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Isang Yun, An Intercultural Composer: Reflections on Korean Culture, Politics and Traditions
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
Yoon Joo Hwang
University of Central Florida, United States
Music is a powerful and dynamic language that reflects culture, tradition and politics and is particularly well suited to examining these ideologies via its cross-cultural reach. The Korean German composer Isang Yun created own his musical language and voice, combining both Western musical forms of the European avant-garde and influences from East Asian culture and philosophies. The dramatic political situations of twentieth-century Korea strongly influenced Yun’s life and works. His early years witnessed the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, the division of the peninsula into North and South Korea, and the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee. Yun was accused of being a communist spy and imprisoned in South Korea during the East Berlin Spy Incident (1967), and ultimately lived in exile in Germany for the rest of his life. His music was banned in Korea; as a result, most Koreans learned of him and his works much later than scholars in other countries. Furthermore, his political experience is reflected in his works. Yun sought to make his music a bridge between South and North Korea despite their tensions and differing ideologies. His origins and his political experiences led him to express in music the quintessentially Korean emotion of 한 (Han), longing and nostalgia; thus Yun’s musical inventions sought to express an essence of “Koreanness” in his works.