Notes from Vietnam

Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904): Carnival Overture, Op. 92

The Carnival Overture was originally the second in a trilogy of overtures called Nature, Life and Love. (The other two were subsequently titled In Nature’s Realm and Othello.) Finished in September, 1891, the Carnival was first performed the following April in Prague under the composer’s direction.

When Dvořák sent the three overtures, the New World Symphony and other works to his publisher, he described them as “my best orchestral works.” This opinion, while shared by most, is not unanimous. Julius Harrison, for one, complained that in the Carnival Overture, “woodwind, brass and percussion seem intent on slaying each other, so desperate is their fight for survival, so heartless their conduct towards the strings.”

Dvořák provided the following program for the work: “A lonely wanderer reaches a city at nightfall while a street carnival is in full swing. Instruments clang on all sides, mingling with the gay laughter of the revelers. The violins set up a wild cry as the wanderer is whirled into the Bohemian revel. Then the hubbub subsides as the spectator follows a pair of straying lovers, and a pastoral theme brings a recollection of the tranquil scenes from Nature’s realm. The peaceful mood is shattered by a return of the merrymakers, and the opening section is resumed and concluded.”

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell, Op. 34 (The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra)

In 1945 the British Ministry of Education commissioned Britten to compose the score for a documentary film called The Instruments of the Orchestra, with a narration by Eric Crozier. The Crown Film Unit’s production was first shown at the Empire Theater in London on November 29, 1946. During the recording session, according to the sound engineer, Britten “was sort of jumping about and laughing with pleasure at hearing what he’d done.”

By then, Britten’s film music had already been played in the concert hall under the title The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Liverpool Philharmonic gave the first live performance on October 15, 1946, in Liverpool.

The music is also known as Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell, because Britten used a theme from the seventeenth century composer Purcell. Purcell’s dance tune, a hornpipe, is from his incidental music to Aphra Behn’s play called Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge, which first appeared in 1695. In Britten’s work, there are six statements of the theme by various choirs of the orchestra, then thirteen variations on the theme by various single instruments, and a giant fugue at the end. Britten said the work “is affectionately inscribed to the children of John and Jean Maud: Humphrey, Pamela, Caroline and Virginia, for their edification and entertainment.” Britten’s music has been used in at least two ballets, with choreography by Jerome Robbins and Frederick Ashton.                                                                         ~Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2016.

Vân-Ánh (Vanessa) Võ Lullaby for a Country (World Premiere)

Lullaby for a Country is inspired by lullaby tunes from the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. Personally, I grew up with lullabies that my mom sang to me. I heard people around me singing them a lot, and I sang them to my daughters. It’s traditional in Vietnam that all moms will sing lullabies for their children. The Vietnamese lullabies, although in different dialects, all show the same common themes of providing comfort to children, giving encouragement, and longing for loved ones. Lullabies have been used to pass on the values and teachings of the culture to support the children of the next generation. These lullabies represent the deepest sense of comfort, calm, and inner strength that many Vietnamese have called upon in order to overcome the seemingly insurmountable psychological and emotional challenges in life. Lullaby for a Country consists of four movements: LOVE – YEARNING – SORROW – NEW DAWN

LOVE starts with a soft voice singing over the pad of strings. The music is inspired by a southern Vietnamese lullaby.

Ầu Ơ
Ví dầu cầu ván đóng đinh
Cầu tre lắt lẻo ơ ầu ơ
gập ghềnh khó đi
Ầu Ơ
Khó đi mẹ dắt con đi
Chứ con thi trường học
Ơ Ầu, mẹ thi trường đời
Ơ ầu ơ … ơ ầu ơ

Oh my dear little child, just sleep,
And I am here for you
I know the road is not easy,
But I will take your hands, and walk you
Oh my dear little child
Hold my hands and I guide you
You know you have to take school exams
But I have to take the test of life
Oh my little child… Oh my little child

The lullaby is continued to nurture the child’s soul with the sound of dàn Bau, the Vietnamese one-string instrument. Like the human voice, dàn Bau expresses different levels of emotion in its seamless sound.

YEARNING is structured in a much freer form and musical scale. It carries the desires that each of us has in our mind and body.

SORROW is another form of lullaby which will give lost souls a chance to find their way back.

NEW DAWN takes us to the land of hope, which helps us to pass through the most difficult times in life.

~ Lullaby for a Country Notes by Vân-Ánh (Vanessa) Võ