưa ('I Come to See You One Rainy Afternoon') by Tô Vũ (Hoàng Phú, b 1923); Gửi gió cho mây ngàn ('Send the Wind to Blow Away the Clouds'), Lá thư ('The Letter'), Thu quyến rũ ('Seductive Autumn') and Lá đổ muôn chiều ('Leaves Falling in the Afternoon') by Đoàn Chuẩn (1924-2001); Dư âm ('Resonance') by Nguyễn Văn Tý (b 1925); Giọt mưa thu ('Drop of Autumn Rain') and Con thuyền không bến ('The Boat isn't Docking') by Đặng Thế Phong; Cô lái đò ('The Ferrywoman') by Nguyễn Đình Phúc (b 1919); Cô láng giềng ('The Girl Next Door') by Hoàng Quý (1919-1946); and Thuyền và biển ('Boat and Sea') by Phan Huỳnh Điểu (b 1924).
Undoubtedly the most influential northern composer of popular music to emerge during this period was Văn Cao, who developed a unique style combining elements of Vietnamese folk music and folk legend with stylistic elements of the French chanson
. Văn Cao's best-known works include Thiên thai
('Paradise'), Trương Chi
, Suối mơ ('Dreaming Spring'), Thu cô liêu
('Lonely Autumn') and Ngày mùa
Patriotic and revolutionary songs also developed during the 1930s and 1940s. Many were commissioned by the 'Resound' (Đồng Vọng) movement of Hoàng Quý and the General Association of Students (Tổng Hội Sinh Viên) movement set up by Lưu Hữu Phước (1921-1989). Amongst the best known were Lên đàng ('Setting Off'), Hội nghị Diên Hồng ('Diên Hồng Conference') and Tiếng gọi thanh nhiên ('Call to Youth') by Lưu Hữu Phước; Chiến sĩ Sông Lô ('Martyr of the Lô River') by Nguyễn Đình Phúc; Cờ Việt Minh ('Việt Minh Flag') by Vương Gia Khương (1921-1985); Hát mừng bộ đội chiến thắng ('Song to Welcome the Victorious Troops') by Nguyễn Xuân Khoát (1910-1993); Du kích ca ('Guerilla Song') by Đỗ Nhuận (1922-1991); and Văn Cao's Tiến quân ca ('Onward Soldiers'), the call to arms which subsequently became Việt Nam's National Anthem.
During the final war against the French the basic framework of Việt Nam's music sector began to take shape with the establishment in the Việt Bắc resistance zone of a Musicians' League (Đoàn Nhạc sĩ Việt Nam
, fore-runner of the Việt Nam Musicians' Association). During this period the concept of the mobile multi-purpose 'cultural and artistic troupe' (đoàn văn công
) came into being with a view to presenting various types of performing arts to soldiers at the front line. Many more patriotic and revolutionary songs and choral pieces were now penned for these troupes, both by composers of the earlier period and by younger faces such as Nguyễn Hữu Trí (1918-1997), Đắc Nhẫn (Phạm Đắc Nhẫn, b 1923), Lương Ngọc Trác (Nguyễn Quế Trác, b 1928), Tạ Thanh Sơn (1921-1998), Nhật Lai (Nguyễn Tuân, b 1931), Nguyễn Thành (Nguyễn Văn Thành, b 1931), Ngô Huỳnh (Huỳnh Tấn Chử, b 1931), Hoàng Việt (Lê Chí Trực, 1928-1967), Hoàng Văn (Lê Văn Ngọ, b 1930) and Trần Kiết Tường (b 1924).
This period also saw the composition of children's songs, incidental music for stage plays and documentary films and even a number of full-blown revolutionary musical plays such as Lưu Hữu Phước's Reo vang Bình Minh
('Cry Out Bình Minh').
The establishment of the Việt Nam School of Music (Trường Âm nhạc Việt Nam
, now the Hà Nội Conservatory of Music) in 1956 and the Việt Nam Musicians' Association (Hội Nhạc sĩ Việt Nam
) in 1957 gave an important boost to national musical development and the years which followed were marked by a full flowering of patriotic, revolutionary and marching songs and rousing choral pieces. Typical of the 1950s were songs such as Đỗ Nhuận's Việt Nam quê hương tôi ('Việt Nam My Native Land'), Tô Vũ's Nhớ ơn Hồ Chí Minh ('Be Thankful to Hồ Chí Minh'), Bài ca nữ anh hùng miền Nam ('Song of the Heroic Southern Woman') by Lê Lôi (b 1920), Tiếng nói Hà Nội ('Voice of Hà Nội') by Văn An (Nguyễn Văn An, b 1929) and Sài Gòn quật khởi ('Sài Gòn Rise Up') by Hồ Bắc (b 1930).
