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Changjak Gugak Music in the Twenty First Century: an Overview with Focus on Three Western Trained Korean Composers: Unsuk Chin, Il Ryun Chung, and June Hee Lim

  • Author(s): Kim, Sarang
  • Advisor(s): Jones, David E
  • et al.

This essay presents an overview of Changjak gugak in the twenty-first centuries in threefold: a brief history, categorizations of Changjak gugak, and recent compositional strategies with focus on three selected composers’ works: Unsuk Chin’s “Šu for sheng and orchestra,” Il Ryun Chung’s “Glut,” “Benu,” “Breath,” and “Gravity,” and June Hee Lim’s “Honbul I,” and “Dokdo, Island of Five Senses.”

Changjak gugak has a relatively shorter history compared to traditional music of Korea that traces its origin back to the three-kingdom period (57 BC to 668 AD). Musicians attribute the rise of Changjak gugak in Korea to the influence of Western music in Korea during the 1960s; Beginning in the 1970’s, new compositional experiments and studies of the history and development of contemporary Korean composers demonstrated an increasing interest in Korean music, instruments, and characteristics over 50 years.

Given the growing interest of Changjak gugak works, Korean musicologists such as So Young Lee and Hyun Ji Lee attempted to organize the analytic observations of several prior musicologists into several categories of Changjak gugak; So Young Lee’s categorizations are based on the inclusion or exclusion of Korean instruments and on the presence or absence of Korean traditional aesthetic characteristics; Hyun Ji Lee’s categorizations primarily based upon Yayoi Uno Everett’s taxonomy discussed the compositional strategies in pieces that combine two cultures.

In dealing with musical and philosophical issues in multicultural composition, the three selected composers–Unsuk Chin, Il Ryun Chung, and June Hee Lim–have adopted markedly different approaches. In avoiding musical exoticism, Unsuk Chin excludes Korean melodic and modal references in “Šu.” It demonstrates her approach in that it exploits and expands the Sheng’s techniques in ways that do not necessarily imply Korean or Chinese references. Her focus instead is more on taking advantage of the complex chords that the Sheng can execute and on its unique timbre that can be easily blended with her contemporary writing for orchestra. Il Ryun Chung’s music does not explicitly introduce Korean melody or textures but has acoustic associations with Korean music due to his tuning systems and use of flexible intonation. The structures of the four pieces addressed in this essay resemble Korean musical form, called Jangdan. Chung obtains a unique hybrid of Korean (or other Asian) and experimental music without overtly borrowing specific musical materials from disparate traditions. In “Honbul I” and “Dokdo,” June Hee Lim freely and flexibly crosses cultural boundaries by means of fusing various scales: tonal harmonies, chromaticism, dodecaphony and Korean scales; She organizes musical elements full of Korean references into Western structures such as concerto form, multi-movement form, and art song forms.

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