Contributed by Yang Ting-Ting (BMus3, YST) and Lim Chae Hyun (BMus2,YST)
Die insel schwimmt: a fantastical collaboration between German poem and Korean tradition
Younghi Pagh-Paan was born in 1945 in South Korea. She studied composition and settled down in Germany after graduating from Seoul National University (South Korea). Currently, she lives in Bremen (Germany) and Panicale (Italy), and works as an appointed professor at the University of the Arts Bremen (Germany).
Her original Korean name is Younghi Pagh, and Paan is German pronunciation of her other name, 파안 (琶案). Paan’s meaning is ‘pondering while looking at a mandolin on the desk’.
Although being educated and highly influenced by Western music, she does not abandon the nature of Korean musical culture. “If we can assume that the horizontal linear flow is the life-force of traditional Korean music, it is quite natural that I attempt to develop this element fully in my music.” (Pagh-Paan, 1983/84.) Although some may find this claim as over-generalization, the important characteristic of East Asian music is an interruption of the flow, such as rhythmic variations, timbre changes and decorative notes, of the individual note. Introducing the concept of Korean music elements by using Western composition techniques, Pagh-Paan was intended to arouse this unique combination in concert series and new music festivals throughout Europe.
Another essential core of her concept is to transfer textual inspirations to her compositions. She forms a network which includes conceptual soul and thematic messages, and in consequence, providing the aesthetic and structure of her works.
Die insel schwimmt (The island swims) was written for piano and percussion in 1997. The title was retrieved from a poem by Rose Ausländer. Below is the English translation of the poem.
The island is swimming
to my chest
Based on the poem, the music has a fantastical atmosphere, with numbers of phrases that sounds like ‘floating’. Each phrases’ initiations are clear, often marked with percussion impulse. Sounds like illustrating agile movement of swimming underwater, rhythms are fragmented to small value notes. Most of the phrases develop with addition of percussion impulses, also with slight dynamic increases, but eventually dies out. The movement of the piece may illustrate the cycle of sinking and floating that is involved in ‘swimming’. Or, the piece can be interpreted as assimilating itself to succinct nature of the poem, with a series of short passages.
Pagh-Paan’s longing towards Korea can be found in the piece. According to Pagh-Paan’s interview on 2013, “I lived in Europe over 40 years and transformed the sense of longing to new force, which is very strong force by doing composition. Longing has a strong force, and it makes people to learn new things. Throughout composing music, I found a love on Korean culture and nature.” Of the numbers of percussion instrument that can be found in this piece, an instrument called as ‘Bak’ may be sound unconventional. It has a very sharp sound without resonance, and often acts as an interrupter in between ongoing passage played by piano. Bak is a traditional Korean percussion that was widely used in the orchestral music in the royal rites. In the piece, the combination of Bak and Toms, with rhythmically unconventional piano passage, brings out a similar timbre of Korean Pansori (a vocal music accompanied by Korean drum).