WorldView Episode 34: Isang Yun (Yun I-sang)

        Isang Yun, a master of 12-tone classical music, is best remembered for his work blending traditional Korean music with Western classical styles. Born during Japanese rule of South Korea in 1917, Yun’s career led him to West Germany, where he remained from 1969 to his death in 1995. 

       Isang Yun (also spelled as Yun I-sang) was born in modern-day Sancheong, South Korea in September of 1917, the son of a poet. He composed his first piece at age thirteen, and soon began formal training as a violinist, cellist, and music theorist. After briefly studying in Osaka and Tokyo, Yun returned to South Korea to join the Korean independence movement in 1941. He was arrested and spent several months in prison, but was released by the time that Korea gained independence from Japan in 1945. Yun took up several teaching positions after the war, and traveled to Europe to finish his musical training in 1955. 

        Now an active composer, Yun first premiered his “Music for Seven Instruments” and “Réak”, the latter of which helped grow his international reputation; “Réak” was one of the first works to introduce Korean ceremonial styles to the growing field of modern classical music. Yun and his family moved to West Berlin in 1964, with the hope of further establishing his career. In 1967, Yun was kidnapped by the South Korean government on charges of espionage. Potentially faced with the death penalty or life imprisonment, the composer spent two years in prison. However, an international coalition of artists—including Igor Stravinski, Herbert von Karajan, and Guenter Freudenberg—presented an extensive petition to the South Korean government. Yun was freed in 1969, and returned to West Berlin. He never returned to South Korea and passed away in 1995, leaving behind more than 120 compositions. 

        Episode thirty-four of WorldView features an arrangement of Isang Yun’s 1984 work “Monologue”. It is performed by clarinetist Harry Sparnaay, in a recording from the record label Babel


WorldView Episode Thirty-Four Playlist:

Isang YUN, “Monologue”, {Harry Sparnaay (clt)} – Babel

Feliksas BAJORAS, “Symphony-Diptych (1983/1993)”, {Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, Gintaras Rinkevičius} – Naxos

Milton BABBITT, “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime”, {Jan Degaetani (sop), Gilbert Kalish (pf)} – Elektra Nonesuch

Walter ROSS, “Wind Quintet No. 2”, {Albemarle Ensemble} – Virginia Arts Recording


WorldView is a classical music radio show featuring composers from everywhere in the world – except Western Europe. Tune in to hear works by lesser-known artists such as Irving Fine and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and widen your knowledge of classical music. Hinke Younger hosts each week’s episode of WorldView on Mondays at 9AM and 6PM (with a rebroadcast Saturdays at 2PM) on

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