updated 20 March 2023
© Si-Chan Park

Younghi Pagh-Paan

German composer of Korean ancestry, born 30 November 1945 in Cheongju.

Younghi Pagh-Paan studied composition and musicology at Seoul National University from 1965 to 1971. After receiving a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship, she attended the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg where she studied composition with Klaus Huber and musical analysis with Brian Ferneyhough. She was awarded her diploma in 1979. The following year, Pagh-Paan became the first female composer to receive an orchestral commission for the Donaueschingen Festival, for the piece Sori (1979-1980).

Following guest professorships at Kunstuniversität Graz in 1991 and the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe in 1992-1993, Pagh‑Paan was appointed Professor of Composition at the Hochschule der Künste in Bremen in 1994. She was the first woman to occupy this role. Here she founded the Atelier Neue Musik, which she directed until her retirement in 2011.

Like Isang Yun before her, Pagh-Paan is also a Korean composer who immigrated to Germany. Incidentally, she dedicated the NOCH series to Yun’s memory. In her music, Pagh-Paan explores contact points between Western and Eastern musical traditions, those of fusion and opposition. The series Man-Nam is an attempt to create a “meeting,” the translation from Korean of the title, between these two worlds to overcome the cultural shock felt by Pagh-Paan on her arrival in Germany. This aspect of her work feeds a leitmotif throughout her pieces: the conflict between the self and the other or the foreigner, in search of a balance. Pagh-Paan borrowed this theme from Friedrich Hölderlin’s famous line “Aber das eigene muß so gut gelernt sein wie das Fremde1 (one’s own must be learned as well as the foreign). In Dreisam-Nore (1975), her first piece composed in Germany, she combines the name of the river that runs through Freiburg with Nore, “song” in Korean. In this piece, for solo flutist, Pagh-Paan pushes the limits of tonal possibilities in a distinct musical language, neither Korean nor German. More recently, she has worked with the idea of meeting in pieces that present as dialogues between Taoist, Buddhist, and Christian traditions. This was best illustrated in her only opera Mondschatten (2006).

Her catalog also pays attention to themes such as escape, identity loss, violence, and political resistance. Numerous pieces are inspired by texts, predominantly those written by women, which recount experiences of uprooting and persecution, particularly by deportation. To give some examples, Horizonte (2019) was written in memory of Simone Weil, while the title of Schweigend lauschen (Listen in Silence, 2019) comes from a quotation by German philosopher Edith Stein. Noch III (Still III, 1996) and Sowon…borira (1998) are based on poems by Jewish poet Rose Ausländer, and Flammenzeichen (Sign of the Flames, 1983) was inspired by the words of anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl in a White Rose leaflet, “frisch auf mein Volk, die Flammenzeichen rauchen” (Up, up, my people, let smoke and flame be our sign!). Through her compositions, Pagh-Paan links the aspect of deportation to a search for resolution, particularly in Madi (Knot, 1981), and for relief from pain, exemplified by Nun (Snow, 1979),2 on a path toward internal peace.

In 2009, she became a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Her works are released by Ricordi.

Awards and Scholarships

  • Berliner Kunstpreis, 2020
  • Paiknam Prize (Lifetime Achievement Award, South Korea), 2013
  • Bremische Medaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft, 2011
  • 15th KBS Global Korean Award, 2009
  • Order of Civil Merit of the Republic of Korea, 2007
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from Seoul National University, 2006
  • City of Heidelberg Music Prize for female composers, 1995
  • Scholarship from the Kunststiftung of Baden-Württemberg, 1985
  • First Prize of the city of Stuttgart, 1980
  • Scholarship at the Südwestfunk’s Heinrich‑Strobel-Stiftung, 1980-1981
  • First Prize at the International Rostrum of Composers UNESCO, 1979
  • Na-Pa Music Prize in Korea, 1979
  • First Prize at the 5th Composers Seminar in Boswil (Switzerland), 1978

1. Friedrich Hölderlin, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, II (Complete Works and Letters, II), pp. 459-460. 
2. In Korean tradition, white is the color of death and mourning. 

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2022


Ricordi, portrait de la compositrice (sur son site) par Nicolas Schalz, Akademie der Künste Berlin

Liens Internet

(liens vérifiés en mars 2023).


  • Jin-Ah KIM, « Migration im Wandel. Isang Yun, Younghi Pagh-Paan und Unsuk Chin », in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Heft 6, 2018, p. 12–15.
  • Claudia MAURER ZENCK, Auf dem Weg zur musikalischen Symbiose : die Komponistin Younghi Pagh-Paan, Mainz, Schott Music, 2020.
  • Yookyung Nho-von Blumröder, « Das transparente Licht. Younghi Pagh-Paans Kompositionen », in Sinefonia, Band 30, Wolke Verlag, 2020.
  • Susanne WINTERFELDT, Ariadne WESTERKAMP, Younghi Pagh-Paan. Klangportrait III, Berlin, Furore Verlag, 1991.

Discographie sélective

  • Younghi PAGH-PAAN, Mein Herz II ; Dreisam-Nore ; ma-am (Mein Herz) ; Hang-Sang II ; Flammenzeichen ; Rast in einem alten Kloster ; Noch… III ; Seerosen – Wurzelwerke ; wegen der Leere, dans « Listening With the Heart », 1 CD Kairos, 2022, 0015083KAI.
  • Younghi PAGH-PAAN, Ta-ryong VI ; Silbersaiten - Silver Strings ; Wundgeträumt - Dreamsore ; Bidan-sil - Sidener Faden - Silken Thread ; Ta-ryong III - Tsi-shin ; Io, E-Mex Ensemble, dans « Seidener Faden - Silken Thread », 1 CD Wergo, 2020, WER 7397 2.
  • Younghi PAGH-PAAN, MAN-NAM I ; ma-am (Mein Herz) ; U-MUL / Der Brunnen ; Mein Herz I ; Horizont auf hoher See, dans «  Chamber Works », 1 CD Neos, 2020, 12026.
  • Younghi PAGH-PAAN, U-Mul ; No-Ui ; Dreisam-Nore ; Pyon-Kyong ; Aa-Ga I ; Man-Nam I, ensemble Recherche, dans « Chamber Music », 1 CD Montaigne, 1994, MO 782026.