Chinary Ung: Cinnabar Heart

This is day 21 of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is Chinary Ung (born 1942).

Ung is a native of Cambodia who came to the states in 1964 to study clarinet.  He stayed and earned his doctorate in music from Columbia University.  He won a prestigious music composition and his star seemed to be on the rise, when the Khmer Rouge came to power in his homeland in 1974 slaughtering millions.  He spent the next decade, according to his biography on “…aid[ing] relatives and artists escape the murderous and oppressive Khmer Rouge regime, then in control of Cambodia.

I remember once reading the story of a Cambodian who escaped being murdered by the Khmer Rouge.  Supposedly, they had a policy of killing anyone wearing glasses.  Glasses, it was thought, was a sign of “intellectualism” which was considered decadent or parasitical.  Supposedly, Mao had the same opinion of artists and intellectuals during the cultural revolution.  I think we all agree on the fact that politician shouldn’t try to be arbiters of art.

Cinnabar is an ore of the element mercury, and it has been used since ancient times as a coloring agent.  Also as a source of mercury when refined.  Of course, mercury is highly toxic, and people who work with it unprotected go mad, as it destroys the brain.  (Mercury was used in the tanning of beaver pelts which were then used in making top hats, which is how we got “The Mad Hatter.)  Cinnabar mixed with lacquer, was used extensively throughout China to paint just about anything, as it signifies fire, which brings good fortune and joy.

I like today’s piece, “Cinnabar Heart,” because it is an amazing blend of high art (western classical), folk art (Cambodian melodies and tonal structures), the avant-garde, and the wooden keys of the marimba, which give such a warm rich tone and creates an emotional gut feeling.  My fellow blogger, Marie Marshall, might speak to the synesthesia phenomenon, and the way this piece effects me makes me think it might be one of the first times I’ve experienced it as well.




About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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