The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Nineteen

Na Hye-Seok was a Korean writer, painter and feminist who was well ahead of her time in her views on gender equality. She studied art at Tokyo Arts College, an education that fuelled her desire to be an artist, rather than a submissive wife in a hierarchical marriage. She championed the idea of love between equals in her writings; her paintings suggest a freedom of movement and thought perhaps foreign to many women on the post-WWI era. Her determination to share the same advantages as men had was her downfall. When her extra-marital affair was discovered, she lost everyone - husband, lover, children, and eventually, her reputation. She pleaded passionately for equality, pointing out that men were permitted affairs with no consequences, but to no avail. She spent her last years living in Buddhist monasteries. 

'Incheon' is an introspective townscape in muted, rural colours. In spite of Na's refusal to accept the Korean view of women, her self-professed deep love of Korean culture is clear.


Unsuk Chin is perhaps best known for her opera “Alice in Wonderland”. A Korean composer living in Germany, she has also written a series of concertos for particular performers - she says, “I’m attracted by virtuosity. This enthusiasm and virtuosity of a player trying to go beyond his or her boundaries: I like that. It’s a situation that I experience all the time as a composer: pushing the limits of your possibilities, not knowing whether you can do it — and then somehow succeeding. I ask every bit as much from a soloist.”

This ethos is discernible in this fifth Piano Study, the Toccata, as is the joyous humour so recognisable in Chin’s style; her complexity is balanced so carefully with clarity and precision that it can be easily missed.