The court music, the first intangible heritage recognised by UNESCO in Vietnam, is seen as a unique example of Vietnamese people’s cultural creation.
“Nha nhac” first appeared in China and was introduced to Vietnam under the reign of King Ly Anh Tong (1138-1157). However, it wasn’t until the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) that the royal court music reached its most perfect level. In the history of Vietnamese music, this is the only kind of music that was recorded in history.
The court music has high artistic value which gathers a large number of talented musicians throughout the country. The instruments are also well made, carefully and sophisticatedly manufactured and decorated.
According to the book "Kham Dinh Dai Thanh Hoi Dien Su Le" published in 1908, the main instruments used for Vietnamese court music in the late 18th century include a drum, a castanet, two bamboo flutes, a three-stringed lute, a two-stringed fiddle, a moon-shaped lute, a pear-shaped lute with four strings, and three bronze cymbals.
Hue court music is usually accompanied by court dances, such as the dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix dances, the lantern dance, the fan dance, the "Bat tien qua hai", "Bat tien dang van" and "Nhi tuong xuat quan". The most unique dances are the "Luc cung hoa dang" (six floral lamp worship offerings) and "Lan mau xuat lan nhi" (a mother unicorn giving birth to its baby), which show Vietnamese cultural identities. These dances have high artistic values and when combined with "Nha nhac", they create a sacred and academic performance.
Apart from inviting musicians and bandsmen to the royal court to help them improve their artistic skills, Nguyen Kings also had many theatres built such as Duyet Thi Duong, Minh Khiem Duong and Mai Vien.
However, at the end of the 19 th century, the court music and ceremonies received less attention due to foreign aggression, plus the Nguyen dynasty’s move to bring home Western music.
Over the past 10 years, the staff of the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre have collected, researched and preserved dozens of important royal music works to perform during important ceremonies of the court such as the Nam Giao Ritual, the The Mieu Ritual, the Doan Duong and Van Tho Ceremonies, and Lunar New Year’s Festival and rituals for the king’s longevity.
The centre set up the Hue Royal Art Theatre, upgraded such establishments as Duyet Thi Duong, Luong Khiem Duong, Nam Giao and The Mieu while organising a range of programmes and research projects in an effort to preserve the court music.
In September 1996, the first project on “Nha nhac” training was launched at the Hue University of Arts with the participation of 15 students majoring in musical instruments.
During Hue festivals in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, royal art forms, especially the court music, greatly contributed to the success of the festivals and were highly appreciated by both domestic and foreign tourists. As an academic art performance, the court music became a typical example of Hue’s culture in dialogues and exchanges with international friends.
According to Le Thi Minh Ly from the National Cultural Heritage Centre, over the past decade, the court music has been revived and brought into full play its values in modern life thanks to joint domestic and foreign efforts.
Particularly, old artisans have tried their best to help raise young musicians’ awareness of heritage and handed down their performance skills to younger generations.
The central province of Thua Thien-Hue has also rolled out an array of solutions to preserve and uphold this genre of music during the 2010-2020 period.
Accordingly, they will continue heeding artisans who devoted their lifetime to “Nha nhac”, registering scientific research on artistic and historical values of rituals, expanding domestic and international cooperation in making traditional musical instruments and costumes, and organising more traditional artistic exchanges with countries in the region and the world at large.
Mass media such as websites, newspapers, radio, television and leaflets will also be mobilised in the campaign to popularise the preservation and restoration of the royal court.