The Korea Herald


The development of music in 20th century Korea

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 18, 2011 - 20:12

    • Link copied

Harmonia Koreana ― A short History of 20th-ceuntry Korean music

By Kim Choon-mee


For anyone interested in the history behind present-day K-pop and Hallyu, Kim Choon-mee’s English-language book “Harmonia Koreana” offers an interesting overview of how different forms of music took form in Korea throughout the 20th century.

Kim begins the book by examining how Western classical music, largely introduced by Christian missionaries, influenced Korea’s leading musicians from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. She analyzes the works of well-known artists of the era, including Hong Nan-pa, Hyun Jei-myung, and Park Tae-jun, and how they contain different forms of Western hymns.

Kim then goes to examine Korean music in the postwar era, describing the 1970s as “the heyday” of modern music. She writes about the significance of the Seoul Music Festival, launched in 1969 with the slogan “Our Music, by Our Hands.” Kim says the festival, and similar events that took place in the ‘70s, played an important role in discovering hidden talent.

Kim uses her fifth chapter to examine the changes that took place in Korea’s “gugak” ― traditional Korean music ― scene in the 1980s. According to Kim, most gugak artists in Korea have focused on developing and practicing “Jeongak,” the kind of music associated with the upper classes of the Joseon Dynasty. A movement that sought to explore Minsogak, Korea’s folk music of the lower classes, emerged during this period.

On top of the historical overview, Kim also devotes a chapter to introducing Korea’s leading contemporary composers. The featured artists include Han Ok-mi, who is famous for mixing video images, poetry, and white noise with her musical compositions. Another notable figure is Lim June-hee, who won the top prize at the 30th Korean Composition Awards given by Music Association of Korea this week. Her winning piece combines gugak and Western classical music, engaging a singing choir as well as an orchestra.

Author Kim Choon-mee earned a B.A. in music at Seoul National University, and a Ph.D. in musicology at Michigan State University in the U.S. She currently serves as the president of Soyiyeon Research Center for Musicology.

This book is one of the four English-language volumes of “Contemporary Korean Arts Series” published by the Arts Council of Korea this year.