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Recollection for ChoHee (2006)

2 sopranos, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, bass

Huh, Nan Sul Hyun (autonym for ChoHee) was a 16th century Korean poet from the ChoSun Dynasty. She lived for an extremely short, 27-year, life span and left behind an invaluable body of poetry. Unfortunately however, upon her explicit directions some of her most outstanding work was cremated together with her body, leaving us with only a small fraction of her total output.

One of the most typical characteristics of her poetry and of the Korean people in general is a sentiment called Han. Han does not translate easily into English, because it comprises a complex set of emotions. Some attempt to explain it as a form of resentful sorrow: a negative emotional state caused by something considered to be outside the individual's direct control.
In her poetry, Huh, Nan Sul Hyun's particular form of Han was caused by a combination of extremely limited and closed views and a multitude of uncompromising social demands and the misery this caused to her life permeates most of her poetry. The beauty of her poems however, lies not only in the expression of her Han, but also and mainly in the way she managed to sublimate Han on a higher level of beauty. For her, the only getaway -in my opinion- from her unbearably lonely and harsh life, was to spend most of her time reading and writing. Though her life may have been a dilemma, it remains a huge question if she would have written such beautiful and intense poetry had she lived in a more happy state of mind.

The words, phrases and sentences for Recollection for ChoHee are all taken from the three poems GokJa, MongYuKwangSangSan and MyungSang. In GokJa Cho Hee mourns the loss of both of her children in front of their two tombs. In MongYuKwangSanSan, she - aged 23- predicts her own death at 27 (which duly happened) and MyungSang describes the agonizing loneliness she feels in a love-deprived marriage.

In selecting from her poetry, the setting an entire poem was not as interesting to me as choosing to appreciate over and over some of the more intense moments from several of her poems. Therefore only a few selected fragments from three of Huh, Nan Sul Hyun's poems lay at the basis of the piece. These several lines are sung by the six singers and are composed as a succession of solos and duos. Thus, the concept for the block forms and the combination of blocks, in the form of the solo and the duo lines into a tutti, had to be thought-out in advance. In practice, some of the solos and duos must be heard separately from the main composition (tutti) so that the listeners may come to an understanding of how the individual lines are then reassembled into a new unity.