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Findings from Prof. Tran Van Khe

Nguyen Thi Minh Chau

Generally, our musical criticizers trained both in the West and in Vietnam have met with difficulty in researching on traditional music. That is due to difference between training and practicing. People studying in the West, of course, must learn the western music tradition but why that difference is found in people studying in Vietnam. Entering this profession, we must study materials of the previous people to find research method in accordance with the oriental music and critical style suitable with oriental people.

When reading book as a bookworm, I in fact understand many things and clearly identify Vietnamese musical research critique generations. If writing my own « Guiness », I certainly mention the name of the ethnomusicologist Tran Van Khe more than once.

Between the 1950’s and the 1960’s of the last century, the fame of Tran Van Khe was known as a traditional music researcher through his studying on Hue singing, Tai tu music, Tuong, Cheo, dao, Quan ho, Trong quan, etc. Moreover he understands « Western study » very well with writings about world music’s tendencies. A series of chronicles about his global travels written under the style « oversea letter » showed a respectable image of a speaker, a traditional musical instrument performing artist, a pedagogue and a Vietnamese traditional music propagating activist in the international forum.

He once composed as much as professional journalist did. Combination of the scientific mind of a specialist and the dynamic of a journalist made his writings very sharp over thirty or forty years ago and much information are still of current events up to now.

In the early 1960’s, he was of very few people who could thoroughly analyze the strength and the weakness of the old music through objective outlook. He emphasized that: don’t only recognize the weakness and ignore it or only know the strength and don’t develop it and as consequence this leads to standstill. He was the activist for the existence of old music with the view not to oblige old music to follow the standard of European traditional music, but to understand and preserve the good of the ancestors before importing strange things from the external.

At the same time, « the journalist » Tran Van Khe considered the difference between the oriental music and the western music, related world music’s tendency to domestic situation to warn such dangers as: either approaching to the new ones and forgetting the good ones, which results in losing indispensable sympathy between musicians and public, or vice-versa only satisfying the taste of the majority who have inadequate music knowledge, which make musical arts difficult to avoid backwardness.

Although he once declared that: « I don’t like criticizing » and « especially, criticize my friend »1, it is clear that he made great contribution to the first step of musical critique field. It was when he was asked to write comment on Con duong cai quan by the musician Pham Duy and he could not refuse to write because of his respect to his friend (Ngu y). Therefore, Tran Van Khe is now known as a profound musical analyst. He inhesitately points out « weakness »2 in a masterpiece of an admired musician at that time. Criticizing papers of other authors in which there were papers of the director of Sai Gon National Conservatory at that time (before the liberty), he was not inhesitate in reminding, sometimes « rule on truthfulness »3 in researching and sometimes appropriate method in analyzing folksong.

Outspokenness and convincingness in criticizing must be based on the wide knowledge. The rules in researching and criticizing of Prof. Tran Van Khe are based on overall scholarship. If analyzing Vietnamese music is based on the western musical theory, it means that we only analyze « the body ». Therefore, if we want to analyze « the soul », it is sure that we must compare and consider which tune, air and factor create traditional timbre in the work.

Therefore, it is impossible to analyze music based on only one side the West or only the Orient!

That is what I perceive from the old writings of the old times of Prof. Tran Van Khe.

Source from

Prof. Khe wants scholarship fund for music researchers

Last update 07:00 | 18/06/2015
Prof. Khe wants scholarship fund for music researchers

VietNamNet Bridge – Professor Tran Van Khe, one of the greatest masters of traditional Vietnamese music, has said in his will that he wants all the money donations at his funeral will be used to create a scholarship fund or award researchers of Vietnamese traditional music, local media reports.

According to Prof. Khe’s eldest son Prof. Tran Quang Hai, the 12-section was made before his father fell into a critical health condition and contains funeral rites for his father when he passes away and what he wants to help develop the country’s traditional music. The outstanding professor has picked his daughter Tran Thi Ngoc Thuy to implement the will and manage artifacts and documents belonging to him.In the will, Prof. Khe says his house on Huynh Dinh Hai Street in HCMC’s Binh Thanh District will be used as Tran Van Khe’s memorial house for visitors to study documents, magazines, music discs, movies, musical instruments, recorders, paintings, photos and other items featuring his career.

