Isang Yun: Interludium A (1982) with Christina Wright Ivanova, piano

February 9, 2021

This piano piece was written by Isang Yun (1917-1995) for the amazing pianist Aki Takahashi. The letter “A” in the title refers to Aki’s first name, and also to the main tone of “A” that appears throughout the work. Yun remained in Germany after 1957, except for the kidnapping by the South Koreans in ’65, when they believed he was a spy for the North Koreans and held him captive for two years. After his release, he became a German citizen and was famous for his combination of West and East musical ideas and his political ambitions for the unity of North and South Korea.

Yun combines traditional Korean music (influence of ‘piri’, a double-reed instrument; ‘danso’, grace notes from vocal tradition, etc.) and techniques like glissando, tremelo, and vibrato and performs them on Western instruments. He was influence by Taoism and the idea that the part is the whole, and the whole is the part. The Individual, nature, the mind and physical self, vitality, and an ongoing sense of motion and creativity were all important elements in his work. The idea that the universe produces energy from the sky/land/sun (masculine/Yang) and the moon (feminine/Yin) shows these coexisting polarities.

My favorite concept in Interludium A is the idea of rapid motion within stillness. I often thought of this while learning and performing the work — it is so complex but there should be this overarching stillness throughout the performance. This also expands into the idea of the one note being a minor universe which can be enlarged into a greater one. Yun once said “the tone of the West is like a liner pencil, whereas Asian tones are like the stroke of a brush: think and thin, and not even straight… If a tone itself has a flexible movement while it is sounding, and if the tone appears in complex texture, then this tone is a whole cosmos.”

This, to me, is the complexity in the work – to try and create the sense of an expanding journey from micro to macro structure, and to give the listener a sense of the fractal-like oneness of man and nature.