The artistic development of Younghi Pagh-Paan reflects a struggle for the own, taking place via a political and aesthetic engagement with her native tradition, as well as a further differentiation of the facets discovered in the process.
Following her beginnings with works such as Pa-Mun [Waves] for piano (1971), Dreisam-Nore for flute (1975), Man-Nam I for clarinet, viola and cello (1977), pieces like Nun for five female voices and eighteen instrumentalists (text: Kwang-Kyun Kim, 1978/79) and Sori (1979/80) for orchestra marked early highlights in which the main features of Pagh-Paan's musical language were already present. This first phase ended with highly politically expressive works such as No-Ul for viola, cello and double bass (1984, rev. 1985), Nim for large orchestra (1986/87) and Hwang-To for mixed choir and nine instrumentalists (text: Kim Chi-Ha, 1988/89). Significant compositional results from this time of 'searching' included: transferring the epic pansori model to a vocal music in which singers accompany themselves with percussion instruments; structuring the harmonic and sonic space using 'mother chords'; creating a stasis in flux through a permutation of the chosen chord pitches; working with rhythmic modes; polyphony as heterophonic counterpoint; and an expansion of the sound-world to include unpitched noise.
Existential values – nim [love], heart, humility, life, water, spirit, wish – were 'sounded out' artistically as facets of the own and developed throughout the 1990s. These concerns led to works mirroring the gestural world of traditional Korean music, such as the Ta-Ryong series (1987/88 onwards), pieces relating to H. C. Artmann's poem 'Mein Herz' (1991 onwards) and Sowon/Wunsch (texts: Rose Ausländer/Louise Labé/Anna Akhmatova, 1995/96 onwards), but also individual works unconnected to such complexes.
Io for nine instrumentalists (1999/2000) initiated a second wave of facets of the own in which Greek mythology, with its fatalism, its cruelty, but also its clarity came under the composer's Tao-influenced ethical gaze. The climax of this dialogic encounter was the chamber opera Mondschatten [Moon Shadow] (after Sophocles and Byung-Chul Han, 2002/06). The mercilessly archetypal events find an adequate musical pendant in the work's uncompromising musical fabric.
Since 2007 there has been a new wave of facets of the own: firstly, an even deeper immersion in the composer's native culture through composing for Korean instruments, and secondly, a concentration on the dialogue between Taoism and Christianity, leading to a fundamental examination of spirituality. For Younghi Pagh-Paan, that does not mean fleeing from the world, but a way – an enigmatic one – to recognise suffering in the world better, and to find better consolation.
Two qualities characterise the artistic output of Younghi Pagh-Paan to date: on the one hand, the unity of expression, fundamentally rooted in the Korean music tradition, and on the other hand, the will to rescue the own from estrangement in a foreign environment, and to see the history of Korea as a mirror for the world's situation. She is concerned with finding universally applicable images for a life freed from commercialisation, colonial incorporation and the coercions of globalisation – images of mourning as well as those of reconciliation and utopia.
Pagh-Paan has withdrawn all but one of the pieces she composed in Korea before leaving the country: Pa-Mun for piano (1971), the first in her chronological list of works, written three years before the decisive move to Germany. At the time, she was searching for a path of her own between her fascination with Isang Yun (especially Réak for large orchestra, premiered in Donaueschingen in 1966) and her absorption of a European tradition of modernity comprising Stravinsky, Hindemith and Bartók on the one hand, and the Second Viennese School and the subsequent serialist movement on the other hand.
Pa-Mun does not have any recognisable row or strict serial principle, but certainly a harmonic framework based around pitch centres that is, in a certain sense, cyclically closed: it begins with the leap of a minor seventh in the left hand from D2 to C3; at the end, these two pitches sound together, rounded off with a further minor seventh above, resulting in the double seventh chord D2-C3-Bb4 (ppp). Between these delicate, calm pillars supporting the composition, an animated poetic life develops within. It is based on a heterophonic linearity consisting of complex rhythmic layerings, creating the impression of a constant flow – but a flow that becomes increasingly and ever more intensely tangled from fast, irregular figures pulsing through it: quintuplets, sextuplets and septuplets, both in formations of sixteenths and thirty-seconds, at times widely spread and at others more close-knit.
If one takes the double bars as indicators of tempo changes, there is a five-part structure whose outer sections seem like summaries of the piece's overall motion: calm on the outside, animated within; the whole forms a curve of escalating, intensifying, virtuosically and dynamically flickering, and then subsiding movement. In this overall curve, the internal structures of Parts II to IV are those with the greatest fluctuations and accordingly the greatest deviations from the pitch centre. After the slight tempo reduction in Part III, the music in Part IV, the work's climax, veritably explodes, though the activity subsides again towards the end of the section. In Part V, where the underlying motion shines through one last time like a quintessence, this calming now spreads out once and for all and the music disappears in a final ppp.
The listener can follow, as the work's title suggests, the acoustic turbulence of a complex play of waves, and is swept along by the increasingly virtuosic and intense sonic movements; at the end, we return to the silence from which everything had erupted. While one may initially be inclined to hear the rapid figures of quintuplets, sextuplets and septuplets as mere ornaments within a linear fabric – that is, to be captivated more by the music's external, structural aspects –, one soon appreciates the nature-like character of the sonic process and understands the whirled-out figures as 'tanglings' within the composed surges of the waves. It must be this nature-like quality that constitutes the Korean or East Asian aspect of the music, which seems so strongly and unexpectedly European in all other respects.
How, then, does this compare to Younghi Pagh-Paan's European overture, the flute solo Dreisam-Nore, written after moving to Freiburg and beginning her studies in composition with Klaus Huber in October 1974? It was composed in the last two months of the year and completed in January 1975. A fundamental difference from Pa-Mun lies in the fact that Dreisam-Nore is substantially indebted to serial thought.
The composition begins with a three-bar segment consisting of six notes (Eb5-G5-F#5-B5-A#5-D6) whose second half is the transposed retrograde inversion of the first; if one shifts this D6 to the start of bar 4, the result is an untransposed retrograde of this initial segment, and a closer look at bars 3 and 4 reveals that the second hexachord is a transposed inversion of the first. In other words, the piece's exposition displays a fully worked-out dodecaphonic sequence. The main intervallic energies that underlie this opening, and also stem from serial thought – the major third (and complementary minor sixth) and the perfect fourth – keep returning as the piece progresses; thus bar 6 plays with the major third (E5-C5) and the perfect fourth (C#5-G#4), while bar 7 begins with the descending and bar 8 with the ascending minor sixth. But the 'main motif' itself also returns frequently, in all possible arrangements, melodic derivations, transpositions and rhythmic variations, some of them shortened or fragmented (mm. 16, 18ff., 36, 43, 35, 46f., 49, 51, 52, 54, 58f.). Here Pagh-Paan uses the early serial technique to develop a method of her own.
These pitch-oriented compositional characteristics only touch on one dimension, however, and a fairly external one. The piece's secret lies elsewhere: in the way the music flows and breathes. The composer herself has written most eloquently about this flowing in her programme note for the piece: 'In my flute piece Dreisam-Nore I attempt to give a musical form to my experience of the river Dreisam [which runs through Freiburg]. I attempted to bring together the flowing, living and enlivening element with the sense of calm one can enjoy through the constant uniformity of the water's movement.' What she means in aesthetic terms is underlined elsewhere: '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, 46). In Dreisam-Nore this occurs through the flowing lines unfolded by the flute, though this linearity is animated by tremoli, vibrati, diaphragm accents, lip pizzicati, timbre trills, glissandi, grace notes, microtonal fluctuations etc. One thus finds a dialectical convergence of flowing and non-flowing, or an interruption of the flow in favour of the most sonically varied possible animation of the individual note. This dialectic is an essential characteristic of East Asian music, and is constantly mentioned by Pagh-Paan in the context of her own work.
This brings us to the second main characteristic of Dreisam-Nore: breathing, conveyed through the instrument, the flute. The score contains an incredible array of breath gestures, inserted between short, agitated figures and long curves with points of repose, including the mere unpitched sound of air. Here we reach a deep existential layer: pain, loneliness, tension, all states of estrangement from oneself that Pagh-Paan wishes to discard; she wants 'to open the knot in [her] own heart', as she herself formulated, to live and find herself – that is, to learn how to breathe. Gisela Gronemeyer writes: 'When Younghi-Pagh-Paan came to Germany, she was initially full of fear. She tried to work that out compositionally by focusing on breath and creating large curves' (Gronemeyer 1989, 6). Pagh-Paan: 'I had really experienced difficulties with breath because I was so tense. Then I wanted to free myself of that. So I simply solved my own personal problem gradually' (quoted in Gronemeyer 1989, 6).
Dreisam-Nore is like a study in learning to breathe, yet also a poetic song (nore means 'song'). This is significant not least for the structure, which consists of three starts. The first is still relatively quiet, with a few passages containing tremors and virtuosic gestures; the second is a veritable outburst, full of strength and even screams, a passionate search for breath, which is then gradually found in the shorter third part, which is more an epilogue than a real section. This search reaches a state of calm in the final sustained D6, where the additional trill and glissando deviations testify to the warm vitality of finding.
Man-Nam I for clarinet and string trio (1977) became, according to Pagh-Paan, the 'cornerstone' of her own style, which subsequently expressed itself in ever new structural and aesthetic manifestations – a 'cornerstone' after the leaning processes of the first two pieces, especially after the intense dialectic of Dreisam-Nore, the deepest engagement with the serial technique of the Western European avant-garde and a clear emphasis on breath and flow in accordance with the East Asian musical tradition.
'In my piece Man-Nam [Encounter]', Pagh-Paan writes, 'I attempted to develop an encounter between the two cultural worlds in order to overcome the culture shock I was experiencing' (Man-Nam I, preface). Here we see a new beginning being placed into her own style – technically and structurally, but also psychologically through the mirroring of a new sensibility. This sensibility is an expression of the personal aesthetic that seeks and finds itself 'between the cultures', and thus also of a political awareness that has remained present since then: 'I want to be able to rely on one thing: that I won't write any music which takes me away from what is still present within me to this day as the root of our culture' (Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 53).
The work presents itself in four distinct but interconnected parts, with certain commonalities between the first three; the final section differs in its conception, and this different conception is in fact the key to understanding the piece as a whole. Let us compare the composer's statements in the preface to the score to the structural details: 'In the first part I hesitantly attempt to overcome my fear' (Man-Nam I, preface). It is an extremely delicate music that probes its way from silence (dal niente); there is no cogent linearity, only isolated structures – except for the string trio's flautando chord in bar 6 and the closing bars, where the strings trace a monodic texture over a fading clarinet note. The clarinet disappears into the nothingness from which it had ventured forth 'de profundis' before momentarily unfolding a more intense expressive gesture in bars 12 and 13.
'The second part is a flight into the sheltering solitude of the mountains' (ibid.). This section is for string trio alone; the clarinet, which has only made hesitant utterances so far, is saved for the third part. Here, then, the conflict still remains below the surface, enclosed in the 'sheltering solitude of the mountains'; the listener is completely surrounded by the 'whispering of the silence' in a landscape of harmonics and their echoes.
'In the third part, the torturous struggle triggered within me by the culture shock is completely foregrounded' (ibid.). So now we encounter rebellion, with the clarinet – as the breath instrument – primus inter pares in this shift from suppressed conflict to explicit outcry. Rhythmic counterpoints tear this cry even further apart, and at times the agitato gesture lapses into shrillness before threatening to dissolve into silence; then the clarinet falls soloistically back into darkness. But then comes a long and vehement, chaotically unruly outburst in all instruments (mm. 49-91) that ultimately sinks back into nothingness; from the shadowy sounds of the strings, the cello breaks off into a cadenza, a sonic bridge to the final part and a premonition of the new events that will now take place.
'The concluding fourth part moves closer to the Korean tradition. (The cello, for example, plays only pizzicati, recalling the sound of two Korean drums.) This music finds its own centre and calm stability: reconciliation' (ibid.). Bar 74 of the score contains the decisive structural note: 'In this final part, the four instrumental voices are concived as fundamentally independent.' Here, then, we find the first instance of something that will become a central aspect of future works: heterophonic counterpoint. The individual parts circle pitch centres, giving rise to individual lines: the clarinet glides from a rising introductory bar into a sustained B4, which will also be the last sound of the piece; the violin's first and last notes are also B (B4 and B5); the viola begins on F4 and ends with a harmonic on the fundamental B2; and the cello, whose pizzicati symbolise the drum throughout this section, finally recalls the scream of the third part with a double sfff attack, yet at once returns to this dual tonal energy underlying the fourth and final part with the double stop Eb2-B3 – here the composer uses the existential term 'reconciliation'. One could also call it a rediscovered home, but in a foreign land.
