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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Reconstructing the National Heritage: Socialist Folk Music in North Korea and East Germany, 1945–1963

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2021, v.61 no.1, pp.186-218
Peter MOODY (Columbia University)

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Abstract

As the communist half of a divided nation, North Korea shared something in common with East Germany in terms of how it sought to portray itself as the true successor to the national heritage. It did this by appropriating music of the past and portraying the socialist state as its guardian and benefactor. This practice was very much in accordance with the transnational principles of socialist realism, which for music included incorporating elements of folk tradition to make socialist ideology meaningful to the broadest base possible. A look at what is referred to here as “socialist folk music” in North Korea and East Germany reveals that despite their similar origin, the finished project could look and sound quite differently. East German socialist folk music involved bringing the German classical tradition down to the popular level (either at factories and farms or concert halls for mass audiences) where it could coexist with contemporary socialist realist works the Party was trying to promote. North Korean socialist folk music, on the other hand, largely involved bringing and transforming both indigenous instruments and local music genres upward to concert halls where they could align with Western scales and instrumentation. Even as folk music was a rallying cry for collective unity, it also became a source of tension as musicians and the Party clashed over who should administer it and how it should sound.

Korea Journal