orchestre de chambre (16 musiciens)

Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, founded the Yuan dynasty in China during the 13th-century, and he ruled over an extravagantly luxurious court that became known to Europeans principally through the writings of the Venetian merchant and traveler, Marco Polo.

The ten sections of my composition — played without pause — are entitled with segments of verse drawn from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan or, a Vision In a Dream: A Fragment (1816): In XanaduAlph, the sacred riverA savage place!A mighty fountaindancing rocksAncestral voicesa miracle of rare deviceA damsel with a dulcimermusic loud and longBeware! Beware!

The word ‘dirge’ owes its origin to the Latin verse, Dirige, Domine, Deus meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam (Direct my way in your sight, O Lord, my God), the opening text of the first antiphon in the Matins of the Office for the Dead.

Conceived as a ‘tombeau’ for my friend and colleague, Claude Vivier (1948-83), Kubla Khan imagines the funeral cortege of the Mongol khan, like a heavy march that is diffuse rather than repetitive, somewhat awkward rather than exotic. And if the shadow of Vivier floats among the sounds, it is by design because he had toyed with the idea of an extensive work on the life of Polo to which he had already contributed three pieces in 1981: Bouchara for soprano and chamber orchestra, Prologue pour un Marco Polo for thirteen instruments, four voices and narrator, and Samarkand for wind quintet and piano.

Kubla Khan was commissioned, thanks to a grant from the Canada Council, by the 5th Stream Festival of Contemporary Music, and is dedicated to its organizers and to the Canadian Chamber Ensemble, for whom it was written.

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