Wagner and Korea (part2)

Ulk, Berlin 1876

Ulk, Berlin 1876

In the first part of my blogpost on the German composer who would have turned 200 years in 2013, I wrote about Wagner in Korea. Now, it’s time to turn to the relation of Wagner and Korea, that is how Korean scholars have connected Wagner’s ideas to traditional Korean music.

Remember: I discovered two recent papers that deal with “Wagner and Korea” in one way or another. The first one focused on content, namely the motive of incest in Wagner’s Ring-cycle and Park Chan-wook’s movie Oldboy.

The second one is about “intermediality in sound communication” in Wagner’s musical dramas and—this caught my attention—Korean pansori.[1] I didn’t exactly understand what the term “intermediality” (상호매체성) is supposed to mean, but it seems to refer to the peculiar way the different “media” (매체) of a given art “interfere and combine with each other” (서로 간섭하고 결합되면서…”, from the abstract). In the case of pansori, the author includes the literary work, the sounds produced by the singer, the beats by the drummer, and the chuimsae by drummer and audience. For Wagner’s operas, the media would be the written drama, the sound of the singers and the great orchestra, the acoustic characteristics of the performance space, the stage art, and the sound of the audience’s applause.[2]

As the result of his comparison, the author notes the “interculturality” (상호문화성), both in the sources of Wagner and pansori, that is based on the “‘archetypes’ [원형] unconsciously-collectively shared by humanity”. The globalisation of pansori (of course!) depends on getting into the dormant mindset of world-wide audiences. Through the voice and drum sounds of the Koreans, the author suggests, the universal human archetypes might be awakened. (For my rough translation/paraphrase, I used the respective paragraphs both from the Korean[3] and the German[4] abstract.)

But 김성재 was not the first to connect Wagner’s “Gesamtkunstwerk”[5] and pansori. Digging deeper, I found an MA thesis from 1994 that deals with Wagner and “traditional Korean dramatic music” (한국 전통 극음악), i.e. pansori.[6] Here, the author is concerned with the similarities and differences between these two forms of dramatic music, aiming for “the basic spirit and form of Western and Korean Music”.

Solely based on the English abstract, this very short thesis (merely 40 pages) looks like the work of a Wagner afficionado in search of a dissertation topic to me. Yet, it throws up an interesting question that remains open to debate: In which ways are the works of Wagner on the one hand, pansori on the other, representative of “Western” and “Korean” music, respectively? I don’t think they are—the musical traditions of both countries are too complex as that they could be reduced to the work of one single composer or one single genre, respectively. But both kinds of music/theatre have been used as symbols for respective national interests in various ways. How and if this worked and works is, at least with regard to pansori, an ongoing research topic for me.

In any case, the author seems to opt for changgeuk (창극, oversimplified: staged pansori) as a more “modern” way to show “the face of Korean Dramatic Music”. The kind of bizarre characterization of changgeuk as “the creative and civilized form of Pansori” aside, this opinion is shared by many scholars and practitioners of both genres. Others prefer different ways of “up-dating” pansori for contemporary (and, as above, international) audiences. I’m undecided on this matter.

In sum, both papers might be helpful footnotes in an analysis (one that has yet to be written, as far as I know) of the way changes in traditional Korean arts have been promoted and legitimized with reference to “Western” classics. Wagner is only one of them. Next year it might be someone else.[7]

On this note: A Happy New Year to Everyone! 새해복 많이 받으세요!

– 22 May 2013 (水)


1. 김성재, 「소리 커뮤니케이션에서의 상호매체성 : 바그너 오페라와 한국 판소리의 비교연구」 (“Intermedialiät in der Sound-Kommunikation: Eine vergleichende Studie von Musikdramen Wagners mit koreanischer Oper Pansori”), 문화예술교육연구, Vol.6 No.1 (2011). (RISS)

