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In luce ambulemus/Im Lichte Wollen wir wandeln
May we walk in light

A year after her musical theatre piece “Moon Shadow”, Younghi Pagh Paan wrote “In luce ambulemus”, which, while entirely different in subject matter, nevertheless shares some thematic and structural similarities with the earlier play. Both works are about the idea of a life-long journey, and the search for a goal in life. In “Moon Shadow”, the aging Oedipus, after years of travelling, reaches Colonos, the place where he can finally lie down to die.

In the concert piece “In luce ambulemus”, the journey symbolizes an internal search that concludes with the humility found before god. The composer based this work on Korean translations from the letters of the Korean priest Yang Up Choi, originally written in Latin. Persecuted in his home country for being a Christian, Choi spent a large portion of his lifetime on a journey throughout China; he returned to Korea for the last twelve years of his life, and kept practicing as a priest under the most difficult circumstances. The text selection, excerpts from Choi’s letters in which he combines bible quotes and Catholic liturgy, defines faith as an existential experience. Through the idea of a complete revelation of the self, eventually allowing a mystical union with the absolute, the Christian beliefs of humility and mercy take on an almost Taoist character.

The musical score is characterized by a fragile balance between a fixed form and a constant change of sound. Like in other of the composer’s works, the harmony is based on static “mother chords” stretching throughout the entire piece, while a tight network of heterophonic lines provides a constant energy. The core of the piece is the lyrical exclamations of the singer, whose intensity is heightened by insistent repetitions of certain lyrics. The intervals and the microtonal sound variations point to the traditional Korean vocal style. The overall character of the piece seems more rooted in Far Eastern rather than European musical tradition.

The focus on the internal, as expressed in the lyrics, is reflected in the very reduced musical arrangement. The woodwind players are only twofold, with a single oboe, and the brass instruments are represented by only one trombone. There is only one percussionist, who is equipped with chimes and cymbal for the high notes. These are featured prominently on various occasions, and subtly underline the ritualized character of the music which is rich with internal emotion.

Max Nyffeler (Translation by Alexandra Schulz)


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