Phạm Duy, un des rares musiciens considérés comme nationaux, revient souvent sur une expression très vietnamienne : ơn đời (faveurs données par la vie) dans ces chansons pour souligner sa chance de pouvoir vivre - et profiter - pleinement la vie. Pour les Vietnamiens, cette expression envoie tôt ou tard à une autre - sa sœur siamoise linguistique - : nợ đời (dettes que chacun doit à la vie). La fusion entre ces deux expressions permet dans la présente étude de retracer le parcours de vie, de saisir le sens de l’œuvre et comprendre la complexité de Phạm Duy. Personne aux multiples facettes, il s’occupe une place si centrale dans la musique contemporaine vietnamienne, mais il est également objet de polémiques dans les délicates relations entre l’idéologie, le pouvoir et la création artistique récente du Vietnam. Mais laissons d’abord Phạm Duy, né à Hà Nội en 1921, esquisser son propre portrait dans Tạ ơn đời (célébration des faveurs de la vie), pour mieux entrer dans son monde :
Ba trăm ngày trong gói,
Ngóng trông ra đời góp mối vui chung.
(Trois cents jours dans le fœtus,
Attendre avec impatience de participer à la joie commune).
Me Vietnam (Mother Vietnam) was written during the 1960s as the Vietnam war was rapidly escalating. As Pham Duy recounts, ''in the troubled and divided atmosphere of that period, everybody was looking for a common denominator. I did not need to look very far: that common denominator was Mother Viet Nam! To find our lost nation, our compatriots, our people, our humanity, we had to go back to Mother Viet Nam. That's how Me Vietnam came about...'
A programmatic composition built on a highly structured and coherent symbolism, Me Vietnam comprises four parts: Mother's Earth, Mother's Mountains, Mother's Rivers and Mother's Sea. In the composer's own words, ''in her youth [Part I], Mother Vietnam embodies the fertile Earth, loving and passionate, the foundation of family, ricefields, villages and country. In middle age [Part II], she becomes the Mountain, patient, persevering, sacrificing, protecting the soldier son. Then her heart is broken at the sight of her divided children the Rivers [Part III], some of whom have gone astray, betraying mother and fighting each other for glory and dominance. In old age [Part IV], Mother becomes the great Sea, generous and forgiving, calling for her children to return...''
I'm very honored to be speaking with you today at such an important event. It's daunting to be speaking before a knowledgable audience who has lived with Pham Duy's music, and it's even more intimidating to be addressing the subject of my talk. With such a vast and variegated musical output I know that I can't begin to do justice to Pham Duy's music, so I will just choose one narrow strand of his work. My research has been on the history of modern Vietnamese song. While my interest is in music, it's impossible to separate music from wider historical events, especially in the case of Vietnam, a land that has had such a difficult and contentious history. In my talk today I want to talk about some of Pham Duy's music as a reflection of the experience of living in such difficult times. I would argue that his songs are an honest reaction to often impossible events, and are thus are a truthful reflection of these times.
The history of the Vietnamese in the twentieth century is the still incomplete story of a people’s continuous material and spiritual self transformation as they sought, and gradually found, the means to replace ancient structures, thoughts, and habits with new ones that would enable them to throw off the yoke of colonial domination and enter the modern era, with identity intact, as a strong and free member of the world community.
In this article I propose to look at the musician Phạm Duy, born in 1921 in Hanoi and currently living again in Vietnam after a nearly thirty-year sojourn in Midway City, California, as one of the witnesses and spokesmen of this history. Fate and a series of personal decisions conspired to put Phạm Duy at the heart of the transformative processes taking place in his society, and his career as an artist enabled him to give expression to these processes in a way that was heard by great numbers of his compatriots.
It seems remarkably and regrettably easy for us to overlook certain inevitable aspects of humanity in those with whom we are engaged in strife. Far beyond the scholarly contribution which the present volume makes, lies the all-important perception of human life. It is in this realm that the folklorist and ethnographer works. The forms which life takes vary widely from culture to culture, even within a culture, but the total message conveyed to us as we observe or read is one of kinship among peoples. Pham Duy long before the present conflict in Vietnam, spent years acquainting himself with his people from North to Central to South, carrying music to them, taking their music away with him. Song lyrics provided him, as they will provide us, with a pulse through which to sense the heart of the diverse groups comprising his country. We find strong traditions in all areas of Vietnamese music, pointing up an affection of long standing:
This volume is the first book-length English-language publication treating Vietnamese music. It is offered as an introduction in the belief that scholars from numerous disciplines, as well as artistic temperaments of all sorts, will find it valuable. The book does not pretend to exhaust the subject, rather to serve as inspiration and impetus to scholars and devotees of the genre. The translation from Vietnamese to English proved a gargantuan task, since the few bilingual persons available to us were neither completely fluent in English nor versed at all in the study of music and its attendant lexicon. The work is not offered as a traditional scholarly treatment-it is undeniably the fruit of a consuming love affair between Pham Duy and his very musical homeland.
I have known Pham Duy literally since childhood. Not personally, of course, since I am much younger than he. But I can say that I was raised on his music almost in the same way that it can be said I was raised on my mother's milk. In other words, as soon as I was aware that I was singing -- some half a century ago -- it was most likely that it was a Pham Duy song. I think there must be millions and millions of Vietnamese who could say the same. There are tales of Pham Duy's songs which have since entered the repertory of folksongs of the Vietnamese people, like the song ''Ganh Lua'' (''Carrying Rice'') which many people soing and perceive as a folksong without realizing that its author is still alive.
Pham Duy is doubtless the most famous - and prolific - living writer of Vietnamese songs. Yet when he goes out in Little Saigon and elsewhere, he is never mobbed and rarely is even approached. ''The Vietnamese never express themselves that way,'' he says. ''They don't ask for autographs. They just look silently... They're very shy, I think, my people.''
Such reticence hardly is a reflection of his popularity. Five decades into his musical career, many of the thousands of songs he has written still are being performed, even by the youngest crop of Vietnamese-American singers.