Analysis of Isang Yun's "Reak fuer Orchester" (1966)
This dissertation is about Isang Yun (September 17, 1917 – November 3, 1995), the first Korean who earned an international reputation as a composer of Western art music in the twentieth century, and the piece, Réak für Orchester (1966), that led to his achievement of worldwide fame. In the 1960s, Isang Yun expressed a characteristic Korean sonority by adapting Eastern conceptions of music in works such as Bara, Fluktuationen, and Om mani padme hum. In Réak, Isang Yun created a Korean ambiance through the symbolic use of characteristics of Korean traditional music - notably that of ancient ceremonies based on Chinese models. The title Réak connotes solemn ritual music; although it does not literally imitate Korean ritual music, it nevertheless imparts a ritualistic character that evokes the mood of Korean court music.
My analysis shows Réak’s characteristics as follows: (1) The sections of Réak für Orchester are each defined by a unique timbre. They are distinguished from each other by their unique Hauptklang (main sound or sound complex), composed of Hauptton (central tone). (2) The instruments of the piece are used in ways that resemble Korean traditional music in terms of timbre and of playing technique. (3) Ornamentations such trills, glissandi, and vibrato, give the effect of micro-intervals, evoking Korean Nonghyeon (vibration technique), which is a musical adaptation of the mobile curve. (4) Yeonum, a characteristic Korean technique in which one instrument takes over and continues the musical line of another instrument, is used throughout the piece. (5) The vertical relations formed by the linear progression of each instrument evoke the unique sonority of the saenghwang, a mouth organ used in ceremonial orchestral musics derived from Chinese Confucian rituals. (6) The precise location of accents avoids rupturing the fluidity of the piece. An accent of syncopated rhythm which the accent attached to the weak beat is used. This character is derived from the traditional court music, in contrast to Western music, in which the strong beat is stressed.
The principle of the music of Isang Yun begins with the recognition of the cultural differences between the East and the West. Réak für Orchester represents the characteristics of Korean aesthetics by joining Western contemporary techniques of composition with elements of Korean traditional music. These characteristics clarify the way in which Korean musical ideas and materials can be integrated into Western music. Isang Yun demonstrates that Eastern music incorporated into Western compositions is not a phenomenon of fashion to create an exotic atmosphere but rather that such music can be a mode of expression for universal emotions. It shows that traditional Eastern music can uncover elements of contemporary music on its own territory and remake them anew.