Site hosted by Build your free website today!
Traditional Korean Music Pages
Classical Korean Music

Korean classical music is very broad and encompasses a voluminous collection of various music styles and forms including: Chongak, Hyangak(native court music), Tangak (Chinese classical music), and Aak ("refined" music), a term first used by Confucious. Chongak is usually used to designate all pieces and music forms performed and supported by members of the upper classes as a form of amusement. Some of the most prominent pieces and classical music forms are as follows:
  1. Yongsan-Hoisang
  2. Yomillak
  3. Boheoja
  4. Nakyangchun
  5. Sujechon
  6. Chuita
  7. Confucian Shrine Music
  8. Royal Ancestral Shrine Music
  9. Kagok Lyrical Songs
  10. Sijo Lyrical Songs
  11. Kasa
Featured Classical Piece:
Song of Great Peace
Taepyongga (Song of Great Peace) is the final lyrical song of the kagok song cycle. It is the only song which is performed together by male and female voice. The two voices wander along melodically almost in parallel octaves with each voice adding various ornaments and vocal effects.
"The philosophy of the Orient is predominantly mystic. High value is placed on nature, as may be seen in the concept of earlier times of music as a bridge from man to nature or to the gods. The sound of a plucked string in which man participates in the act of creating the tone and listens as it follows its course as determined by nature is highly satisfying to the Oriental conception of musical art."

- Hwang Byungki(contemporary composer)
Age, Birthdays, and You

When Koreans are born, they are said to be one year old and the age is increased not on birthdays, but on New Year's Day. Thus the difference between Korean age and Western age is 2 years until one's birthday. Then the difference is one year.

Classical Music Pieces

1. Yongsan-Hoisang (Mass on Spiritual Mountain)

The piece Yongsan-Hoisang was originally derived from a Buddhist chant and included Buddhist text. However, over the years the text has been excluded and the piece has developed into a purely instrumental suite in nine movements: sangnyongsan-jungnyongsan-seryongsan-karakdori-samhyundodeuri-hahyundodeuri-yombuldodeuri-taryong-gunak. Like other court music pieces, Yongsan-Hoisang has developed a version for strings and another version for winds. Additionally there is a modified version in a different key from the original.
String Version: The string version of Yongsan-Hoisang is obviously centred on the string instruments of komungo, kayagum, and haegum with accompanimet by the sepiri, daegum, and janggu, the yanggum and danso can also be included on occasion. As the komungo is primarily entrusted with the melody this piece is also called Komungo-Hoisang. The suite begins with the slowly moving sangnyongsan and ends with the faster gunak movement, the piece as a whole gradually increases in tempo as it progresses through the nine movements.
Wind Version
Modified Version

2. Yomillak (Enjoying with the People)

The piece Yomillak was composed during the reign of the Great King Sejong and completed in the year 1447. Originally the piece combined elements of both native Korean music and Chinese music but gradually the piece became more and more Koreanised. Historical documents show us that the piece was used for various occasions in the Korean court including processions, banquets, and diplomatic meetings. The piece included text from the epic poetry cycle Songs of the Flying Dragon, a collection of 125 cantos representing the very first experimental use of the newly-invented Korean alphabet Hangul, completed in the year 1443. Yomillak was composed with 10 movements, but modern performances only include 7 of these movements and since the 16th century the text has been excluded. Since its completion, the piece has undergone a number of transformations and today 4 different versions of the piece are known to be in existence.

3. Boheoja

The piece boheoja is an instrumental piece which was adpted from a traditional Chinese song, brought to Korea during the Koryo Dynasty. The piece lost its original text and as it became more koreanised, the work developed a number of different versions as follows: wind version, string version, mit-dodeuri, us-dodeuri, yangchong-dodeuri, ujo-karak-dodeuri, and kyemyon-karak-dodeuri.

4. Nakyangchun

Nakyangchun, literally translating as Springtime in Loyang, was originally a Chinese song which was brought to Korea during the Koryo Dynasty. In Korea, the piece was adapted into a purely instrumental work with the tang-piri principally playing the melody. The rhythm is surprisingly irregular with no divisions into verses. The piece employs 7 distinct tones but 2 of these tones are played exactly once each, thus essentially this piece is constructed on a 5-tone scale. In 1960, musicologist Yi Hye-Gu restored the piee somewhat by affixing text to the ensemble work and since then the piece is sometimes includes vocal performance

5. Sujechon

This instrumental work dates back to the 7th century when it was adapted from the folk song Jongeupsa. Later the piece was used to accompany traditional dance and documents show that it was used in royal processions in the 14th century. The piece uses two instrumental ensembles which play opposing melodies against one another. This piece is considered one of the ultimate masterpieces of the Korean music tradition.

6. Chuita

Chuita is the only Korean piece which is derived from military music. The military piece daechuita was played at the royal court when the main gates were opened for the king's travels, to welcome foreign emissaries, or for military processions. This work is played by large instrumental ensemble with only the taepyongso being entrusted with the principal melody. The piece begins when the steward of the ensemble raises his baton and calls out: "myonggeum-iha.....daechuita!". This daechuita worked developed an instrumental suite in 5 movements as follows: chuita-kilgunak-kiltaryong-byeolujotaryong-gunak.

