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“The Korean Sound” Discovered after 100 Years

Posted September. 27, 2005 05:56,   


Korean musical instruments which were displayed during a 1900 Paris international exhibition were discovered.

There are a total of 13 instruments, including the gayaguem, geomungo, haeguem, and daeguem, kept in a music museum in Paris. The Korean envoys donated 17 instruments they took to the exhibition, of which all except four lost ones are kept in the museum.

According to scholars, instruments 100 years or older that are made of wood or leather are very rarely found both at home and abroad. Therefore, the discovered instruments may not be treasures but are very valuable relics.

The instruments have been kept in storage rooms of many museums in Paris, which is why their existence was not known. Then, thanks to the efforts of Philippe Bruiguiere, a researcher in charge of non-European musical instruments exhibition in the music museum, the hidden relics came to light.

Bruguiere tracked down the Korean instruments in an anthropology museum in Paris and had them moved to the music museum, which plans to double the non-European musical instrument exhibition room by 2007 and display seven Korean instruments.

The instruments are well preserved. However, the guaes (also called gwas or hwans) that supports the strings of geomungo and haegeum are damaged and all that is left of a jang-gu is the drum leather on each side of the instrument. Experts are currently repairing the instruments at the museum.

Professor Song Hye-jin at the Graduate School of Traditional Culture and Arts at Sookmyung Women’s University said, “It would be very interesting if Korean musical instruments indeed were exhibited and played at an international fair in Paris 105 years ago. The 17 donated instruments are valuable data that provide us a glimpse into the composition of an orchestra.”

The fair was held in Champs de Mars, home to the Eiffel Tower, in 1900. Korea sent a group of envoys headed by Min Young-chan, who was a nephew of Queen Myeongseong and held the post equivalent to today’s vice minister of justice. The envoys took hundreds of artwork for display including porcelains, books, musical instruments, traditional imperial clothes, farming tools, weapons, glass wares, gold and silverwares, and agricultural products. After the fair, the envoy donated the musical instruments to Mus´ee du Conservatoire National de Musique.

The instruments were listed as “musical instruments presented by Prince Min Lung Chou of the Empire of Korea.” The instruments were moved to the anthropology museum when it opened in 1931 and then moved back to the Mus´ee de la Musique last year.

Today, the non-European musical instrument exhibition room of this museum displays Japanese, Chinese, and Indian instruments but no Korean instruments.

Dong-Keun Keum gold@donga.com