You may know the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem …
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.
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!
One of my favorite pieces of American music is Charles Griffes‘ The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan. I first heard the original piano version and a bit later, was introduced to the transcription for orchestra, performed here by the Seattle Symphony. Listen to both, and tell: which do you prefer?
Many music lovers appreciate the symphony, but I’ve long preferred the tone poem. Not sure why. I don’t find the statement of a theme (China, or Paris, or Rome) to be so much of a constriction as a starting point of a journey I can choose to take wherever the imagination leads.