7. Confucian Shrine Music

This music is part of an annual ceremony honouring Confucious held at the Confucian Shrine in Seoul, the ceremony includes instrumental music, vocal music, and dance. The music was brought to Korea from China's Song Dynasty during the Koryo Dynasty around the year 1116. After some centuries the music became Koreanised, thus in the 15th century King Sejong decided to restore the music to its original form as it had existed in China. Today it is performed from the notation which has been passed down since the 15th century. The music used in the Confucian Shrine Ceremony consists of six pieces constructed on a 7-tone scale in melismatic form. Like the Royal Ancestral Shrine music this ceremony employs two full orchestras: deungga (terrace orchestra) and hunga (courtyard orchestra), notably the hunga does not use a single string instrument.

8. Royal Ancestral Shrine Music

Every year in May, Korea pays homage to its revered ancestral kings with a ceremony at the Royal Ancestral Shrine in Seoul. Music and dance are important elements of the ceremony which includes symbolic offerings of gifts and wine. There are two dances used throughout the ceremony: munmu celebrates the cultural achievements of the nation while mumu celebrates past military achievements. The music is centred on two lengthy suites of 11 movements each:Jeongdaeyop (Achieving Great Works) and Botaepyong (Achieving Great Peace). These suites were composed in the 15th century during the reign of King Sejong and at that time Jeongdaeyop was a suite in 15 movements, but shortly thereafter, this piece was reduced to 11 movements. Documents with full scores of notation show us that the music has remained virtually unchanged since then. This shrine music is a major orchestral work which employs two complete orchestras, the deungga located up on the terrace and the hunga located down in the courtyard. These two orchestras alternate as the piece progresses. The form of the piece is as follows:

Ushering in the Spiritscourtyardculturalcalling for the entrance of the spirits
Offeringterraceculturaloffering of gifts
Praisescourtyardnoneraising of glasses
terraceculturalfirst offering of wine
courtyardmilitarysecond offering of wine
courtyardmilitarythird and final offering of wine
Praisesterracenonecovering of vessels
Ushering out the spiritscourtyardnonesending of the spirits

9. Kagok Lyrical Songs

Kagok, literally meaning "song-piece", is a lyrical song form which uses classical Korean poetry as text. The kagok employs a small ensemle of winds and strings as accompaniment and adheres to a strict structural form as follows: instrumental introduction · verse 1 · verse 2 · verse 3 · instrumental bridge · verse 4 · verse 5 · closing instrumental section. According to historical documents, this song form is thought to have connections with instrumental music dating back to around the 12th century and is considered to be the first lyrical song form as it appeared some time before the sijo lyrical song form. Kagok songs are collected into three cycles as follows: a cycle of 24 songs for solo male voice, a cycle of 15 songs for solo female voice, and a cycle of 27 songs for solo male and female voice, note however that the first 26 songs of this cycle alternate between solo male and female voices, only the final song Taepyongga (Song of Great Peace) is performed together. These song cycles are meant to be sung from beginning to end on a single occasion thus performances were normally reserved for trained musicians. The kagok lyrical songs are based on either a 3-tone or 5-tone scale.

Instrumental Music:The instrumental music used in in the kagok lyrical song form later freed itself from the yoke of accompaniment and established the purely instrumental suite consisting of the six movements: Ujodugeo · byunjodugeo · kyemyondugeo · pyeongnyong · kyerak · pyeonsudaeyop. These movements can be played together as a suite or performed in sections as distinct pieces.

Another instrumental piece called Cheongseonggok (high-tone-piece) also arose out of the accompaniment music for the kagok lyrical song form and is normally played as a solo piece for daegum or danso. This piee is based on a 3-tone scale and has a bright high range.

10. Sijo Lyrical Songs

The sijo lyrical song form is known as the second lyrical song form as it appeared some time after the kagok song form. Two separate historical documents containing notation of sijo date back to the 18th century thus it is thought that the music form was already quite widely established by then. The songs also developed certain characteristics which differ according to region. Although both kagok and sijo use classical Korean poetry as text there are a number of significant differences between the two forms:
  • sijo uses three verse while kagok adheres strictly to a five verse form.
  • sijo is based on a 3-tone scale while kagok employs both 3 and 5-tone scales.
  • sijo doesn't necessarily require an instrumental ensemble as accompaniment but kagok absolutely always uses an ensemble as accompaniment.
  • sijo is widely sung by large numbers of people but kagok is generally restricted to trained musicians.


The kasa is a long song form which exhibits influences from various different sources, including sijo and kagok, as well as folk songs of the northwest region of Korea. Very little is known about the origin of the kasa music form with the exception of one document from the 15th century which contains the lyrics of the kasa song obusa. Kasa can be performed with only janggu accompaniament or with a small ensemble of instruments including daegum, piri, haegum, and janggu.

.....even Diamond Mountain should be seen after eating.....