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Peter Schwarz, organ / Nürnberger Philharmoniker / Hans Gierster
Dimensions, a commissioned work for the city of Nuremberg on the occasion of the Dürer Year in 1971, is Yun’s fifth orchestral compsition. In Réak (1966), inspired by Korean ceremonial music, he reproduced the sound character of the East Asian mouth organ sheng (or saeng, shô) in the orchestra part, above all in the woodwinds.Yun then developed considerable dynamics within the consistently linear, horizontal layering of the compositional design in Dimensions for full orchestra with organ (1971). As later in the Symphony III (1985), here at least three sound worlds are placed in relation: chthonic or demonic depths (percussion, brass instruments, relatively unchanging heights (high strings, organ), and the manifoldly differentiated, gradually expanding layer of the woodwinds. In Fluctuations these sound worlds often alternate; in Dimensions they many times occur simultaneously, and in Symphony III they again alternate, encounter one another, and are mixed together.
The "showing" layer, at the same time dynamizing everything, is derived from Japanese tradition (Nô and Gagaku); from the beginning it is produced above all by the glistening, piercingly high tone of the piccolo. This tone is combined with other flutes as well as with extremely high, almost noisy flageolet sounds of all the strings symbolizing as a sound background the unchanging being. Discontinuous actions of diverse percussion instruments constitute a third, lower sound layer.
The ambitus (range) of the long-drawn-out high sounds or sound planes is gradually expanded. Then the contrasting sound world of the brass instruments appears as a breaking-in. The isolated tone of the piccolo is now embedded in the combined sound of the flutes plus oboes and later flanked by a chord of the clarinets and bassoons anticipating the organ sound. The sound flow is made to thicken by the addition of the brass instruments, and in the following phase the organ enters for the first time. Yun soon combines the unchangingly held organ sound with different woodwind groups weaving in little slides (ornaments) into their main tones. He characterized particularly broad leaps of the bassoons and muted trumpets leading to the main tone as "animal-like calls." It is only after this that the strings again come in.
The various sound planes are heard in different combinations; they occur in overlay, rub against each other, and intensify in the continuously flowing, organically breathing process. Yun forms sequences of formal sections while following overriding principles of intensification and dramatization, of the increasing expansion in space. There are expounding and elaborating processes, even recapitulation-like resumptions which he nevertheless constantly combines also with new material. The compositional idea at the basis of Yun’s Dimensions is that the sky, the diastemic upper, withdraws from the lower in such measure, directed upward, as the sound layers, lower in pitch, try to approach it. "The organ sound is always very near in the piece, near enough to be touched, but it repeatedly withdraws. It is always a little bit higher than man can reach. The organ sound is thus human and then again not. It is always there" (Yun).
The central idiom of the piercingly high flute tone is derived from the Nô. Yun took the conceptional idea of depicting (at least) three sound worlds in a continuously flowing as well as in an almost dramatically dynamized process from the interlude to his great Sim Tjong opera (1971/72), a work composed prior to the Dimensions orchestral piece.
The twenty-three minute prelude preceding Act I, which is twice as long, and the interlude of about twelve minutes preceding Act II, which endures half an hour, are the essential dramaturgical connecting points for the mythic-philosophical dimension of the opera action. In the prelude Sim Tjong receives two commissions: first, she is "to fill with young power what is blinded, what is rigidified" (= Act I) and, second, "to renew the old world." The interlude occurs in the depths of the Yellow Sea, in the realm of the dragon king Indang-su, whose part is sung by five basses and who is represented symbolically by the bizarre forms of a rock. "In the rock five brides of the dragon king take root like marine plants; they are still half human and already half plant, on the border between the conscious and the vegetative." Here Sim Tjong suffers disillusionment. So that her father can see again, she has sacrificed her earthly life but now learns that he is still blind. The heavenly princess Ok-tjin, her mother, rids her of her depression and admonishes her that it is now time to complete the second part of her commission, that of the renewing of the world. "Transformed, born anew from the depths," Sim Tjong returns to the earth in a lotus flower. There she becomes the emperor’s bride, and her father, who blesses her, regains his sight through insight into his blindness.
Yun also borrowed some concrete idioms from the opera Sim Tjong, above all from the interlude. Examples include the excited-exciting woodwind sounds (first in the prelude to the characterization of Sang-dje, the emperor of heaven), the signal-like, visionary, long-drawn-out piccolo sound together with the descending half tone, which in 1974 would become the basic element for the Etude I for flute, and the "animal-like calls." The long-drawn-out piccolo sounds are also heard in Act II, when Sim Tjong’s father discovers that he can see.
Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer (2004, translated by Susan Marie Praeder)
Peter Schwarz (organ) / Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Hans Zender
Internationale Isang Yun Gesellschaft IYG 003