“I wish the house will be opened for people to read reference books and documents, and all these documents should be used for research and cultural promotions, not commercial purposes,” Khe says in his will.

He stresses that his ambition is to use all the documents and artifacts he has collected to help promote and preserve Vietnamese traditional music and culture.

He wants his eldest son Hai to organize and decide all the matters at the funeral, and an organizing board for the funeral comprising of local researcher Nguyen Dac Xuan and poet Ton Nu Hy Khuong’s husband Tran Ba Thuy.

He wishes his funeral will be held at his home and a band of don ca tai tu (Southern folk music) consisting of his best friends and students will perform there. All the money donations will be used to create a scholarship fund or annual awards under his name to honor researchers of Vietnamese traditional music.

Prof. Khe’s severe pneumonia and heart failure have made headlines nationwide since he was brought to Gia Dinh Hospital in Binh Thanh District on May 25. As the 94-year-old cannot breathe normally and his heart beats disorderedly, medical tools have been in place to help him and music lovers are praying for his recovery.

The authorities of HCMC have paid special attention to Khe’s critical illness and pledged all the treatment costs for him will be covered by the city’s budget.

Prof. Khe was born in a family with four generations of composing traditional music in My Tho City in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang. At the age of six, he was able to play many types of traditional musical instruments. His grandfather Tran Quang Diem, father Tran Quang Chieu and aunt Tran Ngoc Vien were popular traditional artists in the country.

Khe went to France in 1949 to further his study. In the summer of 1951, he was admitted to study at the international relations faculty at a political school. In 1958, he researched music and got a PhD degree in music at Sorbonne University. From 1963, he gave lectures at an Oriental music research institute under the sponsorship of the Institute of Music of Paris.

Prof. Khe has taught and performed Vietnamese traditional music at 43 countries. The correspondent member of the European Academy of Sciences and many international music associations in the world had spent a half of century working overseas and promoting Vietnam’s local traditional music before he returned to Vietnam.


Secretary Le Thanh Hai pays tribute to Prof. Tran Van Khe, 28 june 2015


Secretary Le Thanh Hai pays tribute to Prof. Tran Van Khe

Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee Le Thanh Hai yesterday paid tribute to professor Tran Van Khe, the greatest masters of traditional Vietnamese music.

Professor Tran Van Khe. (Photo:SGGP)

Mr. Le Thanh Hai deeply condoled with family of Prof. Tran Van Khe and wrote in the funeral memorial book “Say good bye Prof. Tran Van Khe, who presented his career for Vietnamese traditional music conservation and development, an outstanding model for uninterrupted work, create and good heart.”

On Saturday, hundreds of domestic and foreign individuals and organizations burnt incenses and laid wreaths to express their gratitude and respect to the grand professor.

Prof. Tran Van Khe’s coffin will leave the house at 6am on June 29 for cremation at Hoa Vien Chanh Phu Hoa Cemetary in Binh Duong’s Ben Cat district.

Prof.Tran Van Khe, a Vietnamese musicologist, academic, writer, teacher and performer of traditional music; and director of research at The French National Centre for Scientific Research and professor at the Sorbonne, passed away on June 24 in Gia Dinh Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City at the old age of 94.

TUỔI TRẺ NEWS : Vietnam’s legendary musicologist Tran Van Khe dies at 94

Vietnam’s legendary musicologist Tran Van Khe dies at 94


Updated : 06/24/2015 09:20 GMT + 7

Professor Tran Van Khe, known as the master of traditional Vietnamese music, died at the age of 94 on Wednesday, after nearly a month of fighting for his life at a Ho Chi Minh City hospital.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Prof. Khe, a seasoned musicologist, academic, writer, teacher and performer of traditional music, drew his last breath at 2:55 am at Gia Dinh People’s Hospital, where he was admitted on May 27 with numerous elderly health issues.