It is scarcely possible to begin an artistic œuvre with greater contrasts than those one finds between Pagh-Paan's first three works. While the first two pieces – Pa-Mun for piano (1971) and Dreisam-Nore for flute (1975) – are above all two very different engagements with the acquired European tradition that have some Korean elements mixed in, Man-Nam constitutes the first more profound attempt to 'appropriate the own', an attempt that required an entire year and reached its temporary goal in the fourth part. This brought into play the motif that has guided Pagh-Paan since then, and which she sees condensed in a line from Hölderlin: '… but the own must be learned as well as the foreign'. Paradoxically, then, it was only the distance from her home country that led her to distance herself from internationally used techniques and strive for a greater integration of the own into the acquired, the inherently foreign. The dialectic between the own and the foreign is the leitmotif for Pagh-Paan's music, the central impetus of her search. After Man-Nam, the individual steps in her œuvre would be so many variations of this basic theme.
The first step or phase, which encompasses roughly the first ten years, is focused on an aesthetic and political engagement with the composer's own tradition: the works that open this phase consolidate what is achieved in the final part of Man-Nam, while those following them differentiate it from varying perspectives.
Nun [Snow] for five singers and eighteen instrumentalists (1978/79) and Sori for large orchestra (1979/80) are works in which Pagh-Paan transferred what she had tried out in Man-Nam onto larger formations. The political conflict that takes place in them (the struggle for democracy against dictatorship) is intensified and sharpened dialectically through a greater mastery of her own aesthetic, which is also expressed in the 'invention' of the 'mother chord' technique. 'In all my pieces I start from a chordal structure that I judge as closely as possible by ear and arrange in the overall sound space; this becomes the sonic and atmospheric structure of the entire piece.' (Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 20).
'Starting from a mother chord (or several related chords), I attempt to trace an internally vibrating sound space by subjecting this chord structure to a constant stream of changes – in Nun, for example, through a permutation of vertical intervals [illustrated in Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 22] in which the highest and lowest notes remain constant.' 'In Nun I composed a music that is carried by changes in a single, widely-spread six-note chord. This chord structure, in its various forms, runs through the entire piece' (Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 21).
Ex. 1 shows the 'mother chords' of Nun (1978/79), Sori (1979/80), Madi (1981) and Pyon-Kyong (1982). These are a different, personal form of the 'modes' (in the sense of harmonic-intervallic groups) that became central for Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen refers to his modes as 'scales of limited transposition'; hence his second mode, defined by the repeated sequence of three notes a semitone and a whole tone apart, only permits three transpositions before the starting situation is reached again. The permutational procedure of the 'mother chord', however, also recalls the rotation technique used by Ernst Krenek; roughly speaking, one finds a Krenekian combination of his primary rotation method (where the first pitches of two six-note rows or hexachords are moved to the end, so that the scales gradually move along pitch by pitch within the row) and the supplementary procedure, where the first pitch is fixed and the individual sounds are formed through transposition, i.e. regrouped within the hexachords to form constantly changing intervallic sequences. Pagh-Paan uses a very individual and also quite loose variation of such 'intervallic rotation', in the sense of a slow change of intervallic content through addition or subtraction of pitches; this results in manifold derivations from the starting material. 'The intervals of the mother chord are […] exchanged or inverted one after another using the rotation method' (Winterfeldt 1991, 12). And intervals can also be removed or added. In this context, the composer speaks of 'linkages': different chords can be linked, combined, as can rhythms. Ariadne Westerkamp and Susanne Winterfeldt call such rhythmic linkages, of which they identify and point out several in Nun, 'rhythmic mottos' as opposed to the tonal modes (1991, 13f. and 35). Katrin Losleben likewise refers explicitly to these 'rhythmic linkages' (Losleben 2002, 30f.). When asked about possible influences on her 'mother chord' technique, Pagh-Paan has named late Stravinsky, in particular his Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam for orchestra (1963/64).
As harmonic functions play no part in music such as hers, the composer writes: 'The harmonic field is static on the one hand, and in constant flux on the other. But this already brings the sonic form of these chord sequences very close to a timbral phenomenon' (Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 21). In Nun, the 'mother chord' technique allows the composer to create a harmonic field that gradually transforms itself, and thus to shape the piece in completely timbral terms. Here Pagh-Paan follows on from the Korean musical tradition, in which 'the timbral dimension […] is much more prominent than in Western traditional music' (ibid.). 'The addition of colour is the vital principle of every sounding note. In this sense, a note is not an unbroken unity for us, but rather a living multiplicity' (ibid.). 'Every colouring has a twofold root.' On the one hand, 'in Taoist musical thought, it is strictly material-related' (ibid.), but on the other it is based on 'a strong expressive will' (ibid., 23).
So far we have only discussed the technical aspect of Pagh-Paan's personal aesthetic, which already breaks through significantly in Nun for five female voices and eighteen instrumentalists. But what spiritual and intellectual dimension lies behind the unconventional 'material-related' technique? What 'expressive will' reaches the listener? Pagh-Paan explains in the preface to Nun: 'A lyric poem by the Korean poet Kwang-Kyun Kim (b. 1913), the source of my composition's title, tells of how human sorrow and regret come to rest in everlasting snowfall. I selected the text for my composition from this poem, directly musicalising certain words and phonemes.'
This 'musicalisation' takes place 'via special phonetic procedures for which Pagh-Paan developed her own notation. The singers must are required to perform micro-intervals and use East Asian vocal techniques (e.g. laryngeal vibrato). The intelligibility of the text is not a decisive factor; the aim is rather a complete merging of words and notes to form a continuum of the finest sonic and emotional vibrations' (Bauni/Rathert 2001, 10).
Nun means 'snow', and white is the colour of mourning in Korea; Nun is thus a music of mourning. It consists of two large parts: the first (mm. 1-56) is almost purely instrumental (in m. 31 a sff tam-tam stroke by the third voice ruptures this section's relative calm), and the second (m. 57 to the end at m. 122) features all five singers (a detailed formal plan can be found in Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 28).
It is only with the full forces of the second section that the work's sorrow truly unfolds: we hear the laments of the mourning women, which end with the poem's closing fragments 'meine Trauer' [my sorrow] and 'ruhig' [calm]. In an interview with Gisela Gronemeyer, Pagh-Paan speaks about the content of Nun: 'Sorrow is an inner force – in this piece I call it religious. The women sing, weep and wail; I give them stones and other percussion instruments to hold, conceiving of the hand movements as a form of prayer and an emotional expression. […] It was important to me for the women's voices to be heard. Weeping is an act of mourning. In Korea, not even noblewomen had first names of their own. In male-dominated Confucian society, they always had to weep in secret behind the wall. That's a mourning I engage with and try to overcome through the music' (Pagh-Paan 1987, 43).
White is not only the Korean colour of mourning, but also 'the colour of everyday clothing since time immemorial for the Korean people, who have suffered under the rule of neighbouring countries and had to endure constant oppression in the course of their history' (Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 23). This 'suffering' and 'oppression' are the central theme of the orchestral piece Sori (1979/80), but it also relates to a specific event: Sori is dedicated to the victims of the Gwangju massacre in May 1980, especially the students, who had protested significantly against the suppression of the democratic movement at the time in South Korea.
With its mother chord, a change of theme also changes the music's colouring. While Pagh-Paan thinks of the mother chord for Nun as 'white', that of Sori is 'black'. Black is the colour of lament and resentment, which 'flows through the entire piece and holds it together' (ibid.); Sori – 'serious protest music' (Pagh-Paan 2003, 127). In Korean, the title 'refers to everything that is perceived aurally: noise, screaming, the voice, notes, calls, reverberation, sound' (ibid., 130), as well as utterances belonging – according to the composer – to Korean popular theatre, which she was studying intensively during the composition of Sori. This theatre, performed in public spaces such as marketplaces, 'mirrors the people's resistance against the conservative, Confucian-based hierarchical society through an ironic play of masks' (ibid.), with – at least in the theatre – the simple people triumphing over their oppressors.
In the five-part orchestral piece Sori, several expressive layers 'influence, merge with and are superimposed upon one another' (ibid.). Some of these are based on Korean popular theatre, but here they trace a very specific emotional curve. The first and fundamental layer is the one Pagh-Paan refers to as 'resentment', the silent bottling-up of 'negative emotions' that eventually explode outwards. This resentment 'flows through the entire piece'; technically speaking, this is achieved through constant permutations of the mother chord's intervals (see Ex. 1), which already begin in the first part. The second 'element' (Pagh-Paan) is a 'widely-spread, forceful chord' that 'opposes the music's development' and 'obstructs, destroys and blocks' it (ibid., 130) in its development; it is scattered across all parts of the work as a malignant symbol of subjugation. In Parts II and III the composer introduces two folk music elements in which she sees a potential for resistance, for protest against every form of oppression. The traditional peasant music nong-ak appears in stylised form in Part II: music as an 'invocation of the earth' on the one hand, and as a 'work song' on the other, something to 'provide motivation for everyday agricultural tasks' (ibid., 130). In Part III one hears a free transcription of hyang-du-ga, a form of 'folk funeral music' (ibid., 131) for male voices accompanied by a hand-bell. Pagh-Paan cloaks this primarily in the 'iron' sonority of textures dominated by the brass (trumpets, horns and trombones).
And then, in Part IV, everything rebellious is seemingly wiped away from one moment to the next. An 'aleatory music' begins, continuing for four pages, in which the carefully constructed confusion among all instruments and the instructions to maintain 'the most aggressive, ugly, noisy tone possible' (note in the score) recall the massacre of Gwangju, the screams of the people who were violently killed, including those burned by the soldiers. In Part V, however, everything becomes peaceful again: 'Directly after the great aleatory outburst, the scream, there is a small melodic motif in four instruments; I still wanted to leave a light burning. Some hope has to be preserved – how else could one go on living?' (quoted in Gronemayer 1984, 15). The music concludes cyclically, with the end recalling the work's opening six bars.
Sori is a great dramatic work. It is so infused with the scenic, the theatrical, that one could certainly imagine a choreography for it. The immanent contrasts are severe. Sori takes its place in the line of rather uncommon works in which unambiguous politicisation and radical structure form an inseparable unity; the result is a non-interchangeable individualisation.
With Nun and Sori Pagh-Paan took on larger instrumental forces, in each case exceeding the boundaries of the given form: in Nun she went beyond the conventional framework of chamber music through the integration of five voices, and in Sori the incorporation of folk and aleatory music took the piece outside of the scope of most European orchestral works. The composer fought against the complexity of the large orchestra from early on in her artistic development, and mastered it in an impressive and highly specific fashion. Political engagement is in the foreground in both works, in the sense of a personal statement about the composer's own social tradition – more intimately in Nun, and in Sori with the full outward intensity. The search for a personal political identity is constantly accompanied by the search for an aesthetic one, though the emphasis is different in each individual work. Thus the focus of the works following Nun and Sori – Madi for twelve instrumentalists (1981) and Pyon-Kyong for piano and percussion (1982) – was shifted more to the personal (Madi) or aesthetic (Pyon-Kyong). The subsequent works – Flammenzeichen for solo female voice with percussion (text: Sophie Scholl, 1983), Aa-Ga I for solo cello (1984) and No-Ul for viola, cello and double bass (1984, rev. 1985) – return to an emphasis on political and social concerns.
Madi for twelve instrumentalists (1981): 'The instrumental groups are clearly treated as two blocks in the score. The horn part lies like a central axis between the woodwind and strings' (quoted in Westerkamp/Winterfeldt 1991, 19). The work makes a very dense, compact and homogeneous impression, and is experienced – as paradoxical as it may sound – as a synthesis of movement and stasis at once. This is due primarily to the process of chord rotation triggered by the seven-note mother chord on which the work is based (Ex. 1); this chord changes twelve times merely in the work's first twelve bars. In addition we find a superimposition of two metres in two distinct dynamic layers and, as a further contrast, an ascending chain of pitches and rhythms combined with a descending, darkening chord structure. These technical procedures are combined in the first three sections – the work has four in total – to form a unity that Pagh-Paan attempts to formulate in the title: madi is Korean for 'knot'. 'In the sixteenth century,' writes the composer in the preface to the score, 'the poet and statesman Chung-Chul wrote that the soul of every person contains something tightly bound, something knotted, and that the task of poetry is to untie this knot.' She adds: 'For me personally, composing is an activity that can be equated with tying a madi: untying the knot in one's own heart' (preface to the score).
This touches on another central theme of Pagh-Paan's aesthetics: composing in order to dissolve inner knots and sorrow within the soul; sorrow that has built up: through suffering with problems and fates at home, empathy with victims of injustice, especially women, or in the knowledge of one's own life away from home – composing as active mourning and a longing for inner peace. In Madi, the knot expressed compositionally in the first three sections is only undone in the fourth, in a form of heterophony in all parts. Before that point, 'something almost imperceptibly new' had 'crept into the combining, changing parts (as a seed)' (ibid.), each time indicated by the sound of a percussion instrument. Now, in the fourth section, this seed frees itself, reaches the outside and becomes 'the main element' (ibid.). This freedom also articulates itself in the work's epilogue, where the conductor joins in as a percussionist; the score contains the instruction that the music should no longer be conducted, and that the bar divisions only serve as a structure 'to make correspondences clear'. At the end of the piece, the parts increasingly fade into a total pianissimo: the soul finally seems to have found peace.
