click the play button to begin the piece (length 4:16)
Arirang, (the word is nonsensical, generally implying the cultural sensibilities of longing and suffering), is a representative Korean folksong, known as a Korean elegy that speaks of the sentiments and life of the everyday people. In Korea, every geographical region—central, northwest, east, southwest and southeast—has its own version of Arirang with distinctive melodic (tori) and rhythmic (jangdan) characteristics unique to that region. The version of Arirang that is presented here is from the central regions of the Korean peninsula, including the city of Seoul and the provinces of Gyeonggi and Chungcheong. These are sung with a clear and transparent vocal production and minimum use of vibrato.
The chief musical characteristic is a melodic adaptation and reference, typical to that region, is “gyeongtori,” which is presented below. This notation identifies only pitch relationships structured around a central pitch (cheong), 0, that acts as both the melodic center and the modal center. From these pitches and their decorative neighbor tones, the entire pitch collection emerges. The G remains as the central pitch of the entire collection, and the D and E are placed below it, with the A and B above. The placement of the pitches gives a directional focus, namely, the lower D and E push up to G, while the B and A push down to G. This is the purest and simplest expression of gyeongtori as a pitch collection, the basis for melodic patterns and phrases and, eventually, large-scale musical structures.
The rhythmic pattern (jangdan) used in Arirang has three compound beats in a moderate tempo, called semachi, which provides the overall rhythmic framework.
The following lyrics are the most common ones.
아리랑 아리랑 아라리요 Arirang, arirang, arariyo,
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다 Going away through the Arirang [Mountain] Pass
나를 버리고 가시는님은 My sweetheart is leaving alone after abandoning me
십리도 못가서 발병난다 Your feet will ache terribly before walking ten miles
청청하늘엔 별도 많고 So many stars are shining in the clear sky
우리네 가슴엔 꿈도 많다 So many dreams are in our hearts