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‘Minstrel of the century’

(No.2, Vol.3, Mar 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)


Pham Duy. Photo: Giao Huong

Pham Duy, a prolific musician, passed away at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on 27 January. He was 91. Vietnamese media ranked him one among several ‘grand old trees’ of Vietnamese reformed music, a movement which began in late 1930s under western influence, as compared to traditional music.
Musician and writer Nguyen Thuy Kha wrote in Lao Dong of 28 January that Pham Duy, musician Van Cao and poet Hoang Cam were Three Musketeers.
Saigon Tiep Thi of 28 January called him one the musicians that contributed creating the shape of Vietnam music and that few Vietnamese did not know his songs.
Born Pham Duy Can on 5 October 1921, Pham Duy began his career when he was 17, working as a singer in a travelling music group. He continued composing until the last years of his life and he left a treasure of around 1,000 songs of various genres.
‘I see his [Pham Duy’s] music as modern Vietnamese folk singing, and it was with his arrival that Vietnamese songs [the New Music that began in 1930s] truly took shape,’ musician Duong Thu is quoted as saying on The Thao & Van Hoa Cuoi Tuan of 1 February.
Also, Pham Duy is nicknamed as a wizard in writing music for poems, He wrote Vietnamese lyrics for well-known foreign songs and songs of ethnic minorities as well. He wrote love songs, peace songs and political songs, spiritual songs and vulgar songs.
He is quoted as saying in an interview on Saigon Tiep Thi of 28 January that there were three persons in him: an emotional person who wrote love songs, a social person who smiled and cried as the country went up and down, and a spiritual one who wrestled with life and death.
His songs are loved by both the young and the old and are still popular, particularly when he returned to settle in Vietnam in 2005. He left Vietnam for the US in 1975.


A song by Pham Duy. Photo: www.phamduy.com

‘I am overjoyed to be the minstrel of the century.’
-Pham Duy in Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing), January 28, 2013

‘If I could be reborn, I would not like to be reborn at all, because I am already too exhausted. Musicians here [in Vietnam] are quite fortunate. None are as exhausted as I; none travel, sing, and produce as much as I. It’s very distressing.’
-Pham Duy, http://vietnamnet.vn, August 23, 2012

Looking back on your immense career and its span from ballads to epic songs, love songs, child songs, and on to Zen songs, soul songs, and religious songs, what part of music satisfied you the most?
‘I’d have to say that I have no preference. Whenever I am done with one, I forget about it immediately… As soon as I’m finished with soul songs, I think about doing vulgar songs. The two of them run counter to each other like that. I live following my impulses. I am a multitalented, subtle artist.’
-Pham Duy, http://vietnamnet.vn, August 23, 2012



‘Whenever a person tries to hold back a tear in the heart or lets it roll long along the cheek, whenever a person smiles gently or sings out sonorously, whenever a person collapses or fervently surges forward on the road, he has for himself a song by Pham Duy.’
-Poet Nguyen Dinh Toan, http://www.dactrung.com, 10/3/2004

‘[Pham Duy] is one of the Vietnamese musicians who built the face of Vietnamese music.’
-Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing), January 28, 2013

‘Within the repertoire of Vietnamese music, Pham Duy is a musician with many enduring works and will forever remain in the hearts of Vietnamese for many generations.’
-Musician Nguyễn Văn Tí quoted in The Thao & Van Hoa Cuoi Tuan (Weekend Sports and Culture), January 28, 2013

‘With his [Pham Duy’s] talent, he ‘forced’ Vietnamese language and Vietnamese cords to reverberate in a way that was most beautiful, penetrating, and richly sonorous.’
-Musician Quoc Bao (Weekend Sports and Culture) January 28, 2013

‘The thing I enjoyed the most was his [Pham Duy’s] songs from the early period (1943-1951), all of which reached the essence of folk music.’
-Musician Duong Thu in The Thao & Van Hoa Cuoi Tuan (Weekend Sports and Culture), February 2, 2013

‘He [Pham Duy] was a person who listened to himself as someone close to the land of Vietnam, the spirit of Vietnam, and made them love all of those things as if, in his genius heart, he was effusing with song.’
-Musician Tuan Khanh in Tuoi Tre (Youth), January 28, 2013

‘Listening to Pham Duy’s tunes about mothers, it’s sometimes heart wrenching. His songs about mothers have the uncanny power to arouse people’s hearts and softly evoke the Vietnamese consciousness and Vietnamese condition,’ musician Tuan Khanh,
-Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing), January 27, 2013

‘Few are those Vietnamese who are unaware of Pham Duy’s songs.’
-Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing), January 28, 2013

‘To me, Pham Duy is a complete musician in every aspect (complete in the fullest sense of the word ‘musician’). Duy had special skills in music that not just any musician can fully garner, and Duy’s sense of artistic music conveyed a unique character that was very ‘Pham Duy,’ but that uniqueness never deviated from the shared emotional root of the Vietnamese people.’
-Professor Tran Van Khe in Tap Chi Kien Thuc Ngay Nay (Knowledge Today Magazine), No. 809, 2012

‘Duy wrote love songs that reached people’s hearts for so many generations. He wrote marching songs that spurred on for a moment, making it difficult for the audience to forget. Or he’d write epic songs and suites that also stirred the musical hearts of so many people. All the genres Duy produced were acclaimed by lovers of musical tunes. He captured the emotions of the masses.’
-Professor Tran Van Khe in Tap Chi Kien Thuc Ngay Nay (Knowledge Today Magazine), No. 809, 2012

‘Pham Duy’s music stirred us and then left us with plentiful resonant sounds that lingered on like ‘raindrops on a leaf,’ reviving the sprouts of the people, the buds of humanity latent within us.’
-Writer Dang Tien according to the account of Musician Tuan Khanh in Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing), January 27, 2013.

Compiled by Le Duc Tan
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