The aesthetic task Pagh-Paan posed for herself with Pyon-Kyong for piano and percussion (1982) was especially difficult. She planned to create an artistic connection between authentically Asian instruments – stone chimes made of nephrite, part of the Chinese-Koren tradition – with the most European of all instruments, the piano. The aim of this encounter would be dialogue rather than confrontation, even if the work's preface speaks more modestly of a mere 'correspondence' between 'the Korean understanding of music and that extremely European keyboard instrument, the concert grand.' (The highly informative preface to the score not only describes the collection of stone chimes but, above all, also deals with the 'material-related' sonority of this instrument.)
What gives this task its edge is the fact that 'the bright sound of the stones being struck by a mallet made of horn […] allows the idea of a luminous, finely calibrated, changing sonic shape', while the piano seems rather one-dimensional or even rigid by comparison. The composer solves this problem by attempting 'to create transitions between the different sonic layers of the piano and the percussion'. Hence the piano, 'struck together with the very high crotales, is transformed into the stone sound' of the Asian instrument, and 'the sounds resulting from the preparation of the piano strings, which acts to mute certain registers to different degrees, approach those of bamboo, pumpkin and clay.' The result of all these attempts: the piano in Pyon-Kyong is absorbed into the 'material-related music culture' (preface to the score) of Korea.
Flammenzeichen [Fire Signals] for female voice with small percussion (1983) is based on texts by Sophie Scholl from leaflets distributed by the anti-Nazi resistance group the White Rose, the last letters of Franz Mittendorf and Kurt Huber, as well as Biblical fragments from the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes and the Sermon on the Mount from the New Testament. Behind this title lies a work that is 'alienating' in the best sense. Once again, the point of departure – as already in Pyon-Kyong – is an almost unbridgeable stylistic disparity, this time between a text collage comprising mostly contemporary Western European writings of clear political provenance and a Korean vocal tradition based on the ancient, epic pansori genre for solo voice with accompanying percussion. Links are established between the two levels. First of all a textual one: a still unexhausted verbal potential for resistance in the composer's native Korea is paired with documents of modern European anti-fascist resistance – in this way, the composer invokes a world-wide opposition to omnipotent dictatorships. A second, multi-faceted connection is created by musical means. The pansori tradition, which is both recitation and expressive song at once, is remoulded into the vocal music of the European avant-garde – specifically Schönberg's Sprechgesang and Webern's extreme, yet still vocally suitable 'expressive leaps' (with intervals of sevenths and ninths, tritones etc.) – but retains its traditional particularities: articulations between whispering and screaming, throat and diaphragm vibrato, glissando, etc. Something as 'foreign' as the snare drum, foreign because it epitomises the sound of military music, both in Europe and Korea from the nineteenth century onwards, is here – that is, through its integration into the pansori context – 'inverted to form a symbol of resistance' (preface to the score of Flammenzeichen). Analogously, something that is 'foreign' to music, for example a metal chain, is given new connotation as a reminder of the prison cells of those sentenced to death. Because these mutually foreign, seemingly irreconcilable modes of expression are brought into stark compositional confrontation, their differences crumble in a passionately flickering appeal to form a unified resistance front.
Aa-Ga I for solo cello (1984): the syllables aa and ga 'refer to two Chinese ideograms that cannot be literally translated. One could paraphrase their meaning as "tribute in song". […] I want to dedicate this music to those who sacrificed their lives for the truth they saw as inescapable.' The work's 'flow' comes, the composer writes in the preface to the score, 'directly from a short contemporary Korean poem. […] It speaks of the radiant transparency of sunrise, the indissoluble connectedness of the universe, and profound pain in the darknesses of the night.' The 'metaphorical ideas' of the poem are transferred to the music in a sequence of 'progressive changes' applied to two contrasting rhythmic characters, and ultimately variations that attempt 'to reveal the immanent contrasts processually' (ibid.). The one figure seems to have a very fast, tense rhythm, while the other is calm; they are tightly interwoven at the start, though this initial compaction is increasingly lost or dissolved in the course of the piece, in the variations of this double rhythmic figure at the start of the three parts. A 'third element' of a 'lightening' character enables 'more and more transparency' (ibid.), more brightness, to come through at the end. Hence the three parts of the work trace a path: the first speaks of desperation through its compositional compaction and ostinato gestures, but eases up in its second half; the second part seems, as a whole, more fragmented and thus freer, but is shaken by the highest note of the piece, E6 (as a double stop with C2), which appears like a scream; a lyrical insert follows this, marked espressione, a silent lament and simultaneously a breather; and the last part leads into a field of pizzicato figures, full of silences, that symbolise something like 'morning dew', and whose sound 'is highly reminiscent of Korean plucked instruments (kayagŭm)' (Westerkamp/Winterfeldt 1991, 23).
No-Ul for viola, cello and double bass (1984, rev. 1985) stands in a line with works such as the orchestral piece Sori or Aa-Ga I for solo cello, which express both accusation and protest against political injustice in the composer's native country and also sadness and despair at the direct and indirect victims of this injustice. Hence the title No-Ul, 'sunset', far from conveying a peaceful nature scene, refers to a poem by Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua): 'Red colour sinks into the earth like the blood of generations.'
In No-Ul, Pagh-Paan creates a torn, or rather torn-open overall structure that seems equally torn in the textures of the individual sections, thus mirroring the composition's aforementioned autobiographical aspects. To put it even more clearly: the fragmented form is the result of a 'main motif' (in the European sense) obsessively running against an invisible wall of pain – though one should speak of gesture rather than motif, as this corresponds more to the Asian provenance of this music. It is a gesture of revolt, an outcry, triggered by an upward leap of a major seventh. The individual sections, which last between 70 and 90 seconds, mostly open with this gesture, either in exact repetition or with ever-new variations (abbreviations, extensions, mirrors) that recall the organic developmental techniques of Western music. The choice of this repetitive form, the dark sonority of the instrumentation and the intensity of the gestures within the individual sections – all this strikes the listener as the overwhelming, passionate expression of an artist who is herself torn between fronts. On many occasions, more introverted sounds are inserted into the ostinato of these outbursts; one moment that etches itself indelibly on the memory represents the outburst of the 'theme', this time leading into silence, in the middle of the piece (from m. 66). After a long rest there follows – like a respiratory arrest – a ppp chord in which the whole energy of the mode previously developed 'metamorphically' is compacted vertically, as if stuck. It is a frozen sound, yet simultaneously alive – alive because it is responding to silence: the first human sound after the nothingness (Ex. 2).
In No-Ul, the contrasts between 'European' and 'Asian' music violently collide, rather than being smoothed out and integrated as in most 'world music' efforts in recent history. On the one hand there was the choice of a contemporary European chamber music tradition, specifically the trio basso genre, which had become particularly significant in the post-1970 avant-garde and could no longer return, either structurally or expressively, to a time before the Lyric Suite (1926) by Alban Berg; and on the other hand an almost ritually block-like music that could only come about in an Asian landscape, and is indebted less to a folk tradition than to an advanced religious one, as expressed in traditional Korean court music. Mediation between the two extremes is carried out by the composer, i.e. the psyche of an individual, who – drawing on the experience of great European art music – turns the ritual repetition of the traditional model into an individualised language infused with her 'own articulation'.
It should be clear from our sparse analytical findings that in Pagh-Paan's music, something succeeds has been achieved quite rarely in music history: an internationality of musical expression that can only be termed universal. An instrumental genre of the European avant-garde mingles with the improvisatory approach of Asian folk music, coupled with the formal blocks of Asian ceremonial court music, structurally captured in varied repetitions. These contrasting threads are held together by the artist's compositional will: led by this will, they meet in the flow of their gestural play of lines, the oscillations of their sounding points.
Hin-Nun [White Snow] for six female voices with small percussion instruments (text: Kwang-Kyun Kim, 1985) draws musically on Nun for five singers and eighteen instrumentalists (1978/79), but the development of these ideas in Hin-Nun points to something else, to a variant of the aesthetic intention of Nun. By essentially dispensing with instrumentalists and concentrating on the voices of six women (who accompany themselves with their percussion instruments), the piece shows a clear change of perspective from the outside to the inside: firstly to the composer's own problem, her foreignness and the resultant sorrow, but at the same time also the more general problem: laments of women in contemporary society (from all over the world, not only Korea), laments about inequality, disadvantage and loneliness. She works with individual words and phonemes, the sounds circle tonal centres, and new internal groups keep forming. Towards the middle of the piece the gestures become more intense, expressive and virtuosic, before collapsing at the end. Sorrow 'comes to rest in everlasting snowfall' (preface to the score).
Nim for large orchestra (1986/87), Pagh-Paan's second orchestral work, is completely different from Sori in its conception. While Sori is more extroverted, with its folk music-inspired inserts and the character of a staged event, an almost theatrical quality, Nim tends further inwards, becoming a dense, compact music of mourning divested of all externality: a music of insistent, unremitting intensity. The piece is based on a poem by the Korean poet Mun Byung-Lan entitled 'Love Poem to the Earth' – an enigmatic title whose meaning only becomes clear upon reflection. On the surface, the author articulates words of mourning clearly dealing with society; but the mourning he develops poetically is based on love for the abused earth. The intensity of the poem is matched by that of the music, which builds on an overall sonority that Pagh-Paan describes as 'black and powerful'. The tripartite structure results from extended rests and a thinning-out of orchestral textures.
As the music's fabric and structure have already been described insightfully (Westerkamp/Winterfeldt 1991, 27-29), we shall only focus on the most notable characteristics here. One of these is the ascending fourth in the trumpet that opens the piece and which ultimately, with hindsight, transpires as one of the work's main motifs, an element that points to Confucian temple music. This is contrasted by a completely different two-bar motif, with analogous rhythms in the woodwind and second trumpet, that is also continued fragmentarily in other instruments. A significant characteristic is the use of air sounds in the brass during the last third of the first part, to which the woodwind and trumpet respond with equally conspicuous figures that ascend like rockets. In the second part we encounter a different mood. It is introduced by a four-bar 'lyrical theme' (Westerkamp/Winterfeldt 1991, 28) in the strings, which is then accompanied by the flutes and oboes and opens up into nature-like sonorities. The third part leads once more into dark, intensely active worlds of expression, with references to the first part in particular, but on the whole – especially towards the end – it is dominated even more strongly by the scream, by pain. This extreme tension only subsides gradually in the final section, marked Epilog, with recollections of the 'lyrical theme' from the second part. Has some peace been found?
The composition Hwang-To [Yellow Earth] for mixed choir and nine instrumentalists (1988/89) is based on three poems by Kim Chi-Ha (b. 1941), who spent a long time in prison as a member of the political opposition. In these poems, the image of the 'yellow earth' becomes a symbol of the Korean people's history of suffering. The first poem, 'The Plain', thematises the destruction of the earth, its 'bursting, gradually, piece by piece'. The second poem, 'The Way to Seoul', tells of a man who exchanges his country estate for the hope of a better life in the big city willingly, but also because his social situation forces him to do so; in doing so, he 'sells himself'. The third poem, 'One Rainy Night', depicts his cruel disillusionment after fleeing his land: the loss of his home, the impossibility of return, and the 'petrifaction' of the soul.
Musically, the first two settings interlock, while the third is separated from the second by a rest of six to eight seconds. While the second is sung only in Korean, the outer poems are set in a mixture of Korean and German; the phonemes of two different languages, and thus different timbral worlds, are blended – a further attempt to create an encounter between the two cultures. In addition, vocal and instrumental also mix; what was already used as a concept in Nun is changed, in so far as Pagh-Paan now transfers vocality to the choral context for the first time.
The piece begins, like Nim for large orchestra (1986/87), with an ascending fourth; there is unrest from the start, an insistent rumbling that stands for resistance to coercion. The choral writing grips the listener through its passion, while the instruments are woven more or less soloistically into the overall web of voices, with the percussion inexorably marking the passing of time. The highly individual profile of Hwang-To justifies placing this composition alongside so paradigmatic a work of political vocal music as Luigi Nono's Il cano sospeso for soloists, choir and orchestra (text: farewell letters by resistance fighters condemned to death, 1955/56).
Pagh-Paan set the third poem by Kim Chi-Ha once more, this time purely in Korean, in Hwang-To II for five singers (1989/92), which she dedicated to Isang Yun on his 75th birthday in 1992. Compared to the timbrally and dynamically highly differentiated writing of the original version, the second, which also contains melodic/motivic changes, makes a more compacted, darker impression. It scarcely allows for any hope.
