List of Works
Genghis Khan, Op. 37Instrumentation: orchestra, with no high strings
Performance Time: about 9 min.
Score available from: Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at Free Library of Philadelphia.
Recording available from: CRI, American Masters: Gene Gutchë
Interview: Gutche on Public Radio, before Carnegie Hall performance of Genghis Khan
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The orchestral piece Genghis Khan, Op. 37, dates from a productive and rewarding period of the early 1960s. It is scored for a full complement of winds (in threes), brass, and percussion, but dispenses with all the strings except for the basses, thus giving the orchestra the hard-edged texture beloved of Stravinsky and other 20th century colorists. The omission makes a certain sense, since one hardly needs the lyric flow of orchestral strings as an accompaniment to the exploits of the Mongol conqueror (ca. 1167-1227) who parlayed daring and savagery into control of a kingdom that stretched half-way across the known world and managed the feat in less than two decades of campaigning. As befits its subject, the music plunges straightway into its argument with little in the way of polite or picturesque introduction. A quick march that begins at a jogging tempo bears forth a warbling tune in trumpets and winds; its doublings a tritone below conjure up an oriental atmosphere from the start, with the diabolical dissonances involved providing an indication of the rascally Genghis less-than-benign character. A second, quite similar phrase, is quickly broken off as before by a series of staccatissimo grunts from the tuba and bassoons. As might be expected, the contrasting material offers no quarter; the tramping chords of the accompaniment are every bit as grim as the opening pages, while the flourish of scale passages in the winds offers a portent of more abandoned moments still to come. The middle section is set off by a powerful march episode with blocks of brass chords over a threatening bass line. Now the tempo slackens as plaintive woodwind fragments seem to lament the hardships attendant to life on the barren steppes and arid mountain plateaus. The original idea is heard on the flute in a more tranquil setting. In the richest passage yet, a colloquy of fragments from the opening episodes are woven together like the tales of old campaigns exchanged before the evening fire. But all too soon, arpeggio figures in the clarinets leap up and the music is on the march once again. Rather than merely repeating the initial statements, the composer creates a novel and effective transformation wherein long chains of descending motives are worked against a rising dynamic curve; the final result is the portrayal of a relentless but dispassionate force with no possibility of compassion or mercy. As one reviewer put it, this brief but colorful work speaks of a harsh spirit. The outlines of a Genghis Khan and his day are there; the listener must fill them in.
- derived by Michael Barone from the composers texts and the original, largely unattributed LP album annotations.
Flute II & III (Piccolos)
Oboes I & II
Oboe III (English Horn)
Bb Clarinet I
Eb Clarinet II
Bb Clarinet III (Bass Clarinet)
Bassoons I & II
F Horns I, II, III & IV
Bb Trumpets I, II, III & IV
Trombones I & II
Percussion (Two Players)
2 striking symbals
timbales (high and low)
- bass drum