ISANG YUN: Chamber Symphony I / Loyang for Chamber Ensemble (Korean Chamber Ensemble/ Piotr Borkowski/ Rana Park) (Naxos: 8.557938)
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Isang Yun (1917-1995)
Chamber Symphony I (1987) Tapis pour cordes (1987) Gong-Hu for harp and strings (1984)
The Korean composer Isang Yun (Yun Yi Sang) wasborn in 1917, the son of the distinguished Korean poetYun Ki Hyon. He showed an early interest in music, andstudied at Osaka Conservatory with the Japanesecomposer Tomojir?? Ikenouchi, himself the son of aleading Japanese poet and trained in French musicaltraditions. Isang Yun's participation in secret anti-Japanese activities in the war led to his imprisonment in1943 and to a subsequent period in hiding. After the warhe was able to play a part in the revival of Koreanculture, teaching in Chung Mu, Pusan and Seoul. Anaward from the last city allowed him to travel to Paris,where he studied from 1956 to 1957 with Pierre Revel,and thereafter for a year at the Berlin Musikhochschulewith Boris Blacher, Josef Rufer and Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling. The meetings at Darmstadt provided aformative influence, and there were performances of hisworks there, and in Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin. By1964 he was again in Berlin, on the invitation of theFord Foundation, and in 1966 his orchestralcomposition Reak (Ritual Music) was given its premi?¿reat Donaueschingen, an occasion that secured Yun'sinternational reputation. His abduction to Seoul byagents of the South Korean regime of Chung Hee Parkin 1967 led to international protest at his imprisonmentand he was eventually, in 1969, granted an amnesty andallowed to return to Germany as a political refugee. Hetaught at the Hanover Musikhochschule and from 1970at the parallel institution in Berlin. In Germany he held aposition of some distinction, receiving a number ofawards, while in North Korea he was honoured by theestablishment of an institute bearing his name. He diedin Berlin in 1995.
Isang Yun did much to encourage contemporarymusic in North and South Korea, and his studentsincluded members of the younger generation of Koreancomposers, who worked with him in Hanover and inBerlin. His aim as a composer was to provide asynthesis of East and West, developing essentiallyKorean ideas through Western instruments andavantgarde techniques. From the 1960s he began torefine a system of composition that he derived fromoriental heterophony, a procedure that leads tomonophony, and, in the music of Isang Yun, to what hedescribed as Haupttone, an essentially linear approach,as he pointed out. He explains how traditionally everytone starts with a grace note and when it is established itgradually takes on vibrato, leading to an explosion ofsound, a final ornament and a continuation on anotherlevel. At the same time his work was influenced by hispolitical ideals and desire for Korean unification, byelements of Korean and Chinese culture and Taoistphilosophy. His many compositions include four operas,the first two based on the work of the twelfth centuryYuan dynasty poet and playwright Ma Chi Yuan.
Gong-Hu dates from 1984 and is dedicated to theharpist Ursula Holliger, who gave the first performancein Lucerne in 1985 with the Camerata Bern directed bythe oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger, forwhom Isang Yun wrote his last work, the Quartet forOboe and String Trio, first performed four days after thecomposer's death. The konghou, to use the modernsystem of transliteration of Chinese, is the Chinese harp,introduced into China from Persia during the EasternHan dynasty, and now less frequently used in China. Itwas adopted in Korea and the famous Song of theKonghou, a Korean song, became part of Chineserepertoire when it was re-introduced into China duringthe Han dynasty, an example of reverse acculturation.
Gong-Hu is scored for three first and three secondviolins, three violas, three cellos and a double bass, withsolo harp, which opens the work with ascending chords.
The work demands considerable virtuosity from theharpist, with a cadenza-like passage before its closingsection.
Tapis pour cordes, written in 1987, the year inwhich Isang Yun celebrated his seventieth birthday, isscored for a string quintet, or optionally, as here, forstring orchestra. Isang Yun makes use of orientaltechniques in a closely woven texture that employscharacteristic elements of his compositional language inan effective work that appeals immediately to thelistener.
The first of Isang Yun's two Chamber Symphonieswas also written in 1987 in response to a commissionfrom the city of G??tersloh, where it had its firstperformance in 1988 by the German ChamberPhilharmonic Frankfurt/Main directed by Yoram David.
It is scored, very traditionally, for pairs of oboes andhorns and strings, but these instruments are treated inthe composer's own idiosyncratic musical language,with ornamentation, quarter tones, divisions of thestrings and dynamic patterns that accord with his statedprinciples of musical structure. The work is in acontinuous single movement.Keith Anderson