The tale of Kiều for string orchestra (performed by the Basel Chamber Orchestra)
The tale of Kiều, for scordatura string orchestra, is a tone poem based on the epic poem Truyện Kiều by Nguyễn Du. Released in 1820, the poem is widely regarded as the most significant work of Vietnamese literature. The tone poem, written in five movements, presents five scenes from the story, each movement depicting a single scene. Movement I depicts the grave of Đạm Tiên, one of Kiều’s ancestors, who is said to have been as beautiful and talented as Kiều, but she led a life filled with grief. The spirit of Đạm Tiên prophesies the life of hardship and tragedy that will eventually befall Kiều. Movement II is about romantic love. A young and promising scholar, Kim Trọng, promises to marry Kiều; however due to the misfortune that befalls Kiều they are never to marry. Movement III: following the death of her second husband, Kiều throws herself into the Tiền Đường river, attempting suicide. Movement IV is a funeral march for Từ Hải, Kiều’s second husband. Kiều convinces Từ Hải to surrender to an opposing army; this eventually leads to his death. Movement V: at the end of the story Kiều is reunited with her family, and Kim Trọng. True to his word, Kim Trọng still wishes to marry Kiều despite having already married Kiều’s sister Thúy Vân. Kiều decides that the pursuit of romantic love is futile and decides to follow a life devoted to religion.
The musical concept
The tale of Kiều is composed in a microtonal tuning system, and is to be played entirely in natural harmonics. The underlying concept of the piece is that an ensemble of professional, conventional musicians, playing conventional instruments can achieve microtonal tunings to a very high degree of accuracy provided they follow the specific scordatura set forth in the score. The microtonal tuning itself is based on ideas developed by Pythagoras of Samos and Ling Lun.