2. The Korean term for “sound of applause” (갈채소리) is quite peculiar, at least I have never read it before. The Naver dictionary renders 갈채 (喝采) as
“applause, (formal) ovation (함성); cheer (열렬한 환호); (formal) acclamation (칭찬, 호평); (formal) plaudits”. Naver’s hanja dictionary provides a more detailed interpretation: “The two Chinese characters that make up 갈채 mean 1. 喝 = 꾸짖을 갈 [to scold, rebuke]; 2. 采 = 풍채 채 [appearance, presence], alternatively 캘 채 [to dig up, lift].”
The term is explained further: Yelling with a loud voice to compliment or praise a person who has achieved some great thing or that act [of achievement] (1), also used in a metaphorical sense (2). This is the original: “①어떤 일을 훌륭하게 해낸 사람이나 그 행위(行爲)에 대(對)해, 칭찬(稱讚)ㆍ찬양(讚揚)의 뜻으로 큰소리를 지르는 것 ②때로, 대상(對象)을 칭찬(稱讚)하거나 찬양(讚揚)하는 것을 비유적(比喩的)으로 이르기도 함”
Reading these interpretations, 갈채 seems to be closer to 칭찬 (稱讚, compliment, lit. “designate and celebrate”) than 박수 (拍手, applause, lit. “striking hands”). Is the author implying a deeper structural connection between the
chuimsae in pansori and the notoriously epic applause in Bayreuth? As he tries to show an “intercultural” connection (based on unconsciously shared archetypes… See below in the main post) between Wagner’s music drama and pansori, it seems he wants to stress the meaning of the applause over its sheer materiality. This also strikes a chord with his focus on “sound-communication” (소리 커뮤니케이션). I’m more interested in the bodily effects of “cheering”, those that go beyond the expression of sympathy, though… Well, enough now for this 삼천포!

3. 판소리와 바그너 오페라와의 비교에서 확인된 상호문화성은 인류가 공유하고 있는 집단무의식으로서 ‘원형’이 음악을 위한 드라마의 소재로 사용된다는 사실이다. 판소리의 세계화는 판소리 특유의 상호매체성을 부각시키고, 한국인의 목소리와 북소리로 인류 보편적인 원형을 일깨우기 위해 세계 청중의 깊은 잠재 의식 구조 속으로 침투하는 데 그 성패가 달려 있다.

4. Bei der Vergleichung der Pansori mit Musikdramen Wagners läßt sich eine Interkulturalität feststellen, indem “Archetypen” im kollektiven Unterbewußtsein der Meschheit als Stoffe für die beiden Musikmeisterwerke verwendet werden. Neben der Betonung dieser Interkulturalität hängt die Globalisierung der Pansori davon ab, wie der koreanische Gesangs- und Trommelston in die tiefe Bewußtweinsstruktur der Weltzuhörer hineindringen kann, um das Unterbewußtsein der Menschheit zu erwecken.

5. Wikipedia gives sources for several possible translation of this loanword, e.g. “total work of art”, “ideal work of art”, “universal artwork”. In Korean, the terms 총체 예술 or 종합 예술 [작품] are common. Interestingly, the latter term is occasionally used to characterize pansori as a hybrid artform that incorporates poetry, narration, music, acting etc. For example, pansori-scholar Kim Dae-haeng, in his book on “Pansori Culture of Our Times” (김대행,『우리 시대의 판소리문화』, 역락출판사 2001, RISS), writes about the “synthetic structure” (종합예술적 구조) of pansori, referring to its literary and musical aspects. I remember that, at a concert, the MC called pansori a “total art” (종합예술) because it combines poetry, storytelling, and humor.

6. 정수연, 「R. Wagner 總體 藝術과 韓國 傳統 劇音樂 照明」 (R. Wagner 총체 예술과 한국 전통 극음악 조명 / A Study on R. Wagner General Arts and Korean Tradition Dramatic Music), 학위논문(석사), 경성대학교 대학원: 음악학과 1994, 44 p. (RISS)

7. This year, we had a guest appearance of pansori star Lee Jaram in a production of Danton’s Death (당통의 죽음), a play by Georg Büchner who was also born in 1813. How about a reform-changgeuk-version of Orfeo ed Euridice (오르페오와 에우리디체) by Christoph Willibald Gluck (300th birthday)? Here is the libretto! Or if you prefer the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814)…


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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