Nim (1986/87) and Hwang-To conclude a phase in which Pagh-Paan was substantially concerned with a political and aesthetic engagement with her native country, at the same time combining this with an absorption of the idioms of the European avant-garde. With the title Nim [Love], she anticipates a central theme of the work phase beginning with the first Ta-Ryong pieces (from 1987/88) and lasting a good ten years (until 1999). Io for nine instrumentalists (1999/2000) would then mark the start of another new phase. Between 1987/88 and 1999, Pagh-Paan developed a first and long series of 'facets of the own', i.e. personal, existential (rooted in Taoism, for example) and intellectual, philosophical themes such as love, heart, humility, life, water, wish, consciousness and others, elaborated in equally specific approaches to musical texture, form, sound and expression. By the end of the 1980s, Pagh-Paan had found her own path, her own style; she would go on to develop it as manifoldly as possible.
The Ta-Ryong series, which opens the phase of Pagh-Paan's work that extended from 1987/88 to 1999, is best described by the composer herself: 'The music of our farmers has always been played at the market, the village centre. Ta-Ryong is one of the most general rhythmic principles of this music. What we call ta-ryong is the repetition of a basic rhythm in returning four- or six-beat metres. The fascination of ta-ryong, however, lies precisely in the virtually unlimited potential for variation in this constant foundation, especially in the peasant music. I wrote a series of compositions with the title Ta-ryong. I realise that these pieces constitute a differentiated music for the concert hall; but, in this very different context, I attempt to preserve some of that liveliness and power which characterises our old tradition, and which have repeatedly made it a bastion of resistance in the course of history.' 'My music – which is based on Korean musical sensibilities, but attempts to reflect on the development of European art music as alertly as possible – is concerned with the problem of repetition in its relation to searching and finding ever new, and if possible fresh changes' (preface to Ta-Ryong VI).
Max Nyffeler writes about the music of the Ta-Ryong pieces: 'It builds on the rhythmic principle of repetition referred to by the title, a term from folk music. But the composer also sees something fatalistic in it – a metaphor for the fateful continuance of social conditions that keep a people trapped in a lack of political self-determination. In the percussion-heavy Ta-Ryong pieces, the play of circular structures often escalates into a sonic ritual, which points to the music's Korean origins' (Nyffeler 2001).
Ta-Ryong VI for six instrumentalists (1988/98) is essentially based on the larger-scale composition Ta-Ryong II for sixteen instrumentalists (1987/88). (Ta-Ryong I has so far remained unpublished.) In both scores, the extensive percussion part acts as the foremost sonic axis: in Ta-Ryong II, two percussionists are surrounded by woodwind and brass players on the one hand and strings on the other; in Ta-Ryong VI, the solo percussion part is flanked by flute and clarinet on one side and a string trio on the other. The percussion part shows the inherent principle of repetition in the Ta-Ryong pieces quite clearly, though it is always tied to the principle of melodic-rhythmic variation.
Both pieces have tripartite forms, with different proportions in each. The respective first parts are of comparable length (Ta-Ryong II: mm. 1-60, Ta-Ryong VI: mm. 1-67). Part II of Ta-Ryong VI is relatively short (mm. 68-123), while in Ta-Ryong II it is relatively extended, partly through the inclusion of two intermediate sections (mm. 70-84 and 122-146) that were omitted in the later, shorter version. Aside from this, the second parts of the two works are also roughly similar in length. A question of structural interpretation is raised by the section of Ta-Ryong II that begins in bar 159 (an ascending fourth) and ends in bar 181; it corresponds (partly because it also opens with a leap of a fourth) to a section in Ta-Ryong VI that is clearly separate from the preceding Part II, and thus appears as an epilogue (mm. 124-146 in Ta-Ryong VI). If one applies the term 'epilogue', however, one is faced with the question of what to call the final section of Ta-Ryong II (mm. 182-250), which is absent from the later version: Epilogue II or an autonomous Part III?
In conversation, Pagh-Paan has referred to the music of both these early Ta-Ryong pieces as 'cheerful'. The virtuosically escalating sections (for example at the end of Part I in both pieces) are certainly thrilling; as impulses for life, they irresistibly draw the listener in. They are surrounded by calmer, sometimes quiet and poetic sections. This kind of music also opens the two large parts of the form: in Ta-Ryong VI, the open fourths in bars 15-17 momentarily hint at a tonal sphere before gradually giving way to the folk musical rhythmic gestures, which become overpowering towards the end – as in the analogous passage in Ta-Ryong II. The escalations in Part II of both works reach a similar climax in the percussion solo, which emerges from the ensemble roughly in the middle. The epilogue of Ta-Ryong VI grows into a texturally complex, dynamically expressive climax and closes on a restrained note, with a bar of composed rests followed by total silence. By comparison, Part III of Ta-Ryong II sees a reappearance of the brilliant, albeit varied intensification from the end of Part I, thus rounding off the work in a cyclical fashion.
Two further Ta-Ryong pieces followed: Tsi-Shin/Ta-Ryong III for two percussionists (1991) and Ta-Ryong IV (Die Kehrseite der Postmoderne) [The Other Side of Postmodernism] for solo percussion (1991). 'In Tsi-Shin/Ta-Ryong III,' writes the composer, 'I draw on the traditions of peasant music (nong-ak) that I know from my childhood. Essentially, this is a surviving, ancient shamanistic ritual: every January, small groups of four or five musicians move from house to house through the villages to request blessings for their houses and families through the ritual of tsi-shin-pal-gi. It is an invocation of the earth spirit (tsi-shin) by stamping (pal-gi) on the ground. This ritual music is meant to please and calm him so that he will make all life in the household and on the farm prosper' (Pagh-Paan 1991, 6).
The social background of this Ta-Ryong composition described above is undoubtedly captured within the music, having found a spiritual, stylised level of expression in it. Pagh-Paan transformed the folk musical approach into a modern concert score, a contribution to the avant-garde percussion repertoire that is as complex as it is varied. Tsi-Shin / Ta-Ryong III for two percussionists (1991) is divided into several clearly separated sections (the CD recording from 1991 suggests seven parts), which present different timbral facets of this selection of instruments with complex rhythmic dialogues between the duo partners throughout. The piece's penultimate structure recalls the folk music background especially clearly: here the two players, as the score describes it, 'gradually leave their previous position with their instruments and walk around the stage playing (occasionally stamping quietly and dancing ad libitum)'. They do this with a degree of improvisation, 'calling to mind' certain rhythmic figures from the piece, but then 'returning to their earlier position'. The final structure makes an archaic impression, especially with its gong strokes (E3-Eb3, three times), like a ritual act, before the music ends with two cracks of the bak, the Korean whip.
The composer likewise refers to archaich-rhythmic elements from Korean folk music in the solo percussion piece Ta-Ryong IV (Die Kehrseite der Postmoderne) (1991), once again invoking shamanistic rituals. But the result is a work of autonomous art music, a virtuosic solo that makes considerable technical demands and employs an exciting variety of timbres. The repetition of the three-part work's second part reinforces the repetition-based concept of the Ta-Ryong pieces as a whole.
With the subtitle Die Kehrseite der Postmoderne, Pagh-Paan takes a clear position in an aesthetic discussion that was still in full swing when the piece was written. Like many other artists and philosophers, she interprets 'postmodernism' as the neo-colonialist attitude of a 'well-fed minority', an eclecticist looting of modernity's achievements and the naïve musician's belief that 'everything the world and history have produced is available to them to use however they like' (preface to Ta-Ryong IV). Such behaviour, 'without respect for cultural identities', leads 'firstly to the view that "anything goes", and secondly to a new, comprehensive claim to cultural power: "We take it over"' (ibid.). The other side of such exploitative behaviour is suffering, need and the hunger in the Third World. With this in mind, the composer placed a quotation from a poem by Kim Chi-Ha at the end of the score: 'Bread is heaven'. In order to lend compositional emphasis to her view, she also inserted a number of instructions for discreet, or even silent actions for the players to perform – for example in bar 47, where a handful of peas are to be moved about with the fingers inside a bongo (peas as food for the hungry), and even more explicitly in bar 49: 'Hold the bongo like a cooking pot'.
With Ty-Ryong IV, Pagh-Paan fought a practice of 'world music' that unscrupulously exploited the forms and content of past European and especially non-European music. The identification of the term 'postmodernism' with such a tendency, however, is partly based on misunderstandings. When the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard introduced the term into aesthetic discussion during the last quarter of the twentieth century, triggering vehement protest from Jürgen Habermas to which he in turn responded in order to clarify his position, his aim was not to advocate artistic eclecticism. Rather, he sought primarily to reveal aporias or misdirections in the modernist concept: tendencies towards instrumental reason in technology and armament, comprehensive establishment of bureaucracy, the globalisation of culture, etc. His term 'postmodernism' referred to something that would constitute a reaction to these misdirections. While his first attempt to find a way out, his proposition of an 'unrepresentability' in the arts, was still quite abstract, his call in 1986 for a rélecture and réécriture, a rereading and rewriting of modernism, pointed very clearly in a direction that was not exploitative, but rather constructive and reconstructive: Lyotard was now concerned with the 'renewal' and 'reinstatement' of the freedoms of modernism in a concept of 'difference' that strives for the clarification of differences, and thus the value of the individual and of minorities, the coexistence of heterogeneous aspects and dialogue with the other – a concept, then, that precisely opposes power monopolies and exposes hidden or open ideologies in modernism. Because of this understanding of 'postmodernism', Lyotard omitted the 'post-' prefix in later works to avoid any further misunderstandings. He called for a self-reflexive and dialogic modernism in which the music and self-identity of a critical and committed composer like Pagh-Paan would ultimately also have their place, a place that fills the embattled or abused concept of modernity with new, constructive meaning using the aforementioned qualities of 'difference'.
With Ta-Ryong V for two clarinets and shō (or accordion) ad lib. (1995), Pagh-Paan returned to the Ta-Ryong themes four years after the last work in the cycle. The folk musical character previously native to these pieces is almost absent here – or retained beneath the surface in stylised hints. What is not stylised, however, is the piece's expression, which explores a rich palette of nuances between passionate eruptions (at the start) and falling silent in morendo fashion (at the end). As in Mein Herz for mezzo-soprano and baritone with percussion (text: poems by H. C. Artmann and Chung-Chul, 1991), the two voices (instrumental ones in this case) are interwoven in a heterophonic counterpoint, underlaid with a layer of mostly sustained notes in the shō that provides a foundation for the dialogue between the two clarinets (in B flat and A). The whole piece has the character of an elegiac meditation – a precious jewel in Pagh-Paan's universe of works.
ma-am for solo alto voice with claves (text: poem by Chung-Chul, 1990) is the original version of the second part of Ma-Um for mezzo-soprano and twelve instrumentalists (1990, rev. 1991). Ma-Um, with a three-part structure, is based on poems by Angelus Silesius (from Der Cherubinische Staatsmann), Chung-Chul (Korean poem and statesman, sixteenth century) and Han-Shan (Chinese monk, seventh century). The music fascinates with its timbral architecture, which involves five groups of sounds. The percussion part once again serves as an axis for sonic events. It is joined by a trio of alto flute, cor anglais and viola, as well as a further trio of oboe, clarinet and bassoon. The voice is enclosed by the violin and double bass, while a fourth group consists of cello, bass/contrabass clarinet and harp.
From bar 1 to the middle of bar 10 an extremely subtly differentiated, almost impressionistic tableau of 'dark' sounds unfolds, and the question of how to interpret it immediately arises. Are we hearing this active, murmuring texture in an overly European fashion? Is 'dark' the same as 'black', and 'black' the same as 'gloomy'? If one reads the poems (or rather the fragments selected by the composer), one finds references to heaven: 'Heaven is within you' (Silesius), 'in the boundless depths of heaven' and 'endlessly deep heaven' (Chung-Chul), 'stars […] glittering in deep night' and 'the moon […] suspended in the night-black sky' (Han-Shan). The more of these fragments one reads, the more one becomes aware of love poems, love poems in the widest sense (the Silesius text represents love of God and that by Han-Shan describes the love of nature; only the text by Chung-Chul speaks of the love of the 'lover'). Does the work's double dedication – 'In memoriam Luigi Nono' and 'For his wife Nuria' – not also point to an amorous context? Gradually the original sense of something 'dark' changes in the perception into something 'deep' that is not 'gloomy', but rather 'darkly filled with love'. The text on love of God by Angelus Silesius, which is used in the first part of Ma-Um, recalls the mystical text from Paul's epistle to the Romans: 'Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!' (Romans 11:33)
With this opening, Pagh-Paan created a remarkable, cautiously active sonic image evoking the 'depth' of love, staking out the space in which the double homage to Luigi and Nuria Nono will unfold; one could almost call it the overture to that unfolding. Higher timbres are introduced from the middle of bar 10; only the voice closes the first part with its low F. The following two parts feature occasional passionate eruptions in the voice, but the pervading climate is one that Peter Niklas Wilson interprets as 'a unity of tranquility, selflessness and love' (Wilson 1992, 93).