He suffered illnesses in the lungs, heart and kidney, according to doctors.

The professor was taken care of by his children and Nguyen Thi Na, a caretaker who has been with him for a decade.

His relatives said the legendary musicologist had been well-prepared for his death, and left a will describing in detail how he would like his funeral to be organized.

Prof. Khe said in the will he wanted to be laid to rest following Buddhist funeral rites. He also demanded that a band, consisting of his fellows and students, perform traditional Vietnamese music at the funeral, according to the testament.

His coffin will be kept at his home in Binh Thanh District for a week to ten days.

As per Vietnamese customs, mourners usually donate money at the funeral, and Prof. Khe wanted to form a fund with this money to reward authorities on traditional Vietnamese music.

The professor also requested that his home be used as a commemorative house, where people can come to read all of the books and documents he had collected. His caretaker will be the manager of the commemorative house.

Prof. Khe was born in 1921 in My Tho City in southern Vietnam. He lived in Paris for decades and nurtured his love for Vietnam’s traditional music from a young age.

The expert fulfilled his childhood passion for the music of his home country by working his way through college in France in the early 1950s.

He performed only traditional Vietnamese music on traditional instruments at a restaurant owned by a Vietnamese expat. His music melted the hearts of many, including his French audience.

Since then, he had dedicated himself to researching, promoting, and honoring his country’s music around the globe.

Documentary released to celebrate IMC Member of Honour Prof. Tran Van Khe

Documentary released to celebrate IMC Member of Honour Prof. Tran Van Khe

khe.jpgPhuong Nam Film will issue a documentary entitled “Tran Van Khe – Inspirer” on July 24 to celebrate Professor Tran Van Khe’s 90th birthday.

On this occasion, the famous professor’s memoirs will also be re-published.

The documentary is directed by Pham Hoang Nam, with script written by Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc. It is the portrait of Prof. Khe, a talented music researcher, performer and presenter. To read more, click here

The family of Trần Văn Khê : TRẦN VĂN KHÊ OBITUARY (1921-2015)

Trần Văn Khê (1921-2015) l’hommage unanime à un grand maître

[ndlr] Hommage unamine de la presse vietnamienne après le décès à Ho Chi Minh-Ville du musicologue Trần Văn Khê à l’âge de 94 ans. Rappel biographique publié avec l’accord de sa famille.

Trần Văn Khê Obituary
(1921 – 2015)

Trần Văn Khê, the eminent ethnomusicologist who revived and preserved Vietnamese traditional music, died on 24 June 2015 in Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam). With a formidable body of work including research, teaching and performance, this tireless steward of the arts has left Viet Nam and the world a precious and enduring legacy.

A native son of Mỹ Tho, South Viet Nam, Trần Văn Khê first pursued medical studies in Ha Noi, then political science (international relations) in France before devoting himself to musicology, his life long passion. His Ph.D. dissertation, completed with honors at the Sorbonne in 1958 launched a uniquely distinguished career in Vietnamese traditional music. Conferred a professorship at his alma mater in 1967 the musicologist devoted his life to the studies of world music and the revival of his native Viet Nam’s oral music traditions.

At the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, where he worked for almost 30 years Dr. Trần Văn Khê focused not only on Vietnamese traditional music but also on comparative studies of musical instruments, music theory and languages of Asian countries. His expertise was shared at nearly 200 international conferences across the world and in close to 200 writings published in many languages, notably in “Le Courrier de l’UNESCO”. With regard to Viet Nam, on the strength of more than 600 hours of recorded music and conversations with performance masters, Trần Văn Khê was the first to produce recordings of Vietnamese traditional (folk and ceremonial) music, an art which, until then, was considered almost lost. He also revived ancient music forms such as the folkloric theatre Chèo, the professional singing form Ca Trù, the alternative singing form Quan Họ, Southern Vietnamese “simple folks’ ” music, and Vietnamese Buddhist liturgical music. The professor also codified music for Vietnamese traditional string instruments, in particular the Đàn Tranh (Vietnamese zither).

