or  A VISION IN A DREAM  S. T. Coleridge


KUBLA KHAN by SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE - analysis, background, biography, music - MAIN PAGE


by Juergen Matthias Schroeder




In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree Where Alph...


















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At the beginning of the first

5 stations you find a
“musical promenade”
which sets the scene
for the successive
text fragment and is
by insights
into the musical

In order to listen to the music please make sure that Quicktime is installed on your computer and that Java-Script is activated in the browser setting.


Another music file
presents the

main musical theme.

At the same time
you can look at the
original text fragment.


At the end of each station

you will find a comprehensive

"musicological" analysis

of my composition

which will help you

to understand the music.










* Musical promenade 1:30 *  In a solemn procession the Khan is carried to the throne; sounds of drums, bells, cymbals, trombones and stringed instruments such as harps and zithers fill the halls.





In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure- dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.


* Musical main part 3:58 * The music attempts to create an oriental atmosphere by using percussive elements such as hand drums and cymbals throughout, and by embedding a short “oriental” zither motif into the opening part. The sounds of stringed instruments and trombones are supposed to contribute to the festive and solemn mood. The saxophone sound is to strike a “modern note”. In the accompaniment, “majestically” advancing passages alternate with more playful ones which are, at intervals, “embellished”  by sound-effects (cf. the decorations etc. in the Great Hall).

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* Musical Promenade 1:43 * We are entering Kubla's gardens and forests within the "twice five miles" of  "walls and towers". Woodblocks and hand drums form a “natural” percussive platform for the sound of the pan flute “inviting” to enjoy hours of hunting and playful distraction. The piano forms another playful element within this variation, with the general rhythm accelerating towards the end in comparison with the prevalent rhythm in promenade 1.





So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.


* Musical main part 4:02 *  I imagine natural noises and the voices of birds to be heard here and there. The tonality has changed to major, which creates a much lighter mood in comparison with that felt in the main part before. The tempo is slightly reduced. The main piano motif is repeated several times, interrupted at intervals by a more playful theme.

The "luring" motif played by the pan-flute, with both "imitative" and contrapuntal elements gets involved in playful interaction with the main motif of the piano part. Later, polyphony within the part of the pan-flute(s) adds another playful "note". Just before this point another flute (recorder) has begun to interject its own "mocking" figure of sound. Of course, birdsong may be associated with these tunes. The association of the sound of the pan-flute with the God Pan may carry a sexual undertone into the interpretation of this part. (The horned - and horny - god Pan, half man, half goat, used to watch and seduce nymphs - and boys.) This corresponds with the notion of the "pleasure dome" housing all kinds of earthly pleasures.

The strings try not to create counterpoint but serve as harmonious background (mainly P/pm). The use of "natural" percussive instruments (woodblock, high and low bongos) is rather playful now and resembles natural sounds and noises playing their own question-and-answer game. With a unisono “orchestra hit” tension rises at the end of this part  - as we move towards the "romantic chasm" (3.)  -  but still the birds are singing [not in the MIDI track], accompanied by the mocking sounds of the pan-flutes.

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* Musical promenade 2:33 *  We follow the Khan from one of his pleasance-seats in the wood to the edge of a mysterious chasm. In this variation of the promenade theme the “nature-like” sounds of the woodblocks etc. have been replaced by rattling and bustling metallic sounds (brush, cymbals) which contribute to the eerie atmosphere. An acoustic  piano presents a solo part, playing variations of a motif kept in a minor key. The contrapuntal melody of a saxophone voice adds to the rising tension.





But oh! that deep romantic chasm which
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover.
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !



And from this chasm,
with ceaseless turmoil seething
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.



* Musical main part 4:03 * As we are approaching the edge of a park-like landscape (cf. the end of 2) the voices of birds and pan-flutes fade away. A “sinister” and swelling bass tone indicates that we we will soon be standing facing the chasm, an ideal spot for witchcraft and a demonic rendez-vous... The change of mood is to felt, too, in the sad tune presented by a flute and a voice effect representing a female voice echoing with varying intensity in a deep ravine under the eerie light of a "waning moon".

Gradually, a new main theme becomes audible and begins to accelerate against the monotonous bass tone still present in the background. A repetitive bass line symbolises the element of evil rumbling in the deep. The repetition keeps the listener waiting for a variation and/or resolution of the melody, which,  however, does not occur for some time. The melody part is first played by keyboard sounds and electronic effects.  The grand piano takes over and also provides accompaniment. The voice effect is resumed “wailing for her demon lover”. The string ensemble, by increasing volume and tempo, helps to lead over to the second main theme of 1.3. in unison with the piano and percussion. The clicking, rattling, and bustling noises of the percussion have also contributed to the build-up of tension. the percussion moves towards a more regular beat, on the way to the rhythm established in the next part.

