peoplepill id: isang-yun
1 views today
1 views this week
Isang Yun
Korean composer

Isang Yun

Isang Yun
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Korean composer
Was Educator Musician Composer Conductor Musicologist Music educator
From Germany
Field Academia Music
Gender male
Birth 17 September 1917, South Gyeongsang Province
Death 3 November 1995, Berlin (aged 78 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


Isang Yun, also spelled Yun I-sang (17 September 1917 – 3 November 1995), was a Korean-born composer who made his later career in Germany.

Early life and education

Yun was born in Sancheong, Korea (in present-day South Korea) in 1917, the son of poet Yun Ki-hyon. He began writing music at the age of 14 and studying music formally two years later, in 1933. In the mid-1930s, he studied briefly at the Osaka College of Music, and from 1938 composition under Tomojiro Ikenouchi in Tokyo. After Japan entered World War II, he moved back to Korea and participated in the Korean independence movement. He was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese in 1943.

After the war, he did welfare work, establishing an orphanage for war orphans, and teaching music in Tongyeong and Busan. After the armistice ceasing hostilities in the Korean War in 1953, he began teaching at the Seoul National University. He received the Seoul City Culture Award in 1955, and traveled to Europe the following year to finish his musical studies.

At the Paris Conservatory (1956–7) he studied composition under Tony Aubin and Pierre Revel, and West Berlin (1957–9), and at the Musikhochschule Berlin (today the Berlin University of the Arts) under Boris Blacher, Josef Rufer, and Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling. In 1958 he attended the International Summer Courses of Contemporary Music in Darmstadt and began his career in Europe with premieres of his Music for Seven Instruments in Darmstadt and Five Pieces for Piano in Bilthoven. The premiere of his oratorio Om mani padme hum in Hanover 1965 and Réak in Donaueschingen (1966) gave him international renown. With "Réak" he introduced the sound idea of Chinese-Korean ceremonial music as well as imitations of the East Asian mouth organ saenghwang (Korean), sheng (Chinese) or shō (Japanese) into Western avant-garde music.


From October 1959, Yun had been living in Krefeld, Freiburg im Breisgau and Köln (Cologne). With a grant from the Ford Foundation, he and his family settled in West Berlin in 1964. However, due to a visit to North Korea in 1963, he was kidnapped by the South Korean secret service from West Berlin on 17 June 1967. Via Bonn he was taken to Seoul. In prison he was tortured, attempted suicide, forced to confess to espionage, and sentenced to death, later life imprisonment. A worldwide petition led by Guenter Freudenberg and Francis Travis was presented to the South Korean government, signed by approximately 200 artists, including Igor Stravinsky, Herbert von Karajan, Luigi Dallapiccola, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Mauricio Kagel, Joseph Keilberth, Otto Klemperer, György Ligeti, Arne Mellnäs, Per Nørgård, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Isang Yun was released on 23 February 1969, returning to West Berlin at the end of March. In 1971, he obtained German citizenship. He never returned to South Korea. From 1973 he began participating in the call for the democratization of South Korea and the reunification of the divided country.


Yun taught composition at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover (1969–71) and at the Hochschule der Künste in West Berlin (1977–85).

Among his students are Kazuhisa Akita, Jolyon Brettingham Smith, In-Chan Choe, Conrado del Rosario, Raymond Deane, Francisco F. Feliciano, Masanori Fujita, Keith Gifford, Holger Groschopp, Toshio Hosokawa, Sukhi Kang, Chung-Gil Kim, Wolfgang Klingt, Erwin Koch-Raphael, Isao Matsushita, Masahiro Miwa, Hwang-Long Pan, Martin Christoph Redel, Byong-Dong Paik, Bernfried Pröve, Takehito Shimazu, Minako Tanahashi, Masaru Tanaka, Michail Travlos, Jürgen Voigt.

After 1979 Yun returned several times to North Korea to introduce new Western composition techniques as well as his own music. In 1982, the first Isang Yun Festival took place in Pyongyang. In 1984, the Isang Yun Music Institute opened in Pyongyang, North Korea. An ensemble had been founded there under his name. Yun promoted the idea of a joint concert featuring musicians from both Koreas in Panmumjom, which failed in 1988, but South Korean artists could be invited to Pyongyang in 1990.

Later life and death

Two concerts with works of Isang Yun had been performed in Seoul (1982) by Heinz Holliger, Ursula Holliger, and Francis Travis, later by Roswitha Staege and Hans Zender. Yun was invited to attend a festival of his music in South Korea in 1994, but the trip was broken off after internal and external conflicts. Yun was told by South Korean officials that to return, he would have to submit a written confession of “repentance,” which he refused. On 3 November 1995, Yun died of pneumonia in Berlin. The International Isang Yun Society was founded in Berlin in February 1996.