Mein Herz for mezzo-soprano and baritone with percussion (text: poems by H. C. Artmann and Chung-Chul, 1991) is a three-part duet whose intensity is more delicate than overt. What makes it intense is that the two vocal parts are constantly intertwined, a result of the heterophonic counterpoint. The text is framed by the Korean phrase ne ma-um [my heart], while the music is framed by the guiro motif played by the baritone at the beginning and the end of the composition. The longer first part is based on two lines in German from the Artmann poem 'mein herz'; the two shorter parts that follow use a Korean poem by Chung-Chul. The free rhythmic counterpoint pushes the music towards an inner dialogue in which the listener is lost into a protective space of the heart that fends off everything external and ensures survival. 'In my music, Mein Herz is a metaphor for the soul that invokes what survives in the cycle of birth, love, sorrow and death' (preface to Sowon… borira, 1998).
Aside from a few percussion instruments of archaic origin, the instruments employed in U-Mul [The Well] for seven players (1991/92) are those of a chamber ensemble as found quite often in the music of the European avant-garde: a string trio extended downwards by the double bass, clarinet and alto flute (used quite rarely, with a dark, velvety timbre), and finally a representative selection of instruments from the percussion arsenal. The 'archaic' objects are ones that come from functional contexts, but are here used as musical instruments: first of all a thick iron coil (struck with a metal rod), whose sfff sounds open the piece in an unexpectedly 'shocking' fashion, and then a wooden beam (struck with a wooden hammer or round wooden beater) that is given a solo precisely in the middle of the piece. Other sounds close to this nature-like realm – one of the work's main dimensions – include the rain stick, which appears in a directly symbolic function during an episode at the end, and the additional percussion instruments used by other players: suspended bundles of bamboo tubes, finer bamboo chimes, and wind chimes with metal rods. The rest of the instruments played by the percussionist (large guiro, large frame drum, sleigh bells, maracas, Thai gong and large tam-tam) belong to the canon of contemporary percussion instruments; of these, the Thai gong was introduced latest into Western concert music.
The internal direction of the ensemble is in the hands of the percussionist. As in the Korean folk music to which Pagh-Paan refers time and again, he plays the non-hierarchic role of a metric co-ordinator and impulse-giver. He is also responsible, however, for creating transitions and thus determining formal divisions, though these are scarcely perceived as interrupting the flow of the music.
'European' (and Europeanised) instruments on the one hand, 'Korean' music-making on the other: this opposition already expresses an attempt to bridge the gap between East and West, between 'the own and the foreign', that is free of any usurpatory approach. Pagh-Paan uses a Western ensemble but mixes it with Asian and 'archaic' elements, then places this combination in the context of a contemporary performance practice and finally confronts the whole with a socially de-hierarchised, democratic mode of music-making. This is the decisive argument against the colonialist attitudes of some Western composers. Assimilation, yes – but not at the price of absorption, rather in the sense of questioning the roots and aesthetic demonstration of possible, i.e. authentically 'feasible' interaction and re-development.
At the end, after the piece's final sounds, the ending transpires as its true point of departure: the gong sound five bars from the end (senza misura), passed on to the tam-tam, in which it disappears and resonates – the same mediating unit is repeated in the antepenultimate bar –, emphatically releases the note F, which appeared in double form only three bars previously, as a violin harmonic and as the low F2 in the cello. Now it remains until the end of the work, sounding as a double harmonic (in the violin and viola) on F5 (sounding at F7) after the cello's sustaining of F2 from the penultimate to the final bar (Ex. 3).
This ending must be heard as an arrival at a state of repose that had been searched for throughout the piece – carefully and gently, and in the middle more agitatedly. Viewed from the end, the pieces reveals itself as a path into the 'depth of the well' as described by Meister Eckhart and Heinrich Seuse: into the bottomless depths of the soul. This is mirrored almost naturalistically in the double bass's descent to the lowest notes of its bottom two strings, B0 and E1 (tuned down to Eb1), remaining on B0 in the last bar. The final chord captures a sonic extreme: two tritone chords, with an immense, almost inaudible space between the outer pitches, the low B0 and the double octave harmonic on F5, sounding at F7, and a 'closer' inner space between the Bb4 in the alto flute and the E5 in the cello (likewise the result of a double octave harmonic), after the fading of the clarinet's E5 directly before the final chord. A 'utopian' chord – a 'concretely utopian' one in Bloch's sense.
U-Mul represents the process of interpenetration between the 'strictly material-related' thought of Taoism (Pagh-Paan 1983/84, 43) and the ontological transformation of New Music towards sonic exploration and timbral shaping. Wilson notes that on many occasions, the playing techniques found in European New Music 'transpire as the rediscovery of timbral potential that was carefully "de-cultivated" in the history of Western instrumental and vocal music, while other musical cultures, such as that of Korea, explored their expressive nuances' (Wilson 1994, 10). Furthermore, the subtle tone alchemy of this music reveals a spiritual principle, the concept of 'a balancing of opposites not through contrast, but rather through constant flux, a systematically organic approach to sound, a seamless changing between sonic states of matter' (ibid.). Articulation then means the life of the sounds; this life does not stay within the flickering of a sounding range of colours, however, but is set in flowing motion by subcutaneous, often imperceptible rhythmic impulses. The heterophony of broken and interlocking melodic lines – between the alto flute in the aforementioned second section using the wooden beam, for example, and later on between the alto flute and violin/viola – evokes plant-like embellishments, a vegetative, naturally organic process of self-unfolding. And the 'chords' in the fabric of this development are not precisely determined and structurally closed concentrates, but rather – through constant microtonal shadings, vibrati, tremoli and glissando fluctuations – floating sounds, delicate and brittle compressions of the linear flow.
The gong and tam-tam episode at the end of the piece is the key to the whole. It is prepared by the rain stick episode – an image of water, the sonic image of a gentle flowing of water; very simple, even a little naïve. One is inclined to compare this image with that drawn by Saint-Exupéry's little prince when he speaks of the surging of the wheat fields, in which he would always remain present. The function of this image is only revealed with the appearance of the gong and tam-tam – the image of passing on a sound, the gesture of communicating and sharing. The well: a place of encounter and 'connection' (I Ching); its water is shared and passed on. U-Mul must be understood as a piece about sharing.
But everything preceding the two episodes, from the start of the piece, is also leading towards the final gesture. The music proceeds through a constant exchange of its elements between the instruments, a taking up and passing on, an anticipating and branching out. The entire piece appears as an organic, vegetative-herbaceous process of mediation in which there is no hierarchical asymmetry, only individualised functions of distribution. 'Meister Eckhart writes that the soul of every human being is very deep, as deep as a bottomless well. – I concentrated both ideas in a single work: one the one hand the necessity of sharing, and on the other hand the necessity of living "in depth"' (Pagh-Paan 1989, 4).
The path taken in U-Mul is not a (typically Western) directed one, but rather a path of feeling one's way and searching; at some point one stands still, suddenly realising that one is already in the midst of the knowledge one has been seeking. The measuring of the distance covered, the look back at it, transpires as a journey into 'depth' – one holds onto it for a moment in which one sounds out the infinite space between earth (the lowest double bass notes) and heaven (ethereal harmonics in the violin and viola). At the end, the horizontal and vertical dimensions come together: the path has opened up a view into the depths, the depth of the soul. There can be no difference between collective communication and individual immersion.
Pagh-Paan was not simply mixing things together when she attempted, with her artistic means – which she had not least, and perhaps most formatively, acquired in a foreign setting –, 'to probe the history of [her] own country' (Pagh-Paan 1992). She had to make the foreign her own to become able to see 'the mirror of a general world situation' (ibid.) in her lost own history. Her reliance on the archaic image of the well in U-Mul is less a criticism of the factual destruction of this once-real 'place of encounter' in the rural structures of her home country than a criticism of those who, all over the world, have forgotten or suppressed not only this formerly real sphere, but also its indispensable symbolism. She presumably discovered that this form of appropriation of the own is the most difficult. The piece calls for a (democratic) communication that no longer exists. Hence the underlying tone of lament that constantly accompanies the flow of this music, despite all its non-nostalgic, hopeful 'power of memory' (Wilson 1994).
Rast in einem alten Kloster [Rest in an Old Monastery] for bass flute (1992/93) is a homage to John Cage, who died in 1992. The title refers to an ancient Chinese poem by Su Dung-Po (1036-1101). The music's substance cannot be described more poetically than the composer herself does in the preface to the score: 'Sonority flowing in a state of calm, touching the last depths of our existence, can develop on the bass flute in long breaths. In its colourfully varied musical shapes, this instrument carries the sense of pitch centre ever further. The last breaths lead homewards.' Tempo libero, an improvisationally flowing character, an interplay of pitched and unpitched sounds, few notes, brief outbursts, perhaps irritations, then oneness with nature again, breathing in silence – the piece shares these characteristics with the composer to whom it pays tribute. There is no more affectionate way to approach the true essence of a legacy.
Bidan-Sil [Silk Thread] for solo oboe and nine instruments (1992/93): 'The music of Bidan-Sil has certain connections to the Koreans' earliest "own" music, which is based in the shamanic tradition. […] Musicians played this music, known as sinawi, which is for the most part freely improvised and extremely tightly woven, for their own pleasure. The individual threads of the different instruments, all soloists, weave the silk thread of a very dense heterophony whose dissonances are what genuinely evoke the music's beauty' (preface to the score). With this characterisation of sinawi music, Pagh-Paan indirectly hints at her own musical procedures in Bidan-Sil: the individual instruments, likewise all soloists and this 'single threads', 'weave the silk thread of a very dense hterephony', with the solo oboe standing out from the ensemble in the role of a primus inter pares, while the other wind instruments form 'heterophonic pairs' (ibid.) with the strings. In the sound of the solo oboe, the timbre of the piri (Korean oboe) merges with that of the 'silky' haegŭm, a two-stringed spike fiddle. It produces an exceedingly fine – 'silky' in the truest sense – fabric of notes, assembled around central pitches. A great, lyrical, almost aria-like music repeatedly flowers and then withdraws, breathing; ever new fields of iridescent sounds, detailed in their colours and accentuation, with glissandi, trills and harmonics, follow on from and interlock with one another. One of the most intense of these is heard directly at the start: in bars 14-30, after playing the major second F6-G6 three times, the solo oboe insists almost obsessively on its high Bb6. A further island of intensity is the oboe solo from bar 135, which begins once again around Bb6, then, rising to dizzying heights in duets, especially with the violin – a music of shimmering brightness and airiness.
Hang-Sang I for alto flute, guitar and frame drum (1993): Pagh-Paan associates the Korean word hang-sang, 'constancy', with the Chinese ideogram hong, meaning 'constantly returning'. In the preface to the score she asks: 'But what is recurrence for our sense of time?' Quoting Gottfried Keller, she gives a Taoist answer: 'Time does not pass; it stands still, and we move along through it.'
In Hang-Sang I we hear a music in which time seems to stand still; we, the listeners, pass though this stasis, experiencing in the countless musical repetitions (and variations) in the piece 'that what has always been there keeps presenting itself anew'. What we hear are the 'brushstrokes' of a musical ink painting that stands out from the 'white decisions' on the paper, the spaces of 'flying emptiness' (ibid.). Hang-Sang I is a philosophical meditation on the dialectic of sound and silence, and on that of progressive and static time.
Tsi-Shin-Kut [Earth Spirit Ritual] for four percussionists and electronics (1993/94) is the composer's only work so far to include electronic sounds, as well as the only one to feature four percussionists. 'I already conceived this piece in 1992, but composed it between 1993 and 1994; I spent four or five months working in the studio [of the WDR in Cologne], with intense concentration from morning until evening' (Pagh-Paan 2003, 120). As well as using the studio's current MIDI equipment, Pagh-Paan also incorporated older devices meanwhile out of fashion – partly to counteract the mentality of our 'disposable society' (for further details see ibid., 120-124). Tsi-Shin-Kut is not loud or extravagant, but rather a sensitive, restrained and yet extremely varied attempt to create a communication between different worlds: on the one hand a sequence of live percussion sounds, and on the other hand the carefully sampled sounds of flutes and percussion. The tape part 'also includes very direct, unprocessed instrumental sounds' (Pagh-Paan 2003, 121), and in one passage it features an excerpt – played very quietly, da lontano – from the pansori 'Sim Tjong Ga', namely the lament of the father, Sim. 'This part is sung by a woman, however, as all roles in pansori are played by a single [male or female] singer, regardless of gender' (Kang 2007, 70).
