Korean Sijo Music and Poetry: Transmission and Aesthetics


Sebastian Lamp

PhD defended at: 

SOAS, University of London


This thesis explores Korean sijo, as both poetry and music. It surveys the different bodies of research on the topic that are the result of sijo long being treated from one or other of the perspectives of literary and musicological scholarship by both Western (e.g. Rutt 1971, McCann 1988, O’Rourke 2002) and Korean scholars (e.g. Chang Sa-hun 1986, Kim Tae-Haeng 1986, Cho Kyu-Ick 1994).
Placing both literary and musicological aspects together, this thesis discusses the form, origins and content of sijo. The synthesis of the two aspects forms the basis of my exploration of sijo performance during the 20th century. My focus is on the transmission of chŏngga – sijo, along with kagok and kasa, that together form Korea’s classical vocal music tradition – during the turbulent times from the late 19th century through the colonial period to the post-liberation era. The important actors, that is, the singers, scholars and relevant institutions – governmental and private – have been discussed at least partially in various publications (e.g. Hahn Man-young 1990, Yi Pohyŏng 2004, Song Bang-Song 2007, Kim Minjŏng 2015, Moon Hyun 2015), but this thesis provides the first thorough account of chŏngga in the 20th century, its teaching genealogies, institutions, aspects of its preservation, and its regional variants.
This thesis demonstrates that the subtle aesthetic of chŏngak literati music lies at the heart of what constitutes sijo as a genre; reference to Confucian and sometimes Daoist influence on the aesthetic of literati music is frequent, but the nature of such influence has not been adequately discussed. I survey academic writings by Korean and Western scholars (e.g. Donna Kwon 1995, Lee Byong Won 1997, Byung-ki Hwang 2001) to address terminology and concepts relevant in the context of chŏngga and then, based on my personal fieldwork, and in order to provide a comprehensive account of chŏngga aesthetics, I complement previous writing by incorporating the views of contemporary chŏngga singers.