Yun has often been criticized for his "pro-North Korean activities", i.e. musical activities in North Korea, and his close ties with the Kim Il-sung regime. Oh Kil-nam has said that Yun persuaded him to relocate to North Korea with his family. When Oh's wife Shin Suk-ja and her little daughters were imprisoned in Yodok camp, Yun helped them and took photos and a tape from NK to Berlin (for further details and Mr. Yun's own comments see the website of International Isang Yun Society). It was only in 2006 the entire East Berlin Spy incident in which Yun was among the accused, was finally declared by the Korean Government a fabrication of the intelligence services.


Yun's primary musical concern was the development of Korean music by the means of Western avantgarde music. After experimenting with 12-tone techniques Yun developed his own musical personality in his works of the early 1960s, post-serialistic "sound compositions". Yun's music employed techniques associated with traditional Korean music, such as glissandi, pizzicati, portamenti, vibrati, and above all a very rich vocabulary of ornaments. Essential is the presence of multiple-melodic lines, which Yun called "Haupttöne" ("central" or "main tones").

Yun's composition for symphonic forces started with "sound compositions", i.e. of works in which homogeneous sound planes are articulated and elaborated: Bara (1960) until Overture (1973; rev. 1974). A period of discursively structured instrumental concertos followed, beginning with the Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1975–6) and climaxing with the Violin Concerto No. 1 (1981). From 1982 until 1987 he wrote a cycle of five symphonies, which are interrelated, yet varied structurally. Striving for freedom and peace is above all Symphony V for high baritone and large orchestra (1987) with texts by Nelly Sachs. In 1984, he developed also a new, intimate "tone" in his chamber music.

At that time peace and reconciliation on the Korea peninsula was his political goal. His lifelong concern with his native country and culture was expressed in several of his compositions, including the orchestral piece Exemplum in Memoriam Kwangju (1981), which he composed in memory of the Gwangju massacre, Naui Dang, Naui Minjokiyo! (My Land, My People) for soli, chorus and orchestra (South Korean poets, 1987), and Angel in Flames (Engel in Flammen) for orchestra, with Epilogue for soprano, women's choir and five instruments (1994). Otherwise Yun himself stated often that he was not a political composer but only following the voice of his conscience.

In both Europe and the United States, Yun developed a strong reputation as a composer of avant-garde music, assigned those signature elements of traditional Korean musical technique. The technical as well a stylistic difficulties of performing his very elaborate and ornamental music are not to be underestimated.

Memberships / Awards

  • Member (1968) and Honorary Member (1992) of the Freie Akademie der Künste, Hamburg
  • Member (1973) of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin
  • Kieler Kulturpreis (1969)
  • Grand Cross for Distinguished Service of the German Order of Merit (1988) from the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Goethe Medal (1995)