Le musicologue Tran Van Khe © DR

His stature in the world of ethnomusicology was demonstrated by his membership in the prestigious International Musicological Society, the French and the American Societies for Ethnomusicology, the Society for Asian Music, UNESCO’s International Music Council and the International Council for Traditional Music (he was Vice President, and later made an honorary member for life of these two councils).

In addition to research activities Professor Trần Văn Khê taught ethnomusicology for nearly three decades at the Center for Oriental Music Studies in Paris (which he established in 1959) as well as at the Paris-Sorbonne, where he supervised and mentored doctoral candidates. He was a visiting professor, inter alia, at the Liszt Academy of Music (Budapest), the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Hawai (Manoa), the University of Western Australia (Perth), the University of the Philippines (Manila), and the National Institute of Music of Algeria. He frequently lectured on Asian music and its methodology at institutions of higher learning and research ranging from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory (Moscow) to the Central Conservatory of Beijing and the National Center for the Performing Arts, Bombay (India).

To his fellow Vietnamese his most remarkable achievements remain the preservation and promotion of Vietnamese traditional music. During his many research trips to Viet Nam while residing in France and particularly after his return home in 2006, Trần Văn Khê was known for his drive in building public awareness of Viet Nam’s cultural heritage, particularly among Vietnamese youth. Greatly served by his unique talent in seamlessly combining scholarly erudition with lively performance skills, “Thầy Khê” (“Teacher Khê”) as the public affectionately calls him, was a true storyteller who mesmerized young and old, musician and non-musician, Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese alike. His outreach and impact were amplified through his frequent appearances on television and radio both internationally (NHK Japan, Tehran Radio and Television, BBC Radio, France Culture, Quebec Radio and Television) and at home.

Among the many honors Trần Văn Khê received were the Grand Prix of the French Academy of Records (1960 & 1970); Doctor Honoris Causa, Ottawa University (1975); UNESCO IMC Award (1981); Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France (1991); Corresponding member of the European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (1993); the Medal of Labor – First Class, S.R. Viet Nam (1999); Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, France (1999); and the Phan Chau Trinh Award, Viet Nam (2011).

Trần Văn Khê’s legacy will live through the work of many, in particular that of his eldest son, Dr. Trần Quang Hải, also an ethnomusicologist and the family’s fifth generation musician./.

The family of Trần Văn Khê.

* * *

Giáo sư Trần Văn Khê qua đời, BBC (viet), 24/06/2015.

Giáo sư Trần Văn Khê qua đời, RFI, 24/06/2015 et Trần Văn Khê : Suốt đời quảng bá âm nhạc dân tộc, RFI, 24/06/2015. (par Thanh Phuong)

Giáo sư Trần Văn Khê qua đời, Tuoi Tre, 24/06/2015.

Giáo sư Trần Văn Khê qua đời, VN Express, 24/06/2015.

GS Trần Văn Khê qua đời, VietNamNet, 24/06/2015.

GS Trần Văn Khê qua đời tại TP.HCM, thọ 94 tuổi, RFA, 24/06/2015.

GS-TS Trần Văn Khê từ trần, Nguoi Lao Dong, 24/06/2015.

Veteran musicologist Tran Van Khe dies at 94, Vietnam News,  24/06/2015.

* * *

Voir aussi le dossier consacré à Trần Văn Khê sur Dien Dan – Forum

* * *

Hồi ký Trần Văn Khê 1: kỳ 1 Thơ ấu vào đời, Tuoi Tre, 24/06/2015.

