The Connection Among PQ Phan – Patricia Stiles – Hồ Xuân Hương

P.Q. Phan set some poems by Hồ Xuân Hương to music. In way of an introduction, here is some explanation or clarification from the Program Notes for the songs, and quotes from John Balaban’s Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hồ Xuân Hương.

Spring Confession (2004) (14’) – Poems by Hồ Xuân Hương, Translated by John Balaban

Is written for and dedicated to Patricia Stiles. This collection of songs reflects the most important internal expression and social belief of Hồ Xuân Hương. They are how I have imagined what the poet would have sung if not describing in poetry. The voice and piano parts form one identity where they sometimes support and sometimes provoke each other (PQ Phan).

Hồ Xuân Hương (1760-1830) was a poet ahead of her time. “What is immediately surprising about Hồ Xuân Hương’s writing is that she wrote at all – further, that she earned immediate and continuing acclaim. After all, she was a woman writing poetry in a male, Confucian tradition. While women have always held high positions in Vietnamese society – sometimes leading armies, often advising rulers, and always involving in the management of wealth – few were acclaimed as poets, perhaps because few were tutored in the rigorous literary studies given young men preparing to take the imperial exams in hopes of finding their places in the bureaucratic hierarchy that governed Vietnam from 939 AD into the twentieth century.”

“In addition, she chose to write in Nôm a writing system that represented Vietnamese speech rather than Chinese, the language of the mandarin elite. Her choice to write poetry in Nôm, as Chaucer chose to write in English and Dante in Italian, gives her poetry a special Vietnamese dimension filled with the aphorisms and speech habits of the common people.”

“For her erotic attitudes, Hồ Xuân Hương turned to the common wisdom alive in peasant folk poetry and proverbs, attitudes that from her literary pen might be read more accurately as defiance rather than as a psychosexual malady, as some of her critics have charged” (John Balaban, 2000).

Read the Vietnamese version.

Listen to Patricia Stiles singing Spring Confession – the Hồ Xuân Hương songs collection. Click on “VOCAL” once the page opens.

Tự tình I

Tiếng gà văng vẳng gáy trên bom, 
Oán hận trông ra khắp mọi chòm.
Mõ thảm không thua mà cũng cốc,
Chuông sầu chẳng đánh cớ sao om?

Xuyên ngang mặt đất, rêu từng đám,
Đâm toạc chân mây, đá mấy hòn.
Ngán nỗi xuân đi xuân lại lại,
Mảnh tình san sẻ tí con con. 

Bánh trôi nước

Thân em vừa trắng, lại vừa tròn, 
Bảy nổi ba chìm với nước non.
Lớn nhỏ mặc dù tay kẻ nặn,
Mà em vẫn giữ tấm lòng son. 

Quả mít

Thân em như quả mít trên cây 
Da nó xù xì, múi nó dầy
Quân tử có thương thì đóng cọc,
Xin đừng mân mó, nhựa ra tay. 
 

Tự tình II

Canh khuya văng vẳng trống canh dồn. 
Trơ cái hồng nhan với nước non.
Chén rượu hương đưa, say lại tỉnh,
Vừng trăng bóng xế, khuyết chưa tròn.

Trước nghe những tiếng thêm rầu rĩ,
Sau giận vì duyên để mõm mòm.
Tài tử , văn nhân ai đó tá?
Thân này đâu đã chịu già tom.

Làm lẽ

Chém cha cái kiếp lấy chồng chung! 
Kẻ đắp chăn bông, kẻ lạnh lùng,
Năm thì mười họa nên chăng chớ,
Một tháng đôi lần có cũng không …

Cố đấm ăn xôi, xôi lại hỏng,
Cầm bằng làm mướn, mướn không công.
Thân này ví biết dường này nhỉ,
Thà trước thôi đành ở vậy xong.

Tự tình III

Chiếc bách buồn vì phận nổi nênh, 
Giữa dòng ngao ngán nỗi lêng đênh.
Lưng khoang tình nghĩa dường lai láng,
Nửa mạn phong ba luống bập bềnh.

Cầm lái mặc ai lăm đỗ bến,
Giong lèo thây kẻ rắp xuôi ghềnh.
Ấy ai thăm ván cam lòng vậy,
Ngán nỗi ôm đàn những tấp tênh.

********

–> Patricia Stiles on Teachng Voice, and Singing Hồ Xuân Hương.  –> Tiếng Việt.

–> Patricia Stiles on The Training of an Opera Singer.                        –> Tiếng Việt.

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2 thoughts on “The Connection Among PQ Phan – Patricia Stiles – Hồ Xuân Hương

  1. I went to listen to this. It’s turned into totally Western Music. It’s interesting how adding a melody and rhythms changed the character. When I read John Balaban’s translations, I still felt they were quite Vietnamese. The songs are a metamorphoses. I’m not sure if that’s what Mr. Phan intended, but it’s certainly something new. Thanks for posting this. It’s given me a lot to think about.

    • You were right, the songs are written in Western style. They are not pop songs but are more appropriately categorized as “art songs” (e.g. more on the operatic side). I am glad you enjoyed the “new” experience with them. That is what a composer wishes to hear!

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