Yiruma: River Flows in You


Yiruma, born Lee Ru-ma, is a South Korean-British composer and pianist. Born in 1978 in South Korea, Yiruma moved to England in 1988 to study at the prestigious Purcell School of Music, and then at King’s College London where he studied composition. Whilst studying at King’s, Yiruma released his first solo piano album, Love Scene, with DECCA records.

His most popular album to date was released in 2001, First Love, which features Yiruma’s famous works Till I Find You and River Flows in You on it. The latter became and has remained Yiruma’s number one hit throughout his career. It has been featured in TV advertisements, films and is often performed around the world.

Although sometimes described as ‘new-age’ and ‘new-classical’ in genre, Yiruma firmly believes his works reflect that of the popular music world, whilst also paying homage to classical forms before him. His persistence with the solo piano genre has allowed his music to be more widely accepted in modern media, as the structure is often reflective of popular music. This widely-accepted sub-form of classical music has become very popular with other composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Jon E Amber producing music of a similar vein.


The Music

River Flows in You is built upon repetition of melodic patterns. Similar to the ideals of minimalism, less is always more with Yiruma’s compositions. Strongly in the key of A major, River Flows in You opens with a tentative proclamation of the main melodic pattern. There is a sense of holding back at the beginning here, like the music is unsure how much to play out. The use of arpeggio runs, grace notes and the constant high register in both hands gives the gentle and relaxing atmosphere to the piece.

The confidence in the music picks up as the melody is developed further, yet it always harks back to the original theme from the beginning. The dynamic moves up as the speed picks up over the course of the piece, with there not being any very obvious climax, however the music does reach a point where it begins to settle back down again.

The tempo slows right back down again, with the use of space being utilised here, as we hear chords ringing from inside of the piano. A final statement of the main theme is played once more, and then the chord is held still as the sound slowly dies away into the distance.

The structure of this piece can be seen through the repetition of the different patterns that Yiruma uses. From the opening theme, to the variation, back to the theme again and so on, River Flows in You is like a popular song, with a repeating theme and slight variations for the ‘verses’.


Final Thoughts

What does this all mean? Well, the title could be used as a way to immerse yourself in what the music might be doing. Often described as a work representing the fruition of love, the progress made throughout River Flows in You could depict how love can grow between people. This work is peaceful, comfortable and loving, and that is perhaps why it has stayed such a popular work for many years.


“I hope that my music doesn’t separate from your lives. Instead, I want it to be with you always, as if it’s the background music to your lives.” – Yiruma

Ⓒ Alex Burns

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