words about the Haupttöne

Isang Yun’s Haupttöne has a unique quality in the context of Western avant-garde techniques with the added flavour of Orientalism.

This posting considers how the composer himself explained about the Haupttöne in his words in the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1993.

Yun considered that a pitch gains its value when connected to other pitches in the European avant-garde. Having identified how the single pitch remains as secluded in the Western Art music, Yun added an energetic sentiment to the individual pitches by borrowing techniques from his native music. Yun’s Haupttöne derives from his intention of retaining a melodic line consisting individual tones through ornamentation in the Korean traditional music. Haupttöne in a format of a long sustained note is altered by glissando, vibrato, grace notes. Another characteristic of Yun’s Haupttöne is that whenever a new Haupttöne is introduced, the previous one always fades away. Therefore, each Haupttöne should be interpreted differently every time in the execution stage.

The Haupttöne also was based on Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy, which stresses the way of living in harmony with the Tao, that could be suggested as a way with the certain oriental-based etiquette. To Yun, the process of flowing and moving in the beginning to the end of the sound was viewed as within the bounds of Taoism. Ornamentations prior to the main tone, such as glissandi, vibrato, and light and shade expressed through the dynamic changes of tones are embodied of the dichotomies of the Yin-Yang in Taoism.

Is the sound of Haupttöne in Yun’s Glissee II pleasing you?


Sparrer, Walter-Wolfgang and Yun, Isang. (1994). (trans.) Jeong, Kyocheol and Yang, Injung My Way, My Ideal, My Music (Seoul: HICE Publisher,).




About julee

I am a researcher in musical modernism and politics. I am also a freelance cellist and especially enjoy playing chamber music with my violinist sister yulee. I live near Hatfield House .
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One Response to words about the Haupttöne

  1. Pingback: Cello as a metaphor | Empirical Musicology

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