All compositions are published by Bote & Bock / Boosey & Hawkes, Berlin

  • Der Traum des Liu-Tung (1965)
  • Die Witwe des Schmetterlings (Butterfly Widow) (1967/68)
  • Geisterliebe (1971)
  • Sim Tjong (1971/72), written for the Olympics in Munich, with William B. Murray
Vocal / Choral
  • Om mani padme hum for soli, choir and orchestra (1964)
  • Ein Schmetterlingstraum for choir and percussion (1968)
  • Vom Tao for choir, organ and percussion (1972/88)
  • Memory for three voices and percussion (Du Mu, 1974)
  • An der Schwelle for barione, women choir, organ and ensemble (Albrecht Haushofer, 1975)
  • Der weise Mann for baritone, choir and small orchestra (1977)
  • Der Herr ist mein Hirte for trombone and choir (Psalm 23 / Nelly Sachs, 1981)
  • O Licht... for violin and choir (Buddhism / Nelly Sachs, 1981)
  • Naui Dang, Naui Minjokiyo! (My Land, My People) for soli, orchestra and choir (South Korean poets, 1987)
  • Engel in Flammen. Memento and Epilogue for orchestra, soprano, and women choir (1994)
  • Epilogue for soprano, women choir, and five instruments (1994)
  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1 in four movements (1982/83)
    • Symphony No. 2 in three movements (1984)
    • Symphony No. 3 in one movement (1985)
    • Symphony No. 4 Im Dunkeln singen in two movements (1986)
    • Symphony No. 5 for high baritone and orchestra in five movements (Nelly Sachs, 1987)
    • Chamber Symphony No. 1, for 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings (1987)
    • Chamber Symphony No. 2 Den Opfern der Freiheit (1989)
  • Bara for orchestra (1960)
  • Symphonic Scene for large orchestra (1960)
  • Colloïdes sonores for strings (1961)
  • Fluktuationen for large orchestra (1964)
  • Réak for large orchestra (1966)
  • Dimensionen for orchestra and organ (1971)
  • Konzertante Figuren for small orchestra (1972)
  • Harmonia for 16 winds, harp & percussion (1974)
  • Muak for large orchestra (1978)
  • Exemplum in memoriam Kwangju for large orchestra (1981)
  • Impression for small orchestra (1986)
  • Mugung-Dong (Invocation) for winds, percussion and double bass (1986)
  • Tapis for string orchestra (1987)
  • Konturen for large orchestra (1989)
  • Silla for orchestra (1992)
  • Violin Concerto No. 1 (1981)
  • Violin Concerto No. 2 (1983–1986)
  • Violin Concerto No. 3 (1992)
  • Cello Concerto (1975/76)
  • Flute Concerto (1977)
  • Clarinet Concerto (1981)
  • Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Chamber Orchestra (1977)
  • Fanfare and Memorial for orchestra with harp and flute (1979)
  • Gong-Hu for harp and strings (1984)
  • Duetto concertante for oboe, English horn, and strings (1987)
  • Concerto for Oboe (Oboe d'amore) and Orchestra (1990)
Chamber (seven and more players) / Ensemble
  • Music for Seven Instruments (1959)
  • Loyang for ensemble (1962)
  • Pièce concertante for ensemble (1976)
  • Oktett for clarinet (bass clarinet), bassoon, horn & string quintet (1978)
  • Distanzen for ten players (woodwind & string quintets) (1988)
  • Kammerkonzert No. 1 (1990)
  • Kammerkonzert No. 2 (1990)
  • Wind Octet with double bass (1991)
For one instrument
  • Five Pieces for Piano (1958)
  • Shao Yang Yin for cembalo or piano (1966)
  • Tuyaux sonores for organ solo (1967)
  • Glissées für violoncello solo (1970)
  • Piri for oboe solo (1971)
  • Etudes I-V for flute(s) solo (1974)
  • Fragment for organ (1975)
  • Koenigliches Thema for violin solo (1976)
  • Salomo for alto flute solo (1977/78)
  • Interludium A for piano (1982)
  • Monolog for bass clarinet (1983)
  • Monolog for bassoon solo (1983/84)
  • Li-Na im Garten. Five Pieces for Violin solo (1984/85)
  • In Balance for harp solo (1987)
  • Kontraste. Two Pieces for Violin solo (1987)
  • Sori for flute solo (1988)
  • Chinesische Bilder. Four Pieces for Flute or Recorder solo (1993)
  • Seven Etudes for Violoncello solo (1993)
For two instruments
  • Garak for flute and piano (1963)
  • Gasa for violin and piano (1963)
  • Nore for violoncello and piano (1964)
  • Riul for clarinet and piano (1968)
  • Duo for viola & piano (1976)
  • Espace I for violoncello & piano (1992)
  • Inventionen for 2 oboes (1983)
  • Inventionen for 2 flutes (1983; arr. 1984)
  • Sonatina for 2 violins (1983)
  • Duo for cello & harp (1984)
  • Intermezzo for cello & accordion (1988)
  • Contemplation for 2 violas (1988)
  • Rufe for oboe & harp (1989)
  • Together for violin & double bass (1989)
  • Sonata for violin & piano (1991)
  • Ost-West-Miniaturen I-II for oboe & violoncello (1994)
For three instruments
  • Trio for flute, oboe & violin (1972/73)
  • Piano trio (1972/75)
  • Rondell for oboe, clarinet and fagott (1975)
  • Sonata for oboe (oboe d'amore), harp, and violoncello (or viola) (1979)
  • Rencontre for clarinet, cello & piano (or harp) (1986)
  • Pezzo fantasioso for two (melody) instruments and bass instrument ad libitum (1988)
  • Trio for clarinet, bassoon & horn (1992)
  • Espace II for oboe, cello & harp (1993)
Four instruments
  • String Quartet No. 3 in three movements (1959)
  • Images for flute, oboe, violin, and violoncello (1968)
  • Novellette for flute and harp with violin and violoncello (1980)
  • Quartet for flutes (1986)
  • Quartet for flute, violin, violoncello & piano (1988)
  • String Quartet No. 4 in two movements (1988)
  • Quartet for horn, trumpet, trombone & piano (1992)
  • String Quartet No. 5 in one movement (1990)
  • String Quartet No. 6 in four movements (1992)
  • Quartet for oboe and string trio (1994)
Five instruments
  • Concertino for accordion & string quartet (1983)
  • Clarinet Quintet No. 1 for clarinet and string quartet (1984)
  • Flute Quintet for flute and string quartet (1986)
  • Tapis for string quintet (1987)
  • Festlicher Tanz for wind quintet (1988)
  • Woodwind Quintet I and II (1991)
  • Clarinet Quintet No. 2 (1994)

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
comments so far.
From our partners
Sections Isang Yun

arrow-left arrow-right instagram whatsapp myspace quora soundcloud spotify tumblr vk website youtube pandora tunein iheart itunes