March 13, 2010

Hwang ByungKi - Kayagum

The Forest - Shade - Hwang ByungKi

Korean music in general is rather free. Its aim is a desire to be one with nature. The rhythmic patterns are structured (often in triple meter). However, the beat would best be described as rubato. Nature has no consistent pattern and that is reflected in the music.

The Kayagum was invented some 1,500 to 2,000 years ago and is the most representative instrument of Korean traditional music. It is made from hardwood and has twelve woven silk strings. Similar to the Koto of Japan but varied in performance technique. The Kayagum is played with the fingers (the Koto with artificial "picks") and creates a very natural and Earthy tone. The bridges (fashioned to resemble a crane's foot) are movable to allow for various styles of tuning. The left hand depresses the strings while the right hand plucks or slaps the strings.

Hwang ByungKi is the foremost contemporary composer and performer of the Kayagum. He was born in Seoul in 1936 but the war forced his family to move to Busan in the 1950's. There he heard the Kayagum and became enamoured. He began to study the instrument and his first compositions appeared a decade later. It was not until the mid 1970's that he freed himself from the world of commerce and dedicated his life to music. His compositions are certainly modern but they retain the natural qualities which permeate the soundscape of traditional music here.

His first composition Sup (The Forest) was written in 1962. If you pressed play at the top of this post you are listening to the first piece of this suite. This work revolutionized Korean music as it was the first modern work to become accepted for a traditional instrument. His success is due to a firm grounding in the tradition of Korean music. From there he was able to put his own stamp on what is heard. This event spurred many to do the same for their own instruments and the peninsula's music has never been the same. Below is the remainder of the composition in its entirety:

The Forest - Cuckoo - Hwang ByungKi

The Forest - Rain - Hwang ByungKi

The Forest - Moonlight - Hwang ByungKi


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