Spring Maiden (봄처녀) and Pomegranate (석류) are Korean art songs, a line of classical style songs set to existing or newly composed poems. There is a wealth of Korean art songs, many of which have been created in the 1920s through the 70s as the nation experienced a heightened artistic activities in response to the heightened influx of advanced foreign cultural artifacts. Spring Maiden is a widely loved one from this early period, with the music composed by the genius musician Hong Nan Pa (홍난파, 1898-1941) and the lyrics by Lee Eun Sang (이은상, 1903-1982). Pomegranate, by Jang Il Nam (장일남, 1932-2006 ) and Kim Min Bu (김민부, 1941-1972) is lesser known but no less beautiful.
Hong Nan Pa is the most famous of the Korean composers in the Japanese occupation era (1910-1945). Well versed in the new western genres of music, he has left several first generation Korean art songs, progenitors in many sense of the others to follow. Lee Eun Sang is also a prominent figure in poetry and song lyrics tradition, with countless renowned works to his credit.
Many different renditions of Spring Maiden exist, of which Kim In Hye (김인혜)’s version appears to be popular on YouTube.
Spring Maiden is one of the perennial favorites of the Korean people, with a firmly entrenched place in high school music text books. It lauds the coming spring using a metaphor of a maiden arriving in your town. Carried in its modest yet engaging soft melody, the song evokes the feelings of warm, regenerative spirit given off by the season. Spring is spring anywhere on the planet, but in Korea it appears to have a particularly strong association with warm fuzziness. For one, the country has a very distinctive four seasons, so that the arrival of a new season brings with it a myriad of unmistakable signs that exhilarate the senses.
And of all the seasons, none would bring on more hopeful elation than spring. In addition, the country is so mountainous with hills and valleys that seem to be everywhere that it is practically impossible for anyone to be disconnected from the amazing changes of nature that is taking place all around. The cycle of the seasons is always amazing, and the springtime in Korea is stunningly so. Thus many Korean expatriates tend to miss the springtime of their old home as in many parts of the world they do not experience the same kind of excitement when the springtime comes.
Jang Il Nam, who gave us Pomegranate, is a standout composer with several well loved art songs among his works. And Kim Min Bu was only a high school student when he wrote this poem, showing a streak of genius at an early age. Sadly though, his life was cut short before realizing the full potential by an accidental fire at his residence.
Pomegranate, which there happens to have a very nice version by Kang Mi Ja (강미자) on YouTube, is more ambitious and attention grabbing, much like an opera aria in its composition and vocal style, albeit rather short. The compressed few lines of lyrics aptly sum up the beauty of this unusual fruit and, combined with the inspired soprano performance, it is my belief that it reaches the highest realm of musical artistry. It is a rare treat to your musical sensitivities as it features both penetratingly poetic lyrics, inspired high flying melody, and a rarefied soprano by Kang.