The three movements of Isang Yun’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.2 (1983–86) were composed at different times and for different occasions; they can also be performed separately. The performance of the thirty-five-minute overall work nevertheless creates the impression of a harmonious whole, with this impression owing only in part to Yun’s relatively homogeneous symphonic late style. The second movement, Dialogue Butterfly – Atomic Bomb, was initially composed for an antinuclear concert of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. Yun’s Cho to genbaku no taiwa (thus the Japanese title) was first performed under the conductor Hiroyuki Iwaki in the Hibiya Hall in Tokyo on July 8, 1983, together with the premieres of several works by Japanese composers. From the beginning Yun intended to embed this Dialogue in the larger context of a second violin concerto. He composed the Festive Prelude first movement during the following year, 1984, but did not complete the two-part third movement, Adagio and Finale, until February 15, 1986.
Yun composed the Festive Prelude (1984) for a festival concert of the South Westphalian Philharmonic on the occasion of the seventy-fifth birthday of Rolf Agop, the orchestra’s principal conductor for many years. During 1976–84 Agop had assisted Yun in the organization of the Study Weeks for Young Composers, a workshop for new music during which composition students from music schools in the Federal Republic of Germany could present their works and also reckon with performances.
Yun unfolds the Festive Prelude in the manner typical of his symphonic period: festive, voluptuous yearning on the one side and resolute impetus of a fighting spirit on the other side. A dialogical relationship exists between the solo instrument and the orchestra from the very beginning, with the solo violin assuming the active, leading role almost throughout. Linear design, reference to the "main tone" or central tone, and preference for diatonic interval constellations enable Yun to achieve a typically Korean tone, occasionally containing what are even motivic-thematic elements. The flexible course follows a dramaturgy of constant extension and leads to almost dramatic intensifications. The solo cadenza is embedded, as reflective pausing, in the symphonic flow, while the abrupt shifts between solo and tutti after the cadenza are sharpened conflictively. The movement concludes with a tutti beat in measure 117. The fact that September 17, 1917, is regarded as Yun’s birthday shows that personal number symbolism is involved here. The Festive Prelude symbolizes yearning for freedom and peace but also thematizes the resistance encountered along this path. It aims immediately at the entry of the Dialogue.
A number of different meanings are associated with the "butterfly" in East Asian culture. The butterfly symbolizes an old man or a lover but also stands for long life and the immortality of the soul, for resurrection and rebirth. Yun translates the bomb rather symbolically as a look back at scorched earth and designs the Dialogue Butterfly – Atomic Bomb (1983) in an almost irreal or surrealistic atmosphere. The unaccompanied violin solo consisting of the tenderest flageolet tones is answered by the muted brass group quietly and dully with march-like impulses pointing to the military origin of the bomb. The "butterfly", the violin, finds partners ("helpers") in the solo flute and the strings and woodwinds. They initially stand in irreconcilable opposition to the brass instruments and timpani. The dialogue with the brass group occurs successively. These opposing sound worlds are first heard simultaneously in the combination of horn and solo violin. This first encounter is followed intensifyingly by tutti inserts as well as by restless gestures on the part of the solo violin with harp. Dialogical succession dominates. Even the simultaneous playing of the groups proceeds without interrelation. Their opposing idioms are not resolved in this movement. Here Yun attains to shadowy, irreal sound effects. He thematizes the encounter with the bomb not as a nuclear catastrophe but rather the condition of things after it: a naive butterfly happens upon destroyed, dying, twitching remains and occasionally also experiences little explosive outbursts.
Yun soon rejected the idea of integrating the Dialogue into the violin concerto as a slow movement. He felt that the finale still had to be preceded by a piece involving the grieving process in the form of a slow movement. It was thus that he composed the two-part Adagio and Finale (1985/86), a form already tried out by Robert Schumann. Here Yun initially combines the solo violin with the mourning voice of the trombone. The mourning song of the violin extends out and opens up to the orchestral groups while at the same time becoming an homage to beauty. Memory of the Dialogue continues to echo here, however, in that a few motifs from the second movement recur in admonition. The excited atmosphere produced in this way proceeds into the monologue of the solo violin concluding the slow movement.
The lively Finale begins as a dancy perpetuum mobile with a characteristic four-tone motif at its phrase ends. The orchestra assumes the seemingly optimistic vitality of the solo instrument. A brass insert is heard in contrast and answered by the strings, some counterforces notwithstanding, in an almost hymnic tone. This nevertheless turbulent tutti hardens the further course of the music. A solo cadenza prior to the almost triumphant end occurs once again as a second contrasting insert.
Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer (2004, translated by Susan Marie Praeder)