This interlude is a unique moment of musique concrète in Pagh-Paan's œuvre; at the same time, it makes it clear that one of the concerns in Tsi-Shin-Kut is once again the dialogue between strange cultures. This is also expressed by several stylised 'interjections' in the live percussion that recall the peasant music nong-ak, while the percussion parts as a whole are more representative of rhythmically complex avant-garde technique. A cross between the two is presented in the work's third and final part, which uses controlled improvisation: starting from fixed material (including a nong-ak pericope and ecstatic shamanistic outbursts, as well as a whistle intermezzo that calms the music again), it then includes the instruction to choose dynamics and tempo freely 'from the memory of the start of the piece' (score, p. 12). The final action is an extremely symbolic one: the second and third percussionists approach each other and strike two temple blocks together, first without, then with subsequent resonance – strangers meet and look each other in the eye; an earth spirit ritual as a magical invocation of closeness among distant persons, as a ceremony of encounter.
One group of works is connected to ma-am for solo alto voice with claves (text: Chung-Chul, 1990). The metaphor ne ma-um, 'my heart', appears in Sowon/Wunsch for mezzo-soprano and ten instrumentalists (texts: Rose Ausländer/Anna Akhmatova/H. C. Artmann, 1995/96), Noch… for soprano and viola (text: Rose Ausländer, 1996) and Sowon… borira for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (texts: Anna Akhmatova/Rose Ausländer/Louise Labé, 1998). The accordion solo Ne Ma-Um (1996, rev. 1998) bears the same name in Korean as the vocal duet Mein Herz (texts: H. C. Artmann, Chung-Chul, 1991), and features a number of quotations from the latter. Sowon/Wunsch for mezzo-soprano and ensemble and Sowon… borira for mezzo-soprano and orchestra are closely connected, textually and musically – textually through the poems by Rose Ausländer and Anna Akhmatova set in both works, and musically in that Sowon… borira contains the entire music of Sowon/Wunsch. In the orchestral work, however, as well as the larger forces, the music is considerably expanded, not only by a new introduction, but most of all through the concluding setting of a further poem by Akhmatova, as well as 'Sonnet VIII' in Old French by Louise Labé (c. 1524-1566). The same sonnet and setting were later used as the foundation for Louise Labé for mezzo-soprano, oboe d'amore, clarinet in A, violin and percussion (1998/2002), albeit treated more sparingly. Noch… is a reduction for soprano and viola of the poem 'Noch' by Rose Ausländer, already set in the two Sowon pieces. Die Insel schwimmt for piano and percussion (1994) also refers to a poem by Rose Ausländer as a motto, albeit a different one from that used in the Sowon pieces.
It is clear from all this how integratively Pagh-Paan's textual inspirations pervade her work, how they form a conceptual-spiritual and thematic-existential network, and thus contribute to the aesthetic and structural closure of her entire œuvre. Sowon/Wunsch (1995/96) forms the basis of the group, and was later integrated – or 'sublated', in Hegelian terms – in the larger-scale Sowon… borira (1998).
Sowon/Wunsch for mezzo-soprano and ten instrumentalists (1995/96) shows a cyclical disposition, in that the title of H. C. Artmann's poem 'Mein Herz' (ne ma-um in Korean) carries the piece in the manner of a ritornello, for example near the start (mm. 9-14), after the first third (mm. 32-34) – after the Akhmatova poem 'Gold rostet' –, and in the final four bars (mm. 91-94), where the German version mein Herz also appears. The integrative aspect is reinforced by the reappearance, albeit in fragmented form, of the first Akhmatova poem after the three stanzas of the Ausländer poem 'Noch', which occupy the work's latter two thirds.
This structure is, generally speaking, retained in Sowon… borira for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (texts: Anna Akhmatova/Rose Ausländer/Louise Labé, 1998), but developed in a more complex fashion; not only is a new instrumental introduction added, but the third ne ma-um quotation is followed by a further fragmentary appearance of the Akhmatova poem. Then one hears the four stanzas of the aforementioned sonnet by Louise Labé (with a passionate character). The composition ends with the setting of a second Akhmatova poem (with the title 'In Place of an Epilogue'). In formal terms, the chamber-musical (at times soloistic) setting of the verses by Rose Ausländer contrasts with the rest of the musical environment even more sharply in the orchestral work Sowon… borira than in Sowon/Wunsch. Another element that is more pronounced in Sowon… borira is the mixture of languages, which consists of German, Korean, Russian and Old French, thus 'internationalising' the composer's concerns, as it were. This concern is expressed in the title: wish [Wunsch] and wanting. If the music begins with dark textures, these brighten towards the end, presumably under the influence of the final lines by Akhmatova: 'We once dreamed [a dream] – but in it lay lightly / The strength of spring, which breaks the ice'. However much sorrow there might be, one must have long to overcome it, to 'break the ice'. This large orchestral piece, containing a wealth of intercultural relationships, shows the wish and the will to open up our consciousness without boundaries 'to the diemsion of the possible, the not-yet' (preface to the score).
Die Insel schwimmt for piano and percussion (1994), connected to the Sowon pieces through a verse from a poem by Rose Ausländer (in the manner of a motto), is otherwise unrelated to the other pieces discussed here. It presents a form of main theme in the piano (p. 2 of the score), which radiates a magical poetry of crystalline beauty, and later returns in the manner of a reprise (p. 6).
From the last years of the substantial period between 1987/88 and 1999, with its first wave of 'facets of the own', there is a further series of individual works that, like those written between the ma-am and Sowon pieces, do not belong to any larger group: 'Bleibt in mir und ich in Euch' for organ and percussion (1996/2007), In dunkeln Träumen…for sprechstimme, flute and viola (on a poem by Heinrich Heine, 1997), Bi-Yu for soprano, bass flute, clarinet and cello (on a reworking of a poem of J. W. Goethe in Korean, 1999) and Gi-Da-Ryu-Ra/Warte nur… for baritone, taegŭm, clarinet in A, cello and percussion (1999/2007), an arrangement of Bi-Yu. In dunken Träumen and Bi-Yu are related in so far as both use German poetry of the past: the former is based on Heine's poem 'Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen', the latter on Goethe's poem 'Ein Gleiches' (with the famous opening 'Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh', 1780) in a Korean adaptation by Nury Kim; the Goethe poem is also used in the alternative version of Bi-Yi, Gi-Da-Ryu-Ra/Warte nur…(1999/2007). The conceptual radius of these pieces also extends to the later piano trio Silbersaiten I (2002), which takes its title from Gottfried Keller's poem 'Jugendgedenken'.
The two poem settings are different in that In dunkeln Träumen is conceived for sprechstimme, while Bi-Yu employs a fully differentiated singing part for female voice that can be considered – from a Western perspective too – some of Pagh-Paan's most beautiful vocal writing, a music of true belcanto intensity. This result is all the more notable because Bi-Yu uses the Korean language (Nury Kim's adaptation of Goethe), while the Heine setting retains the original German. The two are similar in their rhythmic structure, however, with the lines of poetry sounding not in a Schubertian continuum of verses but broken apart, crafted into fragments and formed into slowly articulated verbal images. They are finally transformed into Korean poetry of the kind found in the art song genre gagok, which uses stretched-out, melismatic vocal lines, a tradition that is more apparent in the cantabile character of Bi-Yu than the sprechgesang of In dunkeln Träumen. Such vocal settings (like the vocal works from the Sowon group) were part of Pagh-Paan's attempts to 'make the foreign my own' (preface to Bi-Yu). 'Goethe,' she continues, 'invokes in his poem the quiet, the silence and wordlessness of the Korean space, connecting the exterior with the interior by reminding us how short the human life span is. […] Bi-Yu means the simultaneous, comparative examination of different elements' (ibid.) – the interconnection of life and death, eternity and transience, love and solitude, song and silence.
Go-Un Nim for chamber orchestra (1997/98) was written for the reopening of the Bremen Kunsthalle. The title means 'hymn of praise', and the syllable Nim representes something that is beloved and can therefore always be praised – music, philosophy, or life itself. This refers to art, and indeed to an institution like an art gallery, which holds treasures worthy of such love. The result is not a work of loud jubilation and ecstatic praise but rather an introverted music, highly concentrated in the density of its heterophonic counterpoint. The notion of pillars of light turned into sound – inspired by the skylight of the Bremen Kunsthalle – became the central impulse for the composition: pillars that strive towards the light, into high, bright sound spaces (in the form of the flute, especially the piccolo); pillars that seem to be constantly turning because, despite the music's calm rhythmic flow, the light is always changing, waves of movement full of glissandi and vibrati, infused with the shimmering play of timbres.
In the long interval between 1987/88 and 1999, Pagh-Paan gradually reabsorbed existential and philosophical values from her Korean and Taoist tradition, or struggled to develop them artistically in order to regain them via the medium of self-creative reconstruction. The resulting works tell of these values and categories, bringing them closer to us, who are now the strangers; but for those who grew up with them too, they overcome the danger of increasing estrangement, bringing them back into a lived home in the midst of a foreign land. One work at the centre of this long journey back to the own is U-Mul (1991/92), which enchants the listener by displaying both a genuine existential and a philosophical dimension – the existential is a hymn of praise to the well, the source, water, symbols of life, and the philosophical is a memorial for the well as a place of encounter, of sharing, distributing, giving. The piece demands a (democratic) communication that no longer exists.
The more intensely the appropriation of the individual facets progresses, the stronger the connections between the pieces become – connections that gradually become a dense network of a conceptual and thematic-existential nature. Thus one can speak of 'radii', of works within the radius of Ta-Ryong, of ma-am and of Sowon. And it makes it all the more amazing that, in the moment of reaching the greatest unity and closure in her work, Pagh-Paan seems to break out once more, to fling herself into something at least seemingly foreign: European antiquity, specifically ancient Greek mythology, which she surprisingly chose as the new field of inquiry into the own.
Io for nine instrumentalists (1999/2000) begins a second phase of 'facets of the own': the probing of parallels or connections between Korean and ancient Greek culture and ethics, which arise particularly from the shared preoccupation with the theme of foreignness. 'I have been engaging intensely with Greek mythology for some time. It fascinates me with its unimaginable cruelty and inevitability, and through subjects that still concern us directly. One of those is foreignness: an existential experience, for myself too' (commentary on Io). The composer, who had made an effort to acquaint herself with European cultures ever since arriving in Germany, openly states that of all these, it is the culture of ancient Greece that is most remote from her own way of thinking. This made it especially attractive for her to look for bridges of understanding there, of all places, in the belief that intercultural thought does not have, nor can ever have, any boundaries.
Ultimately, Io is a musicalisation of the tension between the fatalistic 'inevitability' of Greek thought on the one hand and the balance and empathy of Taoist philosophy on the other hand. At the intersection of the two, a conception of the human being develops that is full of a yearning for humanity, however dominated it might be by hopeless suffering.
There are different versions of the myth of Io. Pagh-Paan chose that of Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus, which she combines with Franz Kafka's short story 'Prometheus' (no. 14 in the posthumous collection of his stories) – this parable of Prometheus lives through Io, and the story continues through her. 'Io, banished by her father, flees further and further. Her journeys lead into endless realms, but one day she encounters Prometheus, chained to his rock. They meet on the brink of the abyss of pain. Io wanders aimlessly from the west to the east, from the north to the south' (Pagh-Paan, commentary on the work). The structure of the piece comes from this mythical background: it deals with the constant restlessness of the hunted – manifested musically in the driving impetus of the large percussion apparatus shared between two players. The inexorably progressing tragedial aspect of the whole is further underlined by the outbursts of wind instruments (clarinet, trumpet and trombone), which are loud and virtuosically figurative and full of veritably acrobatic leaps. They add further accents to the accentuated axial part of the percussion, heightening it in a sense, while the accordion, mediating between the two leading instrumental groups, weaves a continuum of pain around them; the latter is in turn supported by the gentler lamenting motifs in the strings, which seem like an echo of the overall lament. This lament fades away towards the end, with occasional shocks in the form of isolated sforzandi. The great timbral differentiation of the piece as a whole corresponds dialectically to its formal and emotional unity.
It is in keeping with the 'network' character of Pagh-Paan's œuvre, as especially evident in the last years before the composition of Io, that except for its final section of around forty, that piece was integrated into the final part (Part VII) of the key work of her 'ancient Greek phase', the opera Mondschatten (2002/06). It is not only Io that was largely absorbed into the latter; Moira for mezzo-soprano and accordion (after Sophocles, 2003/04) and Wundgeträumt [Dreamt Sore] for ensemble (2004/05) were also integrated (Moira into Part IV, Wundgeträumtinto Part VI), albeit in revised forms adapted to the new context of the opera. The fact that the instrumental narration about Io is taken up into Part VII of Mondschatten suggests that Io is thought of in conjunction with the persons appearing in that part, namely Antigone and Polynices, that they have something in common despite their different fates: feeling alien, being hunted, being in a hopeless situation.
