Song cycle for soprano and chamber wind ensemble (Grade 5).
Commissioned by University of the Pacific, Vu Nguyen, Director; University of Memphis, Albert Nguyen, Director; Washington State University, Danh Pham, Director; and the United States Army Field Band (for III. Thu Điếu).
It is my wish that ensembles perform this piece with soprano Bich-Van Nguyen if at all possible.
Bich-Van Nguyen, soprano. University of Pacific Wind Ensemble, Vu Nguyen, conductor.
Autumn Triptych is a musical setting of three iconic lyric poems by Nguyễn Khuyến (1834-1909), a Vietnamese scholar, teacher, and poet. “Thu Ẩm” (Drinking in Autumn), “Thu Vịnh” (Writing on Autumn), and “Thu Điếu” (Fishing in Autumn) form a melancholy collection of verses written in response to the colonization of Vietnam in the late 19th century. I was first introduced to Nguyễn’s poems six years ago when composer P.Q. Phan invited me to compose a vocal piece with a chamber ensemble accompaniment for the Vietnamese American Society for Creative Arts and Music (VASCAM). I sought advice from my father on a text to set, and he recommended one of his favorite poems, “Thu Điếu.” Vietnamese was my first language, and I spoke no English until I was five, but over the years I had all but completely lost my mother tongue. I knew that the song’s melody would need to be shaped by the tonality of the language, so I relied heavily on my father to make sure that my setting preserved the language of the original verse. Though my father had no training as a musician, he was indispensable in helping me to hone the piece. The full wind ensemble version of “Thu Điếu,” commissioned by the US Army Field Band in 2021, was the last project I completed before his death, and in the years since his passing the song’s melody invariably brings him to mind. His absence was felt all the more keenly as I completed the other two songs for the Triptych this year.
In writing the music for “Writing” and “Drinking,” I felt a greater connection to my Vietnamese heritage than perhaps I ever have. Though my brother Nam and I are named in commemoration of our parents’ homeland, it was not a culture we were raised in. A Vietnamese man even once approached me after a concert to say that he had been listening for the sound of Vietnam in my music but had only been able to hear the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is my hope that in these three pieces, the listener might hear some of both, and perhaps in Autumn.
Autumn Triptych was commissioned by Vu Nguyen, Albert Nguyen, and Danh Pham and their respective wind ensemble programs at the University of the Pacific, University of Memphis, and Washington State University. Thank you to Vu, Albert, and Danh for your encouragement, as well as soprano Bich-Van, whose beautiful voice richly brings these songs to life.