bridging an ideological gap

If the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals’ social participatory was through an act of boycott, the Korean-born German composer Isang Yun’s democratic movement was through an act of composition. For instance, Yun’s many compositions were written as cultural participation in portraying how democracy had battled against dictatorships in South Korea during the 1960-80s.

In the worldwide ARD’s broadcasts, Hinzpeter reported on how anti-governmental protest resulted in the massacre by military intervention in Kwangju in 1980. (Note that Jürgen Hinzpeter filmed the military massacre of 1980 as the only journalist). Watching Hinzpeter’s reports in his German exile must have provided a creative inspiration to the composer. Yun’s Exemplum in memoriam Kwangju was completed in the following year in 1981. While his composition about Kwangju massacre has met his intention of reporting civilians’ battle against dictatorships in South Korea, his intention about another composition didn’t go well.

His lifelong political objective has been reconciliation and peace in the Korean peninsula. His personal goal was that his entry to his native part, the liberal South of the peninsula could be permitted with the governmental apology over his troubles with the previous regime. His artistic ambition was his newly written piece to be invited for the World première to his native part, and his music could bridge an ideological gap between the two Koreas in the Cold War.

His cantata My Land, My People (1987) was written in lyrics by South Korean poets and democratic activists. His intention in writing this oratorio was to exercise soft power between the two Koreas, with the hope to cross borders. If the World première were held in the liberal South of the  peninsula, he could have achieved his personal goal and artistic ambition. However, times might  have been passed since his wrongful imprisonment, the political situation in the South Korea had  remained more and less the same. He had to take an artistic decision on the newly written oratorio for the World première in Pyongyang. The artistically rightful decision of the time was taken as his disadvantage at personal and political levels though. Rather than bringing soft power between the two Koreas as he originally intended, the World première has brought further Cold War cultural strains to his music. As a result, his cantata My Land, My People (1987) had been banned in South Korea for a long time.

His musical messages remain within us. With the new government is about to be founded upon in the South Korea, could his 1987 cantata act as bridging soft power between the two Koreas in the age of  Trump?


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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