About this Recording
8.557938 - YUN: Chamber Symphony I / Tapis / Gong-Hu
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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) was born in 1917, the son of the distinguished Korean poet Yun Ki Hyon. He showed an early interest in music, and studied at Osaka Conservatory with the Japanese composer Tomojirÿ Ikenouchi, himself the son of a leading Japanese poet and trained in French musical traditions. Isang Yun’s participation in secret anti- Japanese activities in the war led to his imprisonment in 1943 and to a subsequent period in hiding. After the war he was able to play a part in the revival of Korean culture, teaching in Chung Mu, Pusan and Seoul. An award 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 Musikhochschule with Boris Blacher, Josef Rufer and Reinhard Schwarz- Schilling. The meetings at Darmstadt provided a formative influence, and there were performances of his works there, and in Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin. By 1964 he was again in Berlin, on the invitation of the Ford Foundation, and in 1966 his orchestral composition Réak (Ritual Music) was given its première at Donaueschingen, an occasion that secured Yun’s international reputation. His abduction to Seoul by agents of the South Korean régime of Chung Hee Park in 1967 led to international protest at his imprisonment and he was eventually, in 1969, granted an amnesty and allowed to return to Germany as a political refugee. He taught at the Hanover Musikhochschule and from 1970 at the parallel institution in Berlin. In Germany he held a position of some distinction, receiving a number of awards, while in North Korea he was honoured by the establishment of an institute bearing his name. He died in Berlin in 1995.

Isang Yun did much to encourage contemporary music in North and South Korea, and his students included members of the younger generation of Korean composers, who worked with him in Hanover and in Berlin. His aim as a composer was to provide a synthesis of East and West, developing essentially Korean ideas through Western instruments and avantgarde techniques. From the 1960s he began to refine a system of composition that he derived from oriental heterophony, a procedure that leads to monophony, and, in the music of Isang Yun, to what he described as Haupttöne, an essentially linear approach, as he pointed out. He explains how traditionally every tone starts with a grace note and when it is established it gradually takes on vibrato, leading to an explosion of sound, a final ornament and a continuation on another level. At the same time his work was influenced by his political ideals and desire for Korean unification, by elements of Korean and Chinese culture and Taoist philosophy. His many compositions include four operas, the first two based on the work of the twelfth century Yuan dynasty poet and playwright Ma Chi Yuan.

Gong-Hu dates from 1984 and is dedicated to the harpist Ursula Holliger, who gave the first performance in Lucerne in 1985 with the Camerata Bern directed by the oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger, for whom Isang Yun wrote his last work, the Quartet for Oboe and String Trio, first performed four days after the composer’s death. The konghou, to use the modern system of transliteration of Chinese, is the Chinese harp, introduced into China from Persia during the Eastern Han dynasty, and now less frequently used in China. It was adopted in Korea and the famous Song of the Konghou, a Korean song, became part of Chinese repertoire when it was re-introduced into China during the Han dynasty, an example of reverse acculturation. Gong-Hu is scored for three first and three second violins, three violas, three cellos and a double bass, with solo harp, which opens the work with ascending chords. The work demands considerable virtuosity from the harpist, with a cadenza-like passage before its closing section.

Tapis pour cordes, written in 1987, the year in which Isang Yun celebrated his seventieth birthday, is scored for a string quintet, or optionally, as here, for string orchestra. Isang Yun makes use of oriental techniques in a closely woven texture that employs characteristic elements of his compositional language in an effective work that appeals immediately to the listener.

The first of Isang Yun’s two Chamber Symphonies was also written in 1987 in response to a commission from the city of Gütersloh, where it had its first performance in 1988 by the German Chamber Philharmonic Frankfurt/Main directed by Yoram David. It is scored, very traditionally, for pairs of oboes and horns and strings, but these instruments are treated in the composer’s own idiosyncratic musical language, with ornamentation, quarter tones, divisions of the strings and dynamic patterns that accord with his stated principles of musical structure. The work is in a continuous single movement.

Keith Anderson

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