July 21, 2024
KCNA Naenara (En)

Violin and Paek Ko San

Date: 15/05/2024 | Source: Naenara (En) | Read original version at source

Paek Ko San (May 27, 1930-November 27, 1997) is one of the most distinguished musicians who made a tangible contribution to the development of Korean-style violin performance.

A musician’s repertoire largely reveals his or her spiritual world.

Since he began to learn how to play the violin, Paek played a number of folk songs, particularly Arirang , which represented the Korean folk music and constituted one of his most favourite songs.

Both in good and bad times, he liked to play his own unaccompanied violin solo Arirang , with which he won a special prize at the 7th Tchaikovsky international contest. He used to play it at family gatherings and presentations for his students.

One day, while performing it in the presence of his students, he buried himself so deeply in his playing that he got one of the strings cut off at the climax of the performance. But he was still immersed in his work until the vibrations of other strings came to a standstill.

After a while, he lowered his instrument and said: “When I play this song, it reminds me of my miserable past and reduces me to tears.”

The song reflected his bitter experiences that made him have great love for his motherland.

Paek was born to a violin repairman on May 27, 1930 in the then Sosong-ri, Pyongyang.

His father had good reason to stumble into violin.

Paek’s grandfather was noted for his high medical skills in the neighbourhood. So he was often visited by sick people with pulled faces.

His father disliked to see such people and left behind his home. He travelled around until he ran across violin.

He met a number of renowned foreign violinists, and he was so fascinated by the peculiar sound they produced with their fingertips on violins.

While the piano produces elegant and grandiose sounds, he thought, the violin makes ghostly sounds, tugging at people’s heartstrings, which the piano cannot do.

He wondered what else he could take up. He bet his life on the four-stringed instrument, and toured many places in a vain attempt to find a mentor.

He hoped his children would accomplish his dream, so he made himself a violin for each of his sons when they were born.

Paek was the third of eight children, and since he was four, he and his elder brother began to be taught by his father, who often whipped them on their calf when they made mistakes in playing.

In his teens he journeyed around at home and abroad, namely in China and Japan, together with his younger brother who had just begun to learn the violin. They performed Korean and foreign songs to make a living and study.

Once Paek travelled to Japan on tour with a Japanese showman, who forced him to play none other than Japanese songs.

Young as he was, he felt so humiliated that he reacted by staging Arirang to his liking. The Japanese audience booed and shouted “Stop,” “Make him play Japanese songs” and “Get him out.”

While in performance, Paek was taken off the stage and roughed up by the showman.

Back home, he found his family had gone somewhere with his house demolished. He went over to China for living.

On an alien land he keenly experienced the miserable lives of the Korean emigrants who had lost their country.

His genuine career as an artiste began since he came back to his motherland after it was liberated by President Kim Il Sung .

On the morning of New Year’s Day in 1950, a few months after he returned home, Kim Il Sung invited him to his residence and saw him fiddling.

He paid deep attention to Paek’s future, saying that it was needed to perform a lot of folk songs and that it would make performance of foreign songs worthwhile.

His instructions served as a beacon of my life, Paek recalled.

He said to himself: Now I have my own country. I will perform to my heart’s content to add brilliance to my motherland that embraces me.

With such emotion and ambition, he played his part as concertmaster and soloist at the Korean People’s Army Song and Dance Ensemble. During the Fatherland Liberation War, he was actively on tour encouraging the frontline People’s Army soldiers to fight more bravely for victory. He studied abroad under the care of Kim Il Sung .

Afterwards, he played an active role as a soloist at the National Symphony Orchestra and other central artistic institutions. When a female instrumental ensemble was added to the world-famous Mansudae Art Troupe, Chairman Kim Jong Il sent him to the ensemble as its technical director in a show of his deep trust in the latter.

“Paek Ko San wrote a multitude of violin scores and put lots of works on stage,” said Kang Thae On, researcher at Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun University of Music and Dance. “His performance was characterized by unique bowing, deep musical coloration and rich emotion. All our people loved his enriched performance based on elegance, profundity, passion and deep thought.”

Breaking with the convention in which violin was considered to be only fit for Western music, he wrote concerto or solo scores for Korean folk songs such as Arirang , Yangsando and Tondollari .

He won the third and first places in the individual contests of the world festivals of youth and students held in 1953 and 1955 respectively, and received an honour prize at the first Tchaikovsky international contest. He was nominated as a member of the jury for international violin contests.

He spent the last decade of his career at Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun University of Music and Dance, training scores of competent violinists including winners of February 16 Art Prize and international contests.

Honoured with the title of People’s Artiste, Paek Ko San still lives in the hearts of the people, with many visiting the Patriotic Martyrs Cemetery in Sinmi-ri where he was buried and missing his mysterious and beautiful melodies.

His legacy is being carried on by his disciples and children.

Yang Ryon Hui

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