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“Nha Nhac Cung Dinh Hue” means Hue royal court music – the first intangible heritage of Vietnam to be recognized by UNESCO


Nha Nhac meaning “elegant music”, refers to a broad range of musical and dance styles performed at the Vietnamese royal court from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Nha Nhac was generally featured at the opening and closing of ceremonies associated with anniversaries, celebrations, religious holidays, coronations, funerals and official receptions. In Vietnamese traditional music heritage, Nha nhac plays an important role and is the core of the court affairs. Also, it serves the entertainment demand of the King, royal family and the court professional, classical and scholarly music. Nha nhac was considered as the official music of the country, of the authority and performed in the royal life, including the court and royal family. Therefore, it reflects the spirit and the will of the royal dynasty, such as culture, art, law, power, even the ideology, aesthetics and regional trend, etc.

Among the numerous musical genres that developed in Vietnam, only Nha Nhac can claim a nationwide scope and strong links with the traditions of other East Asian countries. Nha Nhac performances formerly featured numerous singers, dancers and musicians dressed in sumptuous costumes.

There are two types of Nha nhac: Large-scale orchestras and Small-scale orchestras. Large-scale orchestras included a prominent drum section and many other types of percussion instruments as well as a variety of wind and string instruments.The Large-scale orchestras usually perform in the big festivals or holidays. The Small-scale orchestras included: the strings, the flute and the percussion. The Small-scale orchestras perform in smaller events, festivals. All performers had to maintain a high level of concentration since they were expected to follow each step of the ritual meticulousl All performers had to maintain a high level of concentration since they were expected to follow each step of the ritual meticulously.

Nha Nhac developed during the Le dynasty (1427-1788) and it only reached the peak at the Hue Court under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). It is believed that Nha nhac did not truly reach the pinnacle of its development until the Nguyen Dynasty, when it was synthesized. The Nguyễn emperors declared it as the official court music, and it became an essential part of the extensive rituals of the royal palace. As a symbol of the dynasty’s power and longevity, Nha Nhac became an essential part of the court’s many ceremonies. However, the role of Nha Nhac was not limited to musical accompaniment for court rituals: it also provided a means of communicating with and paying tribute to the gods and kings as well as transmitting knowledge about nature and the universe.

Because of its important role and function, the organization of Nha nhac is based on strict and clear legal principles and regulations. It is not performed carelessly, but must follow the compulsory standards. Those standards are based on social awareness of the contemporary dominant feudal class of politics, morality, law and religion from which norms on the content, form and quality of the Nha nhac are established. One of the signals of those standards is that all compositions of the Nha nhac had to be written down to on the one hand preserve and on the other hand to be used as the reference for teaching, practicing and checking the quality of performance and playing of singers and instrumentalists in the performing groups of the court.

Hue Court Music is the last vestige of Vietnamese Court Music. It contains all quintessence of Vietnamese Court Music trend that has been established and developed over 1,000 years; therefore Hue Court Music is identical with Vietnamese Court Music. For long, Nha Nhac, Vietnamese Court Song has been preserved. It has been introduced inside  and outside Vietnam. Up to present, It has been enhanced and popularized to the world.

According to UNESCO Council’s evaluation, “Vietnam’s royal court music has the meaning of ‘refined music’. It mentions Vietnam’s court music which is performed at annual festivals, celebrations and special events, such as the enthronement ceremonies, funeral ceremonies or official receiving ceremonies. Among various kinds of music developed in Vietnam, only nha nhac is considered the national music”.

For its own values, UNESCO has recognized the Hue royal Court Music as a “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage  of Humanity” in 2003.

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