A history of korea and korean music
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A History of Korea and Korean Music. The Three Periods. Most historians and scholars separate the history of Korean music into three distinct periods: Ancient Medieval Modern. Samguk Sagi.

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A History of Korea and Korean Music

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A History of Korea and Korean Music

The Three Periods

  • Most historians and scholars separate the history of Korean music into three distinct periods:

    • Ancient

    • Medieval

    • Modern


  • 1Most of what we know about the ancient and traditional periods of Korean Music comes from a book known as the SamgukSagi, “The History of the Three Kingdoms (of Korea)”

  • Though Korean, the book is written in Chinese script, the language of scholars all over East Asia

  • The book is the first compilation of Korean history, and the section that tells us about music and ceremony is called “Treatises”

1146 C.E.

Music of Ancient Period

  • The music of the ancient period (known as akkamu)subdivides into two major practices2:

    • Angmu – music and dance

    • Kamu – song and dance

    • Again, it should be reinforced that both performances were carried out as religious rites to honor the spirits of the earth and heavens.

Based on religious rites and celebrations

Used to honor nature, particularly the sun, the heavens, and the earth

The Amsa-dong Settlement is a re-imagining of what ancient Korean settlements may have looked like.

The oldest form of Korean music is called sinawi. It developed in the ancient period as a way to communicate stories through song3.


Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392)

  • 4Established in 918 with the complete unification of warring tribal states, the dynasty is generally considered to be the beginning of the “medieval” era for Korea.

  • The period is known for its revitalization of Korean culture; it is the first time we can consider any cultural work as coming from a people who are uniquely “Korean.”

Joseon Dynasty(1392 – 1897)

  • Following the overthrow of the Goryeo dynasty, the Joseon rulers moved the capital to Seoul, where it remains today.

  • Joseon rule is marked by the rise of stringent legal restrictions and the rise of Confucianism as the official state religion.


  • Literally, “the great blowing and hitting”

  • Music of military processions and martial exercises during the Joseon Dynasty.

A Shift in Culture

  • *It is important to note the shift of the music’s primary intention – from religious worship to honoring the courts; the cultural dynamic shifts from religiousto secular

  • The internal shift of Korean culture is moving from spiritual Buddhism to the more earthly-concerned Confucianism, and this change will be reflected in their music and art.

Medieval Music

  • Jeongak- the preferred style of the ruling upper-class; literally translates to “right” or “correct” music.

    • Style emphasizes stringed and wind instruments, especially the haegeum and the sogeum

  • Nongak– village music preferred by the larger population of commoners; literally translates to “farmer’s music”

    • Style is mostly percussive, with the use of multiple drums or buk







The Dawn of Modern Korea

  • Early

    • In 1897, Joseon Korea became an imperialist state, unified under Emperor Gojong.

    • This would last until 1910, when the Empire of Japan would claim Korea as a protectorate.

      • During Japanese rule, much of Korean culture was censored and suppressed, and otherwise replaced by Japanese influence.

  • Late

    • The Japanese essentially ruled Korea until 1945.

    • In 1950, the Korean War began, dividing the country into two entities, North and South, which still exist today.

Early ModernKorean Music

During the occupation of Korea by Japan, Joseon culture was replaced with that of the Japanese.

The courtly presentations of the Korean Joseon were replaced by imperial marches and nationalist Japanese music.

Oftentimes, this music embodied an anti-western attitude along with being pro-Japanese, especially during the height of the Second World War.

Evolution of Anthems

DaehanJeguk Aegukga – National Anthem of the Joseon Korean Empire

Aegukga –

Current National Anthem


  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo10zQKLPTU&src_vid=wZffHtvxtSs&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_4244696355

  • Lyrics: “God help the Emperor/May he live forever/Bestow treasures like mountain piles/May his influence and power reach across the world/Fifty million times may his blessings be renewed every day/God help the Emperor6

Contemporary Popular Korean Music(1955 - )

  • During the period immediately following the Korean War, the music of South Korea would become molded by foreign influence

    • Western genres like orchestral music and , soon to be followed by more contemporary styles like rock n’ roll and dance music.

    • Since foreign music began to influence Korea during the Joseon period, native Korean music and the music influenced by outsiders were set apart from one another,

      • Yangak– music from outside influence, (literally, “foreign music”

      • Gugak– traditional, Korean music, (literally “people’s music”)

    • At times, however, these styles blend together, as is the case for Korean New wave.

Genres of South Korean music:

  • Korean rock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XixiMWRKbT0

  • Korean Pop (or “K-Pop”):


  • Korean New Wave:


  • Korean Rap:


Works Cited

  • 1Lee, P. (1993). Sourcebook of Korean Civilization. (1st ed.) New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

  • 2Bang-Song, S. (2000). Korean music: Historical and Other Aspects. Seoul, South Korea Jipmoondang Publishing Company.

  • 3Kim, P. (1984). Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms.

  • 4Kumja, P. (2003) Goryeo Dynasty: Korea’s Age of Enlightenment, 918-1392. San Francisco, CA: Chong-Moon Lee Asian Arts Center.

  • 5Duncan, J. (2000) The Origins of the Choson Dynasty. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

  • 6Koh, M. Korean Empire Retrieved from http://www.nationalanthems.info/kor.htm

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