A fountain shoots up with the power of a volcanic eruption. The earth seethes, large fragments of  rock shoot up into the air at more or less regular intervals, rain down, bounce off the ground and land again. Finally, Alph, the sacred river, bursts out. Nature's harmony and balance is lost. Discord is present in he music straight away; syncopated rhythm, i.e. rhythm going against the regular pattern of the beat carried by the bass line plays an important rôle in the piano motif which will be repeated relentlessly.

Two chords have been chosen intentionally for their extremely unpleasant sound, each a so-called "tritone" (diminished 5ths or augmented 4ths), which I have found out to be called the "diabolus in musica", "the devil in music". (cf. TAYLOR: AB GUIDE TO MUSIC THEORY, LONDON 1989). They receive special stress through their duration and their "exposed" positions (dotted crotchets before quaver rests). Another sub-motif consists of four syncopated pairs of quaver and crotchet  octaves which "jump up" step by step. This upward movement represents the shooting-up of the rocks etc.

The figures played by the saxophone are discordant, too, i.e. frequently deviate from the tonality still recognizable in this part (minor). The figures are contrapuntal to those realised by the piano. When the last figures of the saxophone part draw to a close the abrupt ending of the piano motif and the "re-surfacing" of the bass line increases the tension and sets the scene for the finale which, with its strong upward motion, symbolises the flinging-up of the river amidst the rumbling noises of the "dancing rocks" (see “drums” below).

All the time the strings have supported the piano bass line with a pulsating intensity (mf-f-mf-f ; cf. the earth's panting breath in the poem). At intervals accompanied by the menacingly rumbling noises of  tom drums etc. (rocks!) and the "crashing" sounds of crash cymbals, the percussive noises of a shaker and of ride cymbals create a strong and energetic rhythm.

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* Musical Promenade 1:19 * In a dejected mood, Kubla walks along the shores of the river-bed in which the flood wave carries destruction into a vast part of his realm.In this variation of the promenade a viola plays a melancholy tune. The absence of percussive elements symbolises the death of the landscape in which the sounds of nature (cf. 2) have fallen into a deadly silence.






Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!


* Musical main part  4:26 *  The floods of the sacred river and/or streams of lava meander with a labyrinthine motion through the landscape of Xanadu, reach the caverns mentioned at the opening at the poem, and finally sink "in tumult to a lifeless ocean".

Bearing in mind the continuous flow of the river, the articulation of this part is legato  throughout. The mazy motion of the river is probably better expressed within a "swaying" 3/4- (6/8-) beat than within a "pulsating" 4/4-beat pattern. A shift of key parallels the shift of scenery in the poem from the chasm as the place of the eruption to the forest and valley landscape. The sad mood (minor key) is kept, however. In relation to part 1.3, the tempo is reduced.

Within the piano part, the main slowing-down effect (cf. the slowly flowing river) is achieved through the use of the dotted crotchets [“long” notes] and the rests [pauses] in the piano alto/treble lines. This motif stands out against the background of the constantly flowing groups of quaver notes, which virtually establish the tonality (s.a.).

Notes of relatively long values also prevail in the part performed by the solo instruments, a harp and a jazz guitar. Considering that the flow of the river may become more constant and may gather in speed after a while, the guitar plays notes in more rapid succession. After the guitar part has ended, a strong downward motion starts (cf. the dropping of the river to the sea). This effect is enhanced by the string accompaniment, which increases its dynamic level to f , and the tom drums etc., which have replaced the "soft" percussive elements used before (woodblock etc. resembling noises etc. heard in a forest and valley landscape; s.a.).

Against the background accompariment of a single tom drum, which subtly reminds the listener of the tumult present in the part before and carries on to the end of this part, a voice effect (“ancestors”) become audible and gradually grow louder.  Their melancholy tune is soon superseded by timbales whose sound is much like that of battle drums. The drum rolls reach their greatest intensity in an aggressive "trill". The part is faded out.

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* Musical Promenade 1:30 * On the shores of the river half-way between the palace and the caves, the Khan feels humiliated and powerless confronted with the destructive and yet fascinating spectacle presented by nature unleashed. His senses begin to fail. He begins to confuse noises and visual impressions gathered in both the direction of the palace and the caverns. Accordingly, in this musical variation instruments are resumed calling back reminiscences of their performances in the preceding promenades. Having reached the last “earthly” station of the musical journey, however,  the voices of the instruments blend into a new musical “ensemble” full of tension.






The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !


* Musical main part  4:23 * Forces and impressions presented in the preceding fragments of the poem seem to contend and blend in this part, establishing a miraculous equilibrium. As the poem itself, the music repeats elements used in the parts before: The bongos play a rhythm similar to that of the congas present in much of 1.1 - the palace. The piano melody and accompaniment is a "melancholy" version of the "sunny gardens" theme. The pan-flute reappears, too, mainly "responding" to the piano motif; however, its tune has not quite the playful character of the tune in 1.2. The saxophone, which was associated with the eruption in 1.3, begins to intermingle and "answer".

