Elwood 5566

The Aegukga. Korea’s National Anthem

Posted in Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on April 25, 2011

As a military musician with fifteen years service, I am probably more acquainted  than most, with national anthems. My Regiment, formed in 1695, the same year Handel and J.S Bach were born, was the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and was one of England’s most distinguished cavalry regiments. Stationed in Germany for almost ten years, we played in many parts of Europe, Canada and countless official engagements. Playing national anthems was an important and diplomatic part of our musical duties and because our Colonel in Chief was King Leopold of Belgium, we also  played the Belgian anthem, La Brabançonne along with God Save the Queen at regimental engagements. Despite having played many anthems, I fell in love with Korea’s the first time I heard it.

1. One Verse Orchestral version, slower tempo, no vocals

The Aegukga is certainly patriotic and though brief, its melody, rivals the likes of Sibelius (Finlandia) and Elgar (Pomp and Circumstance No 1). Naturally, the patriotism is largely the product of the successful manner in which the music has been conflated with imagery symbolic of Korea. My first exposure to the Aegukga was through the various television company productions in which were paraded cultural icons such as the mugunghwa (무궁화 – national flower), Buddha, King Sejeong, sporting celebrities, the Taeguk-gi (태극기 – Korean flag), Mount Baekdu-san (백두산) and Dokdo (독도) which were, and continue to be interpolated with imagery of Korean scenery, the seasons, traditional practices, technology and urban, rural and military scenes. A four minute exposure to an official TV company Aegukga is an ideological tour de force of and the anthem noble enough to provide a canvass which unites quite disparate themes.

2. Anthem of one verse with chorus featuring a prominent tenor line which differs from the usual version. Some interesting alterations in orchestration. The Verse begins with standard choir while the refrain is given at first to  a children’s choir and then both choirs

Like the anthems of many countries, it is composed in a western style and nothing in melody or harmony is suggestive of East Asia. The composer, Ahn Eak-tai  (안익태), 1906-1965, had studied initially in Japan, and later, USA, Vienna and in Budapest under none other than Zoltan Kodaly. Originally he studied the trumpet but his primary instrument was to become the cello, eventually playing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His Symphonic Fantasy Korea was submitted to a competition in Carnegie Hall, around 1936 after which it was performed in many countries, often under his baton.  The central theme from this work he later arranged as the Aegukga (애국가)  which would replace the anthem’s original melody, Auld Langsyne, by presidential Decree, in 1948.

3. All verses, most common orchestration  with transliteration and one version of its translation

Unlike  many national anthems, the lyrics avoid the pompous deferential guff where country and state are conflated in a figure head and as a result the embodiment of Korea character in a range of imagery has a broad appeal. The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (1919–1945) in Shanghai, China adopted the lyrics as their national anthem. The same lyrics, dating from 1896,  are still used  today.

4. Anthem with soprano and tenor soloists

5. Anthem with transliteration and one version of its translation

Ahn Eak-tai’s  (안익태) hymn-like anthem, is wonderful in that the expansive melody provides a perfect accompaniment for the lyrics and even as a non-Korean I experience a thrill when the second part of the refrain, culminating with a cymbal crash, announces, ‘Great Korean People’ (대한 사람).

6. Full anthem with usual orchestration but with a children’s choir.

7.  Part of Ahn Eak-tai  (안익태) original Symphonic Fantasy Korea  (1935)

Korean Lyrics for the Aegukga

東海 물과 白頭山이 마르고 닳도록
하느님이 保佑하사 우리나라 萬歲

(Refrain) 無窮花 三千里 華麗 江山
大韓 사람 大韓으로 길이 保全하세

南山 위에 저 소나무 鐵甲을 두른 듯
바람서리 不變함은 우리 氣像일세

가을 하늘 空豁한데 높고 구름 없이
밝은 달은 우리 가슴 一片丹心일세

이 氣像과 이 맘으로 忠誠을 다하여
괴로우나 즐거우나 나라 사랑하세

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


7 Responses

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  1. wetcasements said, on April 26, 2011 at 6:59 am

    I don’t teach little guys any longer, but it sure was cute when we’d line them up for Friday assembly and they’d belt this out at the top of their lungs.

    Speaking as a Yank, it’s refreshing that the S.K. anthem is such a simple but strong melody with no major key-change in the middle. It’s ten times easier to sing than the Star Spangled Banner.

    • Nick said, on April 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      But I love the version sung by Borat! Thanks.

  2. Unctuous Jones said, on April 28, 2011 at 5:05 am


    Some time ago you expressed an affection for Mahler. I tried listening to some but was lost throughout. Can you recommend a starting place? What would you call his best? For whatever reason I mostly enjoy fugues and quartets and such, orchestral music has too many instruments maybe? Possibly it’s just daftness.

    Sorry for veering off topic, by the way.

    • Nick said, on April 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      With pleasure. A good starting point for a complete work is his 1st or 4th symphonies. The 3rd is also accessible though it was, and may still be the longest symphony ever written. The short choral piece from the 3rd, ‘Bimm, Bamm,’ which is either the 4th or 5th movement is certainly very accessible but the slow finale (6th mov) which starts very softly until it finally explodes into the most magnificent and memorable symphonic endings, is also worth listening to. I heard the final few moments of this symphony when I was 13 and have been a Mahler fan ever since. As a rule, Mahler’s symphonies become progressively more complex and angst ridden and if you can hang in there until you begin to understand some of his musical landscapes, you will be enriched.

      I come from the other end of the spectrum, though I love Bach’s fugues. I find string quartets don’t excite me enough and I’ve did start a regime to try to understand them and appreciate them more. What do you recommend?

      I’d love to hear how you get on.

      • Unctuous Jones said, on April 29, 2011 at 11:33 pm

        I liked Mahler pretty well actually. I liked the Bimm Bamm chorale too, although it is set to a strange interpretive dance on Youtube which I have to overlook in order to think about the music.

        Thanks very much for the recommendations!

      • Nick said, on April 29, 2011 at 11:38 pm

        I’ve yet to explore your suggestions – but will get back to you. Thanks.

  3. Unctuous Jones said, on April 29, 2011 at 3:00 am

    I have no standing to recommend music to a musician, but nevertheless:

    Quite possibly my favorite is Beethoven’s Große Fuge. Incidentally that Youtube user ‘musanim’ has a fantastic collection of animated music. I find the visual quite educational for some things. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue is especially fun to watch.

    Rossini’s Theiving Magpie Overture arranged for flute quartet is something I’ve enjoyed of late.

    I like the Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, such as #2 (there used to be a better version from Horowitz, but it seems to be gone from Youtube now) and #6. The orchestral versions (which Liszt also wrote) are sometimes good too. #9, for which I have nostalgic feelings as it’s one of the first classical pieces I ever liked much. Oddly the best version I can find is from a teenager.

    Here is nice treatment of a Bach piece.

    I’m off to the store, but when I return I shall revisit Mahler.

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