“Bird, Bird, Blue Bird” is a sorrowful folk song even for those who don’t know about its background stories. The three-note scale rings deep inside the heart of listeners. The fact that this song is related to Gen. Jeon Bong-jun, leader of the Donghak Peasant Movement, who was beheaded by the royal forces that were a puppet of the Japanese Army. The song, in the end, is a song to mourn for those who were sacrificed while fighting against injustice and foreign power.
A composer created a song to mourn, a requiem, based on this song. It is Symphony No. 5 by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki who died last month. He named the song requested by the South Korean government “Korea” to clearly who that the song was about South Korea. It is not difficult to realize that the song is based on a Korean folk song when listing to the tune, especially the last part, the highlight of the song. All South Koreans would notice the tune of “Bird, Bird, Blue Bird” that lasts some 30 seconds before the song ends. The fact that Penderecki sublimated the sorrowful emotions in the folk song into majestic music is even more noticeable. It adds solace, peace and comfort to the sorrow. It is the result of combining the three-note scale of Korea’s folk song with the Western music. Requiems are restrained music to mourn for the dead and pray for their peace.
Some may question whether a Polish composer genuinely understands the pain of Koreans. But human suffering transcends race, nationality and language. Moreover, Poland is a country that suffered a lot between Russia and Europe. In that sense, Poland was Europe’s Korea. That is why his symphony for Korea that consoles us in a different way strikes a chord in our heart.