Face of Vietnamese music scholarship, Tran Van Khe, dies

By Thien Huong, Thanh Nien News

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Professor Tran Van Khe (L) at a photo exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013. Photo: Doc Lap Professor Tran Van Khe (L) at a photo exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013. Photo: Doc Lap

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Professor Tran Van Khe, widely known as Vietnam’s most famous traditional music scholar, died in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital early Wednesday after nearly a month of illness.
Khe, 94, succumbed to multiple organ failure and severe pneumonia, Dr Ho Van Han of the Gia Dinh Hospital said.
Born in a musical family in the southern province of Vinh Long, Khe played several traditional instruments like the dan nguyet (moon-shaped two-chord lute), dan co (two-chord fiddle), and dan tranh (16-chord zither).
He moved to France in 1949 and received a doctoral degree in musicology from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1958. He was a lecturer in Asian music there between 1966 and 1988.
He won a number of international prizes and awards, including the UNESCO International Music Council prize in 1981, Officer in France's National Order of Arts and Letters in 1991, Japan’s Koizumi Fumio Prize for Ethnomusicology in 1994, and Vietnam’s first-class Labor Medal in 1999.
Having lived in Paris for more than 50 years, he traveled to many universities in 43 countries to lecture on and perform Vietnamese traditional music.
Since returning to Vietnam in 2006, he delivered talks and attended events on traditional music and culture even when confined to a wheelchair due to health problems in recent years.
In his testament carried recently in Thanh Nien, Khe said his house in Binh Thanh District should become a museum of the items he used in his research into traditional music -- books, recordings, pictures, and musical instruments.
He has left all the money visitors pay during his funeral for a scholarship or award to be given to people dedicated to research into traditional music.
His wife Nguyen Thi Suong died last year at 93. He is survived by a daughter and three sons, one of whom is Prof Tran Quang Hai, also a well-known traditional music scholar.

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