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Embedded agenda: Writing about Music in an Eighteenth-century Korean Encyclopedia

Anthony Law, University of Maryland, College Park 

The “Investigation of Music” (“Akko”) is one of the thirteen topical sections of the Korean Encyclopedia of Documents and Institutions (Tongguk Munhŏn pigo) (1770), which is the first official encyclopedia in Korean history.  Together with other sections in the Encyclopedia, the “Investigation of Music” was mentioned and cited in contemporary sources and subsequently enlarged and revised, in particular, the last edition, published two years before the fall of the Chosŏn dynasty in 1910, is a handy reference for modern researchers in Korean music history.

Since the final edition appears to incorporate all earlier materials along with later additions, researchers have usually consulted only the final edition, seldom looking into the significance of the first edition in its historical context.  This paper focuses on the first edition of the “Investigation of Music,” and suggests that, rather than being simply a neutral reference work, it is a narrative of the past produced with embedded agenda: to highlight the inappropriateness of the music performed for the sacrificial rite at the Royal Ancestral Shrine in the later 18th century.

To support the above hypothesis, I look into its annotations and examine the compilation context, the sources, and the style of the musical notation given in the work.  I will also compare the style of such music with that of an early version of the modern music notated in another eighteenth-century source to illustrate that the inappropriateness of music has to be understood in terms of the ritual practices at the time.