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NIM

For a full orchestra (1986/87)


Commissioned by the public broadcasting company Südwestfunk Baden-Baden
First performed in 1987 at the Donaueschinger Musiktage

I have been living in Europe for 13 years now. I owe nearly everything I would like to express here to this period of time – nearly, but not completely everything. In an essay, which I wrote in 1983 for the "Neuland" yearbook, I said "I undoubtedly find myself on the shore of a great lake of development, with the far shore not yet in view. And yet I vow to remain steadfast in one respect: I will not compose any music that pulls me away from the cultural roots so deeply ingrained in my soul. As for so many people who live "outside", as those of us say who have left our homeland, whether by choice or by necessity, the increasing realization of the physical distance has caused a countermotion within me. This forces me to penetrate my own history, which seems to me to reflect the current world situation. This means not forgetting the things I knew and figuring out what I didn't know. The least I can do as an ex-patriot is to keep my memories alive. And so it is an immense challenge for me to write an orchestral composition thousands of miles from my native soil.

Long before I began to consider NIM, I became acquainted with the work of a poet that was born in 1935 in the Kwangju Region. Unlike Kim Chi-Ha, whose poems, though outlawed in our country a number of times, became internationally known and were translated into several languages, Mun Byung-Lan gained recognition only regionally. He was directly involved in the civil revolt in Kwangju in May of 1980, which ended in a massacre all too quickly forgotten by the outside world. His poetry was undoubtedly recognized and acclaimed by the people of this region. In fact, he is considered one of the most popular poets of this city. The regime accused him of inciting a student revolt and he faced persecution at the hands of the state police. He was able to go underground, no one betrayed him. In 1981, his poems were published for the sixth time. One of the poems – one he himself calls a "love poem" talks about our earth. The lyrics of this poem made a deep impression on me. The metaphors of the abused, tortured, and trodden soil clung to me.

NIM is the third of my pieces concerning this topic. In NO-UL (Sunset, for string trio), I was searching for a deep, dark, warm sound. The EARTH sound is one of the 8 traditional Chinese "material" sounds. According to the Taoist understanding, it is something universal, like the heavens – "Red sinks like to blood of generations into the earth." In HWANG-TO (yellow earth) for choir and instrumentation, based on fragments of poems by Kim Chi-Ha, the earth itself is a singular wail. This and love poem? I attempt here to give a rough translation of Mun Byung-Lan's verses, as they have never been translated before.

Younghi Pagh-Paan



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