Kubla Khan: for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble

MP Ellison (Composer), ST Coleridge

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Kubla Khan, for soprano, mezzo and ensemble, on text of Coleridge, was commissioned
by the Istanbul Music Festival, and premièred by Christie Finn, Arlene Rolph, and
Hezarfen Ensemble at Santral Istanbul in 2011.

Any apprehension about setting such a well known (even Romantic!) text to music was counterbalanced by an overpowering sense of connection to the poet, his imagery, and the relationship of this particular poem to the type of approach to vocal writing I am currently pursuing, which tends towards the use of sound (especially in the English language) ‘for its own sake’. With his ‘opium dream’ as an excuse for poetic flights of imagination, Coleridge brings the verse in Kubla Khan about as close to pure form as is possible in literature. In this music, too, sounds and rhythms from the text become their own object, delighting in this ‘Pleasure Dome’ of creative activity Kubla has decreed. The volatile imagery, sounds and meanings of the poem suggest rarely accessible inner landscapes, mellifluous currents of free cantabile passages and explosive instrumental detours. Towards the end, the ‘dulcimer’ of the Abysinnian maid is transliterated into a harp, providing a languid accompaniment for the ‘symphony and song’ rising above it. This is one of two real ‘tunes’ that emerge over the course of the work: the first being the ‘river’ whose ‘mazy motion’ through the volatile abysses of the dome is suggested by its polyrhythmic setting, even as its familiar flavour perhaps evokes the European Coleridge in the midst of his orientalist fantasies.—Michael Ellison
Translated title of the contributionKubla Khan
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationIstanbul Music Festival
EditionCommissioned by Istanbul Music Festival
Media of outputChoral/Orchestral
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2011
EventIstanbul Music Festival - Santral Istanbul Enerji Müzesi, Istanbul Music Festival - Istanbul, Turkey
Duration: 17 Jun 2011 → …

Bibliographical note

Medium: Vocal Chamber Music (sop, mezzo, fl, hp, perc, vln, vla, vc)
Duration: 12'
Texts: Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Performers: Christie Finn, Soprano, Arlene Rolphe, mezzo-soprano, Hezarfen Ensemble


  • Kubla
  • Coleridge
  • Istanbul Music Festival
  • Hezarfen Ensemble
  • Santral Istanbul


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