During the American War revolutionary songs were grouped into various categories, perhaps the best-known of which were composed especially for the popular movements Tiếng hát át tiếng bom ('The Sound of Singing Drowns the Noise of Bombs'), comprising songs to be sung at the home front; Xẻ dọc Trường Sơn đi cứu nước ('Carve Out the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to Save the Country'), comprising songs sung to rally the troops into action; and Hát cho đồng bào tôi nghê ('Sing for our Compatriots to Hear'), comprising songs aimed at developing patriotic and anti-American fervour in the south.
Literally hundreds of patriotic ballads were penned in the north during this period. Amongst the most popular ones written before 1975 were Tay súng sẵn sàng
('Handgun at the Ready') and Theo lời Bác
('Following Uncle Hồ's Path') by Nguyễn Xuân Khoát; Quảng Binh quê ta
('Quảng Binh Our Homeland'), Chào anh Giải phóng quân - chào mùa xuân người thủy thủ
('Salute the Armed Forces of the Uprising - Salute the Sailors' Spring') and Hà Nội - Huế - Sài Gòn
by Hoàng Vân; Thề quyết bảo vệ Tổ quốc
('Resolve to Guard the Fatherland') and Tiếng hát pháo binh
('The Sound of Artillery') by Huy Du (Nguyễn Huy Du, b 1926); Câu hò trên bến Hiền Lương ('Call from Hiền Lương Wharf'), Ngọn đèn đứng gác ('Lantern at the Watchtower'), Trường Sơn Đông-Trường Sơn Tây ('East Trường Sơn-West Trường Sơn') and Lá đỏ ('Red Leaf') by Hoàng Hiệp (Lưu Trần Nghiệp, b 1931); Hà Nội - Niềm tin và Hy vọng, 'Hà Nội - Confidence and Expectation') by Phan Nhân (Nguyễn Phan Nhân, b 1930); Chiếc gậy Trường Sơn ('Trường Sơn Walking Cane') and Như có Bác trong ngày vui đại thắng ('It's as if Uncle Hồ is Present for the Happy Victory Day') by Phạm Tuyên (b 1930); Lời ca dâng Bác ('Song Dedicated to Uncle Hồ') and Nhớ Bác Hồ ('Remember Uncle Hồ') by Trọng Loan (Nguyễn Trọng Loan, b 1923); Bài ca Hà Nội ('Hà Nội Song') and Lời anh vọng mãi ngàn năm ('His Words Will Reverberate Forever') by Vũ Thanh (b 1933); Mỗi bước đi thêm yêu Tổ quốc ('With Every Step I Love the Fatherland More') and Câu hò trên đất Nghệ An ('Call Across the Land of Nghệ An') by Tân Huyền (Phan Văn Tần, b 1931); Những cô gái quan họ ('Quan họ Girls') by Phó Đức Phương (b 1944); Ba-lô ta buộc cho chất ('Fasten Our Backpacks Tighter') and Mỗi bước ta đi ('Every Step we Take') by Thuận Yến (Đoàn Hữu Công, b 1935); Xuân chiến khu ('Spring in the War Zone') and Tiếng chày trên sóc Bom Bo ('The Sound of the Pestle in Bom Bo Village') by Xuân Hồng (Nguyễn Xuân Hồng, 1928-1996); Bài ca đất nước anh hùng ('Song of the Heroic Land') and Miền Nam nhớ mãi ơn Người ('The South Will Forever Remember Him') by Lưu Cầu (Nguyễn Hoàn Cầu, b 1930); Chào Sông Mã anh hùng ('Salute the Heroic Mã River') and Đi tới chân trời ('Onward to the Horizon') by Xuân Giao (Trương Xuân Giao, b 1932); Bác đang cùng chúng cháu hành quân ('Uncle Hồ is Marching With Us') by Huy Thục (Lê Huy Thục, b 1935); Năm anh em trên một chiếc xe tăng ('Five Brothers in a Tank') by Doãn Nho (b 1933); Tiếng hát hậu phương ('The Sound of Singing at the Home Front') and Khi thành phố lên đèn ('When the Lights Go On in the City') by Thái Cơ (Đậu Vũ Như, b 1934); and Bão nỗi lên rồi ('The Storm Has Started') by Trọng Bằng (Nguyễn Trọng Bằng, b 1931)
During this same period in the south the most talented and influential songwriter was Trịnh Công Sơn (1939-2001), who had 11 collections published between 1959 and 1975, including numerous anti-war anthems. Sơn's Nối vòng tay lớn
('Joining Hands for Solidarity') was played repeatedly by Radio Sài Gòn in the days following the liberation of South Việt Nam in April 1975. Many of Sơn's works, including Sài Gòn mùa xuân
('Sài Gòn in Spring'), Hà trắng
('White Summer'), Mùa thu Hà Nội
('Hà Nội Autumn'), Mưa hồng
('Red Rain') and Cát bụi
('Dust') are known and loved by Vietnamese throughout the world. In 2004 Sơn - whom Joan Baez once called 'The Bob Dylan of Việt Nam' - was posthumously awarded a World Peace Music Award.
