Video Pick of the Week: Thu Le Plays Napoleon Coste’s ‘Le Départ’

The wonderful Vietnamese guitarist Thu Le started learning the instrument from her father when she was just 4 years old, and within three years she became the youngest person ever admitted to what was then called the Hanoi National Conservatory of Music (where she studied for 15 years). Along the way she competed successfully in numerous guitar competitions in Asia and Europe, and she continues to perform far and wide—even as she now has young daughters who also play guitar.

This week’s “Pick” is Thu Le’s rendition of the multi-layered Le Départ, Op. 31 (also known as Fantasie Dramatique) by French composer Napoléon Coste (1805–1883), who wrote it in 1856. According to Ari van Vliet’s description of the Romantic work in his definitive two-volume study of Coste, Napoléon Coste: Composer and Guitarist in the Musical Life of 19th Century Paris, “The first part of Le Départ depicts the departure of soldiers to the Crimean War. There are many arpeggio movements, with fierce arpeggiato interruptions. The chromatics are mostly used in a harmonic way, no longer so much in melodic coloration. Some trumpet imitations enhance the military idea, and the great harmonic unrest, supported by the afterturning harmonic octave series and the time and rhythm changes, interrupted by joint motifs and ending in figuration work, make the battle on the front audible in the Andante and Agitato at the end of this part… ” In short, there’s a lot going on in this piece!  —Blair Jackson