Image “à la une” :  © Vietnam Net

TRẦN VĂN KHÊ : biography and activities

Prof. Dr. Tran Van Khe
[English] [Français]


Professor Tran Van Khe is one of the greatest masters of the traditional Vietnamese music. Born into a family with four generations of musicians, he was taught the musical tradition of the family by his paternal aunt Tran Ngoc Vien and his maternal uncle Nguyen Tri Khuong, having lost his parents at a very early age. Professor Tran Van Khe is a Doctor in Musicology; he carried out research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (C.N.R.S.), has been a teacher at Paris-Sorbonne University, and is Honorary Member of the Conseil international de la musique (Unesco). His scientific research along with his activity in traditional music (participation in numerous festivals, several recordings edited with Ocora, l’Unesco and A.C.C.T.) have led to his receiving many distinctions and prizes from prestigious universities, academies and international institutions. He is able to play many Vietnamese instruments: dan kim or dan nguyet (moon-shaped lute), dan tranh (sixteen stringed zither), dan co or dan nhi (two-stringed fiddle), dan ty ba (pear-shaped, four stringed lute) and the trong nhac, ceremonial drum. He knows how to recite poems and sing in traditional styles of the North and the South.

Professor Tran’s expertise includes all Asian music, particularly Indian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic musical traditions. Having lived in Paris for about 50 years, and traveled world wide, lecturing and performing, he has played key role in introducing Asian music into the western world. In the past 50 years, He has produced a number of Ph. D.’s and tought several thousands of students all over the world.


    • Ex-Director of research in the French National Center for Scientific Research
    • Now, Full Member of the Research Team UPR 298  » Comparative Studies on South East Asia  »
    • Ex-Professor of Ethnomusicology , University of Paris Sorbonne
    • Now, Adviser for 5 doctoral dissertations on Asian and Arabic Music
    • Member of the « Board of Directors » of the Unesco-IMC Project: The « Universe of Music, A History » ( UMH)
    • Vice-Chairman of the Scientific Board of the International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation (Berlin)
  • DATE OF BIRTH: Juty 24th 1921
  • PLACE OF-BIRTH: Binh Hoa Dong, Mutho( Tien Giang) ( Viet Nam)
  • NATIONALITY: Vietnamese, Permanent Resident in France since Magi 949
    • 1958: Ph. D. University of Paris-Sorbonne Dissertation: Vietnamese Traditional Music
    • 1951: Diplome de I’lnstitut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris ( Sciencs-Po: International Relations)
    • 1943: First Certificate of Medici ne( Medical College: Universitg of Hanoi)
    • 1942: Certificate of P.C.B. ( Phgsics- Chemistry-Biologg) Universitg of Hanoi
    • 1941: Baccalaureat ( Philisophy) Saigon
    • 1940: Baccalaureat (First Part) Saigon
  • Music Education: Belongs to a family of musicians: 4th generation, training in traditional musical instruments and drumming since his childhood.
    Musicologg: Institut de Musicologle de Paris ( 1951-1958)

    Working EXPERIENCE

    Research and teaching

    • 1989: (January-March) Visiting Professor, University of the Philippines, Quezon City, Manila
    • 1988: (January-Septemter) Fulbright Scholar, Visiting Professor University of Hawaii at Manoa
    • 1984-1987: Director of a Seminar on « Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales ( EHESS)
    • 1983: Visiting Professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa: Summer Course USA
    • 1985: Visiting Professor at the Universitg of Western Australia, Perth
    • 1981 and 1979: Visiting Professor at Listz Academy of Music, Budapest Hungary.
    • 1975-1985: Guest Professor at the Institut Cathotique de Paris Liturgic Music: Buddhist Music in Vietnam
    • 1979-1977: Guest Professor at the « Intercultural School – in Venice,ltaly
    • 1973: Visiting Professor at The Faculte de Musique, University of Montreal, Canada
    • 1972: Guest Professorat the University of Southern Illinois Carbonda1e, USA
    • 1968: Guest Professor at the UCLA, Los Angeles, USA
    • 1966-1988: Lecturer , Professor , University of Paris-Sorbonne
      Ethnomusicology, Adviser for Students preparing Master’s thesis and Doctoral dissertations on Asian Music (more than 40 students)
    • 1960-1988: Researcher in Musicology, French National Center for Scientific Research
    • 1960-64: Attache de recherche
    • 1964-68: Charge de recherche
    • 1968-72: MaTtre de recherche
    • 1972-88: Directear dc recherche
    • 1959-1988: Professor, Directeur d’Etudes, and President of the « Centre d’Etudes de Musique Orientale »
    • 1977-1987: Every year Visiting Professor at The Institute of Musicology in Viet Nam
    • Two Lectures on Asian Music and on Methodology in Ethnormusicology, Several hundreds of lectures in several Universities in the world, namely Berkeley, Maryland, Baltimore County USA, (1988) Central Conservatory of Beijing, Conservatory of TianJian, Xian (People’s Republic of China 1987), Antatanarivo,Madagascar(August 1985), Kunitachi College, Japan (Julyl 985), Wellington, New Zealand/November 1984), Venice, Italy (March 84-April 85) Harvard, USA (June 1982)Conservatory Tchaikovsky, Moscow, USSR/May 81) National Institute of Music of Algeria (August 1980), National Center for the Performing Arts, Bombay, India (Sept. 1979), Teheran, Iran (June 1976) Conservatory ofSaigon, Buddhist University of Van Hanh, Catholic Institution Taberd, Centre Culturel FranCais, VietNam-USA Association, (South VietNam August 1974), Sau Paulo, Brasil (July 1974) Shiraz.lran (August 1972) Sangeet Natak Akademi, Nev Delhi India (May 1961 ),Traditional Musicians Association, TaiPei,(April 1961) Ueno University, Japan (April 1961)