Dorthin, wo der Himmel endet [To Where the Heavens End] for orchestra with mezzo-soprano and six male voices (texts: Kim Chi-Ha and Aeschylus, 2000/01): the title forms the first line of a three-stanza poem by Liu Xijun that is not set here, yet, according to the preface to the score, represents the 'underlying idea' of the composition: a lament from a foreign country, a place 'where the heavens end', full of bitter longing for the stolen homeland. If the story of Io is that of a restlessly wandering and hunted woman, the tale of Xijun, queen of the Wusun and author of this poem, is that of one who was banished to a distant place and was unable to return. And yet the poems actually set here combine the theme of unalterable homelessness with that of restless wandering. This applies to the longer first part in Greek (Io fragments from Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus) and the following, shorter Korean part (fragments from the collection The Yellow Earth by Kim Chi-Ha, specifically from the poems 'The Village' and 'One Rainy Night'). With the Korean poems, Pagh-Paan refers back to her large work Hwang-To for mixed choir and nine instrumentalists (1988/89), in which she had set three poems – likewise in fragments – from the aforementioned collection by Kim Chi-Ha (including 'One Rainy Night', which now became the textual foundation for Dorthin, wo der Himmel endet).
Through its language layer, the first part of Dorthin, wo der Himmel endet lends the instrumental piece Io – as is the case whenever a text is used – a greater specificity of statement, pinpointing its general character of lament in concrete words and clearly showing the inescapable nature of Io's hunted existence. This intensification is underpinned musically, in that the protagonist herself – via the medium of the mezzo-soprano – cries out her individual despair and weeps it into the silence, before it is expanded into the universal by the accompanying male voices in the manner of the ancient choral tradition. If, on the other hand, one compares the piece as a whole – not merely the Korean part – with the composition Hwang-To, it also becomes clear that the earlier piece, probably through the partly homophonic power of the choir and the sharp accents in the percussion, is the more forceful and dramatic of the two, while the later work is the more finely crafted, more differentiated in the sense of a subtler distribution of the various sonic lines and points among the individual orchestral voices. This comes from various factors: an infiltration of the tutti sound by a constantly renewed heterophonic counterpoint (especially in the wind) in changing instrumental pairs; a breaking up of expansive textures through soloistic interjections; a loosening of linear structures through vibrati, trills and flutter-tonguing. This musical individualisation takes place in all groups – not only the more conspicuous wind and percussion ensembles, but also the 'grounding' male voices and strings. Perhaps the polyphonic (in the broadest sense of the word) branching in the score can be read as a psychological branching, an infiltration and universalisation of the lament.
Moira for mezzo-soprano and accordion (after Sophocles, 2003/04) and Wundgeträumt for six instrumentalists (2005) are independent pieces, but simultaneously important components of the chamber music theatre work Mondschatten (2002/06), where they are integrated with modifications suited to the new context. Moira appears in Part IV of Mondschatten (mm. 1-11, 15-84) and Wundgeträumt in Part VI (mm. 77-109, 113-128, 131-145, 147-202).
Moira, in Greek mythology the name for a goddess of fate or simply fate as such (fatum in Latin), stands here for the inescapable date of Antigone (the daughter from the incestuous marriage from Oedipus and his mother Jocasta): she was condemned to be buried alive because she disobeyed King Creon by performing funeral rites for her brother Polynices. 'She was the first in Greek mythology to utter a resolute "No",' Pagh-Paan wrote in 2006. With her refusal she rebels against Creon's unjust command and curses him: 'But if my enemies are guilty, may the same fate befall them that has been decreed for me' (text from Moira, after Sophocles). 'The cry of the entombed Antigone: for Younghi Pagh-Paan this is the archetype of all musical expression, the rebellious sign of an unbroken, strong will to live' (Nyffeler 2007, 5).
In Moira, Antigone is not yet entombed, but has already been confronted with her death sentence. Her lament is not so much a loud cry as a weeping from within; there are intense outbursts, to be sure, but it ends with a rebellion that withdraws into a cocoon of silence. The central expressive medium is the accordion, which became an important instrument for Pagh-Paan – presumably because of its ability to form sonic continua and break these up with sforzando accents or let them fade out in morendi, as well as its dark timbres and capacity for tremolo gestures (based on the intervals of the second, third and especially the fourth). If one compares Moira to its reappearance in Part IV of Mondschatten, the basic frame of mezzo-soprano and accordion is preserved; the sparingly added instruments lend further differentiation, especially the bass clarinet with its soloistic interjections, articulations of Antigone's inner crisis. The strings generally remain in the shadow of the accordion part, supporting its continuum of lament; only the violin and viola break away fleetingly in their top registers, and the lament disappears into inaudibility.
Wundgeträumt for six instrumentalists (2005) is based on the poem of the same name (2003) by Byung-Chul Han. Passages from the poem appear in the libretto of Mondschatten, primarily in the vocal part of Antigone, who does not directly appear in Oedipus at Colonus, the primary text used in the opera. This very dense piece is difficult to grasp on first listening; it seems most productive to move from the outside inwards, for it constitutes – alone at the surface level – one of the most meticulously timbrally articulated works in Pagh-Paan's entire œuvre. All her works, especially the later ones, show a high degree of timbral differentiation, but Wundgeträumt develops this parameter in such an extreme fashion that the key to understanding the piece must lie in this aspect. Although it does not feature any percussion (except for the maracas played by the oboist), the entire texture is characterised by percussive sounds. These are produced in many ways: through sforzandi and sforzandissimi, especially in the low cello register and usually combined with pizzicati, but also through sforzandi in the low registers of the bass flute and bass clarinet; through 'foot stamping'; through striking on the body of the instrument; and through abrupt interruptions of the wind phrases, which are full of the pulsing of vibrati and glissandi, further reinforced by portamenti. There are also constant changes of dynamic, virtually from each sound to the next, ending in diminuendi and crescendi; constant alternations between arco and pizzicato in the strings; dissolution of all tenuti into trills, vibrati, glissandi, arpeggios; microtonal circling around individual notes; constant use of harmonics, harmonic glissandi, bariolage, flutter-tonguing, air sounds, multiphonics and overblowing. Finally, the use of extreme high registers, especially in the flute and violin, tending towards the painful and aggressive, as well as extreme low registers, especially in the bass clarinet and cello, which seem almost like blows, dark shadows cast into the music.
Gradually one understands that these timbral articulations contribute to the interpretation of Byung-Chul Han's poem, especially its opening: 'Wundergewandert, wundgeweint, wundgeträumt, wundenübersät ist deine Seele' [Wandered sore, wept sore, dreamt sore, covered in wounds is your soul]. The meaning discloses itself in the music's technical focus: a notation covered in constantly changing, extreme tone colours – the image of a soul revealing itself as 'covered in wounds'; the exterior as a mirror of the interior. From this perspective one can understand why, in Mondschatten, Pagh-Paan chose this particular music as the foundation for the harsh exchange between Oedipus and his son Polynices. Polynices begs his father Oedipus – whose banishment by King Creon (brother of Jocasta, the mother of Polynices) he had supported – for mercy, but Oedipus refuses; he curses his son, who becomes equally enraged as a result. Antigone, in Byung-Chul Han's words, offers her fatalistic conclusion: 'Your soul is now but a burden. It will weigh heavy upon you until your death. Cut your soul out.' For the composer, however, Antigone's role as expressed in Han's texts is less a fatalistic than a 'cleansing' one (Pagh-Paan 2006).
The chamber opera Mondschatten (2002/06) is undoubtedly one of Pagh-Paan's principal works – not simply because of its duration, which exceeds those of all preceding works, but also because of the compositional weighting of its seven parts. This is already clear from the three pieces that were absorbed into Mondschatten (Io in Part VII, Moira in Part IV and Wundgeträumt in Part VI). Four further parts (I, II, III and V) present themselves in a similar formal and structural differentiation: the instrumental parts consistently move in heterophonic counterpoint, with frequent complementary contrasts from the two choral groupings, the three-voice soprano part of the Sphinx and the five-voice part of the citizens (surprisingly, the latter is also scored for a female choir, consisting of two sopranos and three mezzo-sopranos). Their contrasting role lies in the fact that the voices keep coming together to form a sort of 'pseudo-polyphony', chords that are de-synchronised in an immanently polyphonic manner. There is great timbral articulation within the web of instrumental parts, especially in what is probably the work's most colourful treatment of the ensemble in Part VI, with the music from Wundgeträumt. The whole as always, is given its rhythmic foundation by an opulent, but finely accented percussion part (two players). There is a perfect balance between the separate sonic groups: the woodwind and brass have repeated soloistic outbursts, as do the strings, with the particularly prominent violins, augmented by the accordion, which is not present throughout but always woven expressively into the music, and dominates in Part IV, in keeping with its origins in Moira.
The compositional weight of Mondschatten, however, lies primarily in its position of synthesis, both in terms of content and aesthetics. Sophocles's late work Oedipus at Colonus provides the matrix for the libretto written by Juliane Votteler in collaboration with the composer. The blind Oedipus, led by his daughter Antigone, is roaming through foreign lands in search of a place to die. Hence the work's first topic is that of foreignness, Pagh-Paan's central existential theme. Max Nyffeler speaks of 'arriving in a foreign place, yet also at oneself and death' (Nyffeler 2006). This quotation clarifies the second, equally important theme of the opera: how does one go into death? 'With hatred and thoughts of revenge, or with inner peace and cleansed?' (Pagh-Paan 2006)
While the subject of death recurs throughout Pagh-Paan's œuvre, it had never before been treated as fundamentally as in Mondschatten. The patricide and mother-defiler Oedipus has incurred infinite guilt and consequently blinded himself. Yet now he wishes to die and, in death, regain his identity as a human being, even if he has to die in foreign lands. Oedipus claims to have recovered this identity at the beginning, when he sings in Part I: 'It is I, the human.' He wants to act accordingly, not simply bow to his fate. So he confronts Theseus, ruler of Colonus, as one who brings peace and also seeks protection. Theseus grants him this protection, but not without demanding that he listen to the plea for mercy of his son Polynices, who has deeply offended him, and not reject it out of hand. But once again, Oedipus loses control and thus endangers his quest for identity: he denies Polynices mercy and curses him. Only in the following scene, the last in the play, does he find peace. This peace is also sought – in the context of the music from Io incorporated here, the music of a restlessly hunted woman – by the siblings Antigone and Polynices; they finally want to 'arrive'.
The father only truly 'arrives' in the moving epilogue, when he sings his final words, the original words of a Zen Buddhist master: 'To what shall I compare the world and human life? To the shadow of the moon when it touches the waterfowl's beak in a dewdrop. In the palm of a hand, the hoarfrost of autumn melts into warm tears' (libretto published in the programme book for the premiere, 38). Gradually the fabric of the strings' tenuto textures is brushed off, leaving Oedipus to sing the last lines without any instrumental accompaniment, completely 'naked' in his soul, at peace with himself and cleansed. Two harsh cracks of the bak bring the music to an end – reminiscences of the violence that had triggered the whole series of events (Ex. 4).
This ending brings up a third topic, or indeed gives it its central expression: the intersection of Greek mythology and Taoism – a dialogue, and perhaps even a form of reconciliation. In a conversation with Marco Frei on the occasion of the premiere, the composer said: 'In the sixth scene of the opera, the choir sings: "Never to have been born – no spirit could conceive of anything higher! But if you have been born, then return whence you came." I see this dirge by Sophocles as a clear link to Taoism, which is what justifies the incorporation of the texts by Han. That is how I regained my own artistic position; without that Taoist core I would never have embarked on the project.' (Pagh-Paan 2006, 11). The work's Taoist epilogue subsumes the fatalistic inhumanity of Greek mythology into a higher level, that of a universal humanity.
The music already mediates towards this level throughout the piece, however – in the figure of Antigone, who is only introduced via Han's text (she is absent from the Sophocles play). For Pagh-Paan, Antigone (with her 'cleansing role') is a figure of identification in so far as she takes the most difficult path, both upholding her simultaneous love for her father and her brother and disobeying Creon's prohibition of funeral rites for Polynices, for which she is punished with death by live burial.
Mondschatten is a theatre of ideas, not actions – a music theatre of great ideas and feelings: rebellion and attainment of peace, despair and comfort, willingness to die rather than tolerate injustice, reconciliation instead of hatred and revenge, mercy instead of ruthless hard-heartedness. The two last words uttered by Oedipus are 'warm tears'. Finally, someone who had almost entirely betrayed the dream of becoming human can weep, and with his tears wipe away his guilt forever.
Foreignness is Pagh-Paan's central existential experience, and thus the central theme of her artistic work. It is hardly surprising that she chose to combine this foreignness with the merciless harshness in the depiction of human relationships found in Greek theatre; for this harshness is also thematised in traditional Korean street theatre and peasant music, which left the composer with unforgettable and inspiring impressions, but also a sensitivity to the vulnerability of the soul. Thus mythology catches up with reality, and the archetype with concrete life. 'The architectural rigour of her music', writes Max Nyffeler in his review of the premiere of Mondschatten, 'the static, harmonically clearly defined sound spaces and the sharpness of the rhythmic-melodic contours are ideally suited to a musical realisation of the archetypal events' (Nyffeler 2006).
