From the recording Kubla Khan in Xanadu Did...
In 1971 I was offered a chance to get a passing grade from my literature professor if I composed a piano piece based on a poem the class had been studying: Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I had two weeks. I met the deadline and the piece was performed by my theory and piano instructor at her faculty piano recital. The original manuscript has always been in my possession. Some 43 years later, possessing a disciplined mindset unavailable as a 19-year-old, I delved into the poem and compared it to the manuscript. I kept four bars; a 12-tone with clusters and started over.
First off, I wanted to give a musical translation of the poem, adhering to the three stanzas and pacing it with their lines so one could read the poem along with the music. There are instances where the pacing is lost to the music.
The first stanza is the basic theme, powerful but pleasant. The second is dramatic and volcanic (the surviving four bars of 12-tone clusters) with the third ending in recapitulation.
Keeping in mind the four surviving bars, a scale was needed that sounded both Eastern and ethereal. I settled on combining a C pentatonic (C D F G A) with a C# pentatonic (C# D# F# G# A#) creating a 10-tone scale. E natural and B natural are not used.
The piece begins and ends in Bb. Because the E natural and B natural are not used, the key of Bb is a safe harbor. In the third stanza, the Abyssinian dulcimer-playing maid passage is based on an Ethiopian 8-note scale, eze1 mode. There’s some connection between Abyssinian and Ethiopian, so I worked it in. It wasn’t until Friday, February 21, 2014 at a little past noon, when I was listening to WFMT in the SUV, that I heard The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan by Charles Griffes , composed in 1917. Very cool!