Ahn Eak-Tai

Ahn Eak-Tai

Korean composer and conductor, author of the national anthem music
Date of Birth: 05.12.1906
Country: South Korea

Biography of Ahn Eak-tai

Ahn Eak-tai, a Korean composer and conductor, was born in 1906 in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. He was the third son in a relatively wealthy family, with six other siblings. His parents, who owned a hotel business, had dreams of providing their children with a Western education. However, Ahn Eak-tai was more inclined towards a musical career, as he enthusiastically sang in a local choir. Supporting his younger brother's passion, his older brother gifted him a violin, which Ahn Eak-tai gladly embraced and began learning to play.

Ahn Eak-Tai

In 1914, he enrolled in elementary school, where he started playing the trumpet. By 1918, as a student in middle school, Ahn Eak-tai joined the school orchestra. Soon, he added cello to his musical education. In 1919, the school orchestra participated in nationwide activities against Japanese rule on the Korean Peninsula. It was during this time that Ahn Eak-tai was first inspired by the idea of Korean independence. He actively became involved in the independence movement, which almost led him to imprisonment. Shortly after, it was decided that he would go to Tokyo to study music. He attended the prestigious Kunitachi Music School and supported himself by working as a cellist in a restaurant. However, these were financially challenging times for the young musician.

Ahn Eak-Tai

Ahn Eak-tai then returned to Korea, only to continue his education in the United States. He studied at the University of Cincinnati and the Curtis Institute of Music, during the Great Depression. After his second visit to Vienna, he received support from Richard Strauss himself, marking the beginning of his long career as a Korean musician in Europe. He spent the next five years in Budapest, where he had the opportunity to work with various European orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and Rome Philharmonic Orchestra. The outbreak of World War II brought him to Spain, where he met his future wife, Lolita Talavera. After their wedding in 1946, the couple moved to the United States, where Ahn Eak-tai joined the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Only in 1955, after 25 long years away from his homeland, Ahn Eak-tai returned to South Korea. He continued his work with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra until his death. Notably, Ahn Eak-tai composed the music for 'Aegukga,' which later became the national anthem of South Korea. The music was reportedly brought back to Korea in 1936, but it was officially adopted as the national anthem in 1948, after the country's liberation. Among his other notable works as a composer are 'Korean Dance,' 'Nongae,' and 'Symphonic Fantasy Korea.'

Ahn Eak-tai was a recipient of numerous Korean awards and honors, including the 'Cultural Medal of Merit.' On September 16, 1965, he suddenly fell ill and passed away while on the island of Majorca. He was buried at the Korean National Cemetery. Throughout the world, Ahn Eak-tai is known not only as a composer and the author of the national anthem but also as a talented conductor and a great promoter of Korean music in Europe and America.

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