    Personal Affiliations

    • Member of Societe FranCaise de Musicologie
    • International Musicologlcal Society
    • Societe FranCaise d’Ethnomusicologie
    • Society for Ethnomusicologg
    • Society for Asian Music
    • International Society for Music Education
    • Societe (tes Gens de Lettres ( France)
    • International Council for Traditional Music ( Ex-Vice President)
    • International Music Council ( Ex-Vice President, now Life Honorary Member)

    Distinctions- Schalarships

    • 1999 Huan chuang Lao dong (Hang Hhot) Medol of Lobour (First Class) Socialist Republic of Uiet Nom
    • 1999 Doctor (HC) in Ethnomusicology, Universite de Moncton ( New Brunswick)
    • 1994 Koizumi Fumio Ethnomusicological Prize ( Japan)
    • 1995 Correspandent Member of The European Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters
    • 1991 Officier de rOrdre dea Rrl) et des Leilres ( French Mintetru rm- Cuittre and CoflmnanjcBtiDn)
    • 1988. Ful bright Scholarship
    • 1985 .Japan Foundation Scholarship
    • 1981 UNESCO INC Music Avard
    • 1975 Doctor in Music (honoris causa) University ef Ottawa Canada
    • 1974 1st Class Medal of Letters and Arts ( Refublic of Viet Ham)
    • 1974 1st Class Medal of Cukiture ( Republic of Viet Nam)
    • 1970 Grand Prix National du disque Academie du disque francais, Prix d’Ethnomusicologie, for the Record VI ET NAM 1. BM LD 2022
    • 1969 Deutscher Schallplatten Preis for the same disc mentioned above
    • 1960 Grand Prix du disque Academic du disque francais, Prix des Universites de France Disc « Musique du Viet Nam » Disc » La BoTte a Musique NOLD 565
    • 1949 2nd Prise of the International Competitition on Folk Music Instruments; in the Youth Festical of Budapest in Hungary.


    • 16 discs
    • 1 film on Indian Dhrupad singing tradition, 4 tapes on Asian Music( (GRM Groups de Recherche Musicale French Radio)
    • 4 video tapes on the Chinese Sheng (mouth organ), Qin (Chinese 7 stringed board zither), Vietnamese Dan trah (16 stringed board zither) Audio Visual Center Universite Dauphine
    • 2 books on Vietnamese Traditional Music
    • 1 book on Water puppets in Viet Nam
    • 187 articles on Asian Music, Vietnamese Music, and musicological matters.

    InternotiDnol Conferences

    Has participated in more than 180 Internatinal Congresses, Conferences, Symposia, and Music Festivals. (The lists of publications and the International Conferences could be sent on request)

[More detailed information about Prof. Tran Van Khe is found in the French page]

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