One should not view this dimension one-sidedly, however. Mondschatten also deals with mercy, compassion and reconciliation – with humanity in a universal sense. This dimension is opened up by the opera's clear Taoist connection, the 'cleansing role' of Antigone, and the last words of Oedipus, which no longer come from Sophocles, but from a modern Korean philosopher and poet. This 'supplement' to the fatalistic Greek theatre was necessary. From the perspective of this epilogue, one can understand why Pagh-Paan opened a new door in her output after Mondschatten, the door to Christian ideas familiar since her childhood – a door to the subjects of mercy, humility, love and humanity, but with a substantial Taoist cast. It is at once the door to a further stage in herself, a stage in the process of tempering her own feeling of foreignness: she encounters the lost or estranged own in a new way by translating her Korean topics, and her Asian modes of expression in general, into a sonic language for Korean instruments. If she is no longer close to her external homeland, she at least wishes to come closer to her inner, inalienable homeland.
In luce ambulemus [Let Us Walk in the Light] for tenor and orchestra (text: Yang-Eop Choe, 2007). Following the composer's engagement with Greek mythology (on a Taoist basis), her occupation with Christianity beginning in 2006/07 was a 'supplement', a continuation and a deepening, as well as a new accentuation of the ethical and aesthetic results of the previous phase. Max Nyffeler has described the connection between the two worlds of inspiration: 'Both works' – Mondschatten and In luce ambulemus – 'revolve around the idea of lifelong wandering as a search for one's goal in life. In Mondschatten the aged Oedipus, after years of wandering aimlessly, finds in Colonus the place where he will lay down to die. In the concert work In luce ambulemus, wandering symbolises an inner search whose goal is the attainment of humility before God. Here the composer uses letters written in Latin by the second Korean priest, Yang-Eop Choe (1821-1861), which she first encountered in 2005 in the Korean translation. As a Christian persecuted in his home country, Choe spent a large part of his life wandering all over China; it was only in his last twelve years that he lived in Korea once more, working as a priest under the most difficult conditions. The choice of texts, which combines excerpts from Choe's letters with passages from the Bible and the Catholic liturgy, defines faith as an existential experience. In the idea of surrendering the ego, letting events happen and entering a mystical union with the absolute, the Christian tenets of humility and mercy appear with Taoist shadings' (Nyffeler 2007).
For someone familiar with the centuries-old tradition of European sacred music in Latin, Pagh-Paan's setting of a Latin text must seem rather alien, or at least unaccustomed. This is firstly because of a fundamental difference in the conception of vocal music. While the European approach is that of a linearity in which melodic development dominates the unfolding of the text, Pagh-Paan describes her approach thus: 'The individual singing voices grow from the instrumental ensembles and are ultimately absorbed by them once more' (preface to Moira, 2003/04). In addition, they adopt the timbral differentiation of the instrumental parts, while the large and difficult leaps also recall European models such as late Webern and late (dodecaphonic) Stravinsky. As much as the text setting is rooted in Korean tradition, however, there are certainly European aspects in the work's formal structure: In luce ambulemus somewhat resembles a da capo aria, with the vocal 'exposition' – 'Memento mei, Domine' (mm. 11-23) – being repeated in the final section and thus led into a 'reprise' (mm. 80-92). The section between these passages could be interpreted as part B of a da capo structure (ABA or ABA'), and the conclusion following the reprise as a form of two-part coda (mm. 93-105, 106-119). In terms of the text used, the 'reprise memento' is a shortened form of the thief's plea during the crucifixion as reported in the Gospel of Luke: 'Memento mei, cum veneris in regnum tuum' [Remember me when you come into your kingdom] (Luke 23:42), to be followed by Jesus's reply in the coda. By placing this textual abbreviation at the start of the piece, the composer takes it – leaving aside the resulting structural aspect of the da capo form – as a sort of motto for the whole, a prayer that has existential significance for her. This also applies to the subsequent psalm text 'Miserere nobis, Domine', which appears not only in the two da capo passages (mm. 20-23 and 89-92), but also a two other points (mm. 48-51, 65-66). There are further references or repetitions in the piece, both textual and musical ones (such as the reappearance of the tenor part from bar 16 in bar 75 or the almost unchanged, only slightly expanded return of bars 49-51 in 65-68). These repetitions serve to intensify the music's expression, whose overall character – through the extremely wide intervals and microtonal inflections of the text's declamation, and its embedding in a heterophonic web of instrumental lines – is far more Korean than European. Highly expressive moments arise in the coda in bar 105, marked senza misura, the subsequent intonation of the title text 'In luce ambulemus', then in the beginning of the last text phrase, recited pianissimo – inwards, so to speak –, and finally in the fading instrumental sounds that end the work.
In Vide, Domine, vide afflictionem nostram for large mixed choir (texts: Yang-Eop Choe/New Testament, 2007) we encounter Pagh-Paan's first composition for mixed choir a cappella; Hwang-To was scored for mixed choir and nine instrumentalists, while other pieces with multiple voices were composed for ensembles of soloists. Like Hwang-To, Vide, Domine is a powerful piece, a more forceful one than In luce ambulemus. Nonetheless, its underlying impulses are similar to those of the preceding work. On the one hand, in terms of the text setting – at least in the soloistic passages (soloists frequently emerge from the choral ensemble) –, Vide, Domine is anchored in the aforementioned Korean vocal tradition, namely a form of recitative with wide intervals. On the other hand, while continuing the heterophonic counterpoint of previous works, it augments it with choral techniques from the European tradition extending back into the Renaissance, consisting above all in a tension between polyphony and homophony. This dialectic leads to such compositional techniques as an immanently polyphonic displaced homophony, or a polyphony broken up by homophonic interruptions. While Vide, Domine essentially consists of four-part textures (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), these repeatedly branch out into seven or eight parts (with two lines per part), and one finds internal connections between voices in constantly changing combinations that break up the texture, brighten it and lead it into dialogic structures.
Such shifting sonic illuminations through a thinning-out or multiplying of textures was 'invented' in the age of Franco-Flemish polyphony by Josquin Desprez, with his principle of 'paired imitation'. This refers – within a four-part texture – to the formation of a duet whose two voices are employed either imitatively or homophonically, and which enters an imitative relationship with a second, similarly conceived duet. Paired imitation in this strict sense does not appear in Pagh-Paan's music, but one certainly finds oppositions between all conceivable imitative constellations, for example:
- Mm. 5-10: Sopranos I and II and alto begin in bar 10 in unison with 'vide, Domine', and are joined in bar 11 by tenor and bass in unison with 'Domine' – the simplest kind of imitative constellation.
- Mm. 17-19: Sopranos I and II form a homophonic duet from the end of bar 17 on 'omnes amaritudines'; a second duet – basses I and II on 'amaritudines' – seems to integrate itself imitatively, but then combines with the sopranos to form a homophonic quartet. Alto and tenor, by contrast, sing in free or heterophonic counterpoint.
- Mm. 41-46: On 'misericordia' (m. 41) there is a six- to seven-part homophonic block, which then (from m. 43) splits into two different homophonic blocks: a four-part block comprising sopranos I and II and altos I and II, and a more broadly rhythmicised two- to three-part tenor-bass block, thus creating an internal imitative effect.
- Mm. 51-55: On 'potentiam brachii sui', solo tenor and basses I and II begin a three-part homophonic structure which is joined by soprano and alto in free imitation. Then, in bar 54, a number of soprano and tenor parts come together in unison, before different pairs form in bar 55 (senza misura) – sopranos I and II, the beginning of altos I and II, tenors I and II – and combine to form free imitative constellations in free tempi while other voices are in heterophony with these (bass and the continuations of altos I and II).
- Bars 91-93 present an eight-part texture in four pairs (sopranos I and II, tenors I and II, alto II and bass II, alto I and bass I), some of which overlap homophonically or follow each other imitatively with slight displacements.
One highly expressive moment is the six-part homophonic block on 'Domino' (mm. 106-107), which recalls the two homophonic blocks on 'Domine' in György Ligeti's Lux aeterna. The three imitatively displaced duets on 'tenebrae' (mm. 153-154) are likewise of great expressive power. One of the strongest emotional effects comes at the end of the piece, where the words 'exclamavit Jesu voce magna' trigger two parallel structures: a monodic phrase in all sopranos, followed by a monodic phrase in all tenors, which then leads into two four-part homophonic blocks on 'Et inclinato capite' (four parts) and 'emisit spiritum' (three parts). While the tenor phrase changes both textually and musically, the two pseudo-homophonic blocks fading into pianissimo are virtually identical in both respects. This doubling, whose model is the magnificent Gregorian responsorium 'Tenebrae factae sunt', leaves the listener in an overwhelming apotheosis of silence.
For Pagh-Paan, the choral work Vide, Domine, vide afflictionem nostram shows the foreign becoming the own more strongly than ever, as well as the own moving even closer than before. This impulse continues in the compositions written for Korean instruments and performed in South Korea. Das Universum atmet, es wächst und schwindet [The Universe Breathes, It Waxes and Wanes] for traditional Korean orchestra (2007) was composed for the National Orchestra of Korea in Seoul; for the Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea in Seoul, Pagh-Paan wrote Qui-Han-Nim [Noble Man] for baritone, taegŭm, kayagŭm and saenghwang (texts: Chung-Chul/Yang-Eop Choe, 2007) as well as a revised version of Bi-Yu (1999) with the title Gi-Da-Ryu-Ra/Warte nur…for baritone solo, taegŭm, clarinet in A, cello and percussion (text: Johann Wolfgang Goethe in a Korean adaptation, 1999/2007). At the time of writing, Hohes und tiefes Licht for violin, viola and orchestra (2008/09) is planned for performance at Musica viva in Munich.
The caesura we reach here is a provisional one. The ground we have covered reveals a number of central threads that can be summarised here:
– The dialectic of the foreign and the own is the leitmotif of Pagh-Paan's music, and the driving force of this dialectical search is Hölderlin's statement: '… but our own must be learned every bit as well as what is foreign'. 'Learning the own' is one thing, but she also had to make the foreign her own before she could see her own lost history as 'the mirror of a general world situation' (Pagh-Paan 1992, 45) at all.
– She begins her path at the level of a political and aesthetic engagement with the Korean tradition she has left behind, with the own that she does not want to lose in the foreign setting. Gradually she re-appropriated existential and philosophical values from her Korean and Taoist tradition once more, or struggled to develop them artistically in order to regain them via the medium of self-creative reconstruction. The resulting works tell of these values and categories (nim, love, heart, life, humility, wish, water…), they bring them closer to us, the strangers, but also avert the danger of estrangement for those who grew up with these values, bringing them back into a lived home in the midst of a foreign land.
– European instruments and a European work concept on the one hand, Korean music-making on the other hand: this division already indicates the bridging of a gap between east and west, between 'the own and the foreign', that is free of any usurpatory approach. Pagh-Paan uses a Western ensemble but mixes it with Asian and 'archaic' elements, then places this combination in the context of a contemporary performance practice and finally confronts the whole with a socially de-hierarchised, democratic mode of music-making. This is the decisive argument against the colonialist, 'world music' attitudes of some Western composers. Assimilation, yes – but not at the price of absorption, rather in the sense of questioning the roots and aesthetic demonstration of possible, i.e. authentically 'feasible' interaction and re-development. A reintegration of the freedoms of modernity into a concept of 'difference' that commits itself to the clarification of differences, and thus to the rights of oppressed individuals and minorities.
– The more space in the works was taken up by the 'facets of the own', the stronger the connections between pieces became – connections that gradually developed into a dense network of a conceptual-structural and thematic-existential nature. Thus one can speak of works within the radius of Ta-Ryong, of ma-am and of Sowon.
– This makes it all the more amazing that, in the moment of reaching the greatest unity and closure in her work, Pagh-Paan broke out once more to fling herself into something at least seemingly foreign: European antiquity, specifically ancient Greek mythology, which she surprisingly chose as the new field of inquiry into the own. For her, this stage was an engagement with such antagonisms as foreignness and merciless harshness in the depiction of human relationships on the one hand, and compassion, reconciliation and universal humanity on the other hand.
– In the time after Mondschatten (2002/06) she opened a further door in her output, the door to Christian ideas familiar since her childhood, but with a substantial Taoist cast. It is at once the door to a further stage in herself, a stage in the process of tempering her own feeling of foreignness: she encounters the lost or estranged own in a new way by translating her Korean topics, and her Asian modes of expression in general, into a sonic language for Korean instruments. Let us conclude with a quotation relating to this from her commentary on Das Universum atmet, es wächst und schwindet for traditional Korean orchestra (2007): 'In opening a door now to an orchestra of Korean instruments, this is a challenge for me to step into an "open emptiness".' She adds a quotation from Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328): 'In becoming empty, in humility, inner depth grows. But depth and height are one and the same.'
Translation: Wieland Hoban