Throughout the 1960s music by leading American and European singers was played extensively on the radio in Sài Gòn, spawning numerous local imitators. One of the most successful popular composers was Phạm Duy (b 1921), who wrote many songs under the dual influence of western pop and traditional folk music. Duy was one of several well-known musicians from the south who subsequently left the country for the USA, where a thriving Việt kiều (overseas Vietnamese) popular music industry soon developed.
For more than a decade after Reunification popular songwriting in Việt Nam focused mainly on the task of mobilising the masses and strengthening the revolution. Typical songs of the late 1970s and 1980s include Việt Nam ơi, mùa xuân đến rồi! ('Oh Việt Nam, Spring is Here!') by Huy Du; Lớn lên dưới cờ Đảng ('Grow under the Flag of the Party') by Phạm Đình Sáu (b 1926); Mẹ Việt Nam an hùng ('Heroic Vietnamese Mother') and Hành quân lên Tây Bắc ('Marching to the North West') by An Thuyên (Nguyễn An Thuyên, b 1949); Tiếng hát giữa rừng Pắc Bó ('The Sound of Singing in Pắc Bó Forest') by Nguyễn Tài Tuệ (b 1936); and Bài ca không quen ('Unforgettable Song') and Đất nước tôi ('My Country') by Phạm Minh Tuấn (Phạm Văn Thành, b 1942).
Since the advent of đổi mới in the mid 1980s, light music (ca khúc nhạc nhẹ) has become increasingly popular, and whilst patriotic anthems continue to feature in the output of many contemporary composers, romantic and sentimental songs have become the mainstay of Vietnamese popular music.
Over the past decade composers such as Trần Tiến (b 1947, Ngẫu hứng sông Hồng
, 'Red River Impromptu', Cô bé vô tư
, 'Selfless Child', Mùa xuân gọi
, 'Spring Summons', Mặt trời bé thơ
, 'Little Child of the Sun' and Sắc màu
, 'Colour'), Dương Thụ (b 1943, Tiếng sóng biển
, 'The Sound of the Waves'), Phú Quang (Nguyễn Phú Quang, b 1949, Em ơi Hà Nội phố
, 'Oh Hà Nội Girl' and Điều giản dị
, 'A Simple Thing') and Nguyễn Ngọc Thiện (b 1951, Ơi cuộc sống mến thương
, 'Beloved Life', Ngọn lửa trái tim
, 'Flame of the Heart' and Người yêu nhỏ xinh
, 'Tiny Beautiful Love') have brought a distinctly Vietnamese dimension to pop songs written for leading contemporary artists such as Hồng Nhung, Trần Thu Hà, Phương Thanh, Mỹ Linh and Thanh Lam. At the same time a new generation of Việt kiều
artists from the USA, such as Jimmi Nguyễn, Trizzie Phương Trinh and Thanh Hà, have become regular visitors to Việt Nam and are increasingly regarded as an important part of the Vietnamese popular music heritage.
Trần Tiến is one of a small group of contemporary songwriters who have sought inspiration from ethnic minority music, as evidenced by his compositions Ngọn lửa cao nguyên
('Flame of the High Plateau') and Tiếng trống baranưng
('Sound of the Baranưng Drum'). Other important figures working in this field include the afore-mentioned Hoàng Văn (Tình ca Tây Nguyên
, 'Tây Nguyên Ballad') and the prolific Nguyễn Cường (Nguyễn Mạnh Cường, b 1943, Đến với Tây Nguyên
, 'Come to Tây Nguyên' and Ơi M'Đrak
, 'Hey, M'Đrak'). Over the past two years two musicians from Tây Nguyên (the Central Highlands) – Y Moan and Kpa Y Lăng – have also made a name for themselves as a popular singer-songwriter duo.