The first distinguishable theme is repeated twice, with a variation of sound: first, the piano and electronic effects, next the voice of a harp develop the main tune. In the short interlude which follows, bass drums help to recall both the rumbling noises of the eruption and the tumult in the caves. The pan-flute and, eventually, the saxophone take their turns as solo instruments providing polyphony and counterpoint within further presentations of the main theme. The main theme is interrupted once more by a short connecting part which also forms the transition to the final theme.

Within the piano part, there has been a downward movement in pitch (the forces pulling towards the underworld of the caverns and the sea); the frequent "disruption", re-formation and repetition of figures/motifs reflects the conflicting powers mentioned in the text.

The saxophone has helped to build up tension with contrapuntal figures whose pitch first moves up-wards and then downwards. The figures played by the jazz guitar, the solo instrument of the "river" theme add another contrapuntal element. A guitar riff is the last element to oppose the general downward movement in pitch, which has begun to become irresistible, with the strings supporting loudly (f) the repeated piano motif.

In the final section, there is but dropping in the pitch levels. Imitating the piano motif, the strings are first affected by this "drag". Finally, the piano, the strings, the saxophone, and the drums begin to drop "unisono" to the lowest pitch. In fact, the theme of the "lifeless/sunless ocean" is repeated here.

Tom drums, the rumbling noises also used in the parts before, at some point begin to  "interfere" with the bongos (s.a.) at intervals; finally, they have a crucial rôle accompanying the final "drop" and move down to a "tumultuous" final beat, which is performed by crash cymbals, hi-hat cymbals, a snare drum, and a bass drum. Hi-hats have vigourously accompanied the piano and have only ceased to sound when crash cymbal "announces" the final stages of the drop in pitch (s.a.).

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A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.


Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware,
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.



after G. Lepper-Mainzer

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* Music 5:32 * [There is no promenade] The poet's voice reports about a vision: a heavenly maid with a dulcimer sings about a legendary mountain associated with paradise: Mount Abora. The sound of a harp, i.e. an instrument which is frequently associated with paradise, opens this part with a rising sequence of notes (cf. the "upward movement" in the imagery of the poem).

Within a 4/4 beat, the harp and the dulcimer continue rendering a musical phrase which will accompany us throughout this part and even the concluding part. First this phrase is articulated with a "touch" of retardation (ritenuto - a tempo) in order to enhance the dreamlike and peaceful atmosphere. The repeated 4-bar phrase is made up of quaver notes flowing with incessant ease (32 quaver notes in 4 bars, the tempo being about 128 bars/min).

“In relievo” against the harp accompaniment, a "heavenly voice" softly starts to present a simple melancholy tune (song of too light a character would rather be deemed inappropriate for paradise) whose dynamics gradually increase. In the repetitive part which follows two sets of strings have adopted the voice's tune, "reviving its symphony and song". "Inspiration" carries them further: they soon reach the dynamic level of the voice and eventually supersede it with their harmonies; this passage reflects the poet's imagination taking the initiative on the way to build his own "paradise";

First, the music (re-)turns to the now "ethereal" image of the "pleasure dome", with the recorder flute (+ electronic "soundtrack" and "harpsichord" effects) picking up a slightly varied copy of the main motif of part 1.1 (the palace). Next, the sound of the pan-flute (+ recorder) helps to recall the "gardens and forests" of 1.2.

After this "intermezzo", the "mocking" recorder from the very same "spheres" seems to provoke the piano into action. The piano motif (cf. 1.3, the "chasm" theme) is repeated to the end of this part. The recorder plays its little mocking game until the saxophone forcefully takes over with a contrapuntal sequence of notes, bringing back memories of part 1.4 (the eruption); it is not contradictory to the mood of the poem if, at this point, a feeling of unease should be aroused by the music; the text itself explicitly phrases a warning ("Beware! Beware!... close your eyes with holy dread"). The strings have the task to take the tension to its climax, eventually reaching f/ff . Relief is yet to come...

There is palpable relief, as the superhuman figure appearing in the part before turns out to have drunk "the milk of paradise", according to the poet's voice. Now the poet's and composer's imagination may flow freely.

The harp carries on as before, offering its structural pattern as a "harmonious platform" to the electric piano which first develops and varies little figures/motifs following the composer's own inspiration or intuition on the way to find a "resolution" (harmonious ending). A lot of so-called "ornaments" ("grace notes"; semi-quavers, or even demi-semi-quavers), are used to embellish the patterns of rising and falling notes, making the whole part the most playful one in the whole piece.

Towards the close of the piece, the tune of the electric keyboard seems to be orientated towards the melody line of the harp, ready to blend with its pattern "in symphony", before it "skips" happily around again for a couple of bars. The last four bars are repeated and slowly faded out (Paradise goes on forever).

Percussion is sparse and soft. The ride cymbal opens the final section, and the same instrument marks the beginning of the last four bars (s.a.).


(c) Juergen Matthias Schroeder, Duelmen 2002 - QT added in 2008

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1 NOV 2009