MARCO POLO. La Ruta de la Seda

Year of composition: 2006

Commissioned by Unión Musical Utielana

Length: 24′ 30”
Instrumentation: Symphonic Band 
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I. Génova, 1298 Genoa, 1298
II. La Caravana de los Mercaderes The Caravan of the Merchants
III. El Viejo de la Montaña The Old Man of the Mountain
IV. Taklamakan
V. Llegada a Cambaluc Arrival in Cambaluc 

Certamen Internacional de Bandas of Valencia. Honor Division
July 1st, 2006
Symphonic Band Unión Musical Utielana
Conductor: Frank De Vuyst


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The piece describes five episodes from the fantastic trip that the Venetian Marco Polo (1254-1324) realized to the court of Kublai Khan, emperor of the Mongolians, the biggest empire that ever existed on Earth. The composer found his inspiration, among others, in the book The Travels of Marco Polo, which the proper Marco Polo dictated to Rustichello, a romance writer, while both were in prison in Genoa in 1298. From the whole trip, which took 24 years, the piece describes only the first part, the travel from Venice to the court of Cambaluc (actually Beijng), which took 4 years to realise.

Génova, 1298 represents the encounter between the two characters in the prison of Genoa. In the introduction, where the music starts cold and mysterious, the two main themes of the piece are presented. After this presentation, the music changes suddenly: Marco Polo finds Rustichello and feels better, knowing that he can tell his marvellous story to somebody, and thus forget the sorrow caused being a prisoner.

La Caravana de los Mercaderes describes the first part of the trip, more concrete that part corresponding to the Middle East (Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, etc.) To set the music for this part, the composer uses ethnic instruments of this area, such as a Duduk, a Tar or a Zurna. The movement has two parts: the first is a Tamzara, a popular dance of Turkey and Armenia. In the second part, with the subtitle “Contemplation of the mount Ararat”, the duduk plays an expressive melody which represents the encounter between the merchant and this mythical mount which, according to the tradition, is the location of Noach’s Ark.

El Viejo de la Montaña. One of the most incredible histories that Marco Polo tells in his book is about the Old Man from the Mountain. All though there are different opinions about this historical character we can consider that the old man from the mountain is in fact Hassán Sabbah, who frightened and controlled from his fortress of Alamut (an impregnable fortress at the south of the Caspian Sea) to the emirs and sultans of the Islamic East. One of the most surprising aspects of this sect, are the capturing methods used by the Old Man of from the Mountain: he provided his adepts with hashish, leading them to an imaginary paradise on earth. Influenced by the effects of this drug, these citizens of Hassan were sent out to commit selected murders. Some people observe in the word “Hashâshin” (drinkers of Hashish) the etymological rooth for the word assassin. This group was very fearsome because of their effectiveness. Their power declined during the 13nd and 14nd century, because of the invasion of the Mongolians, who plundered every castle of the sect, and made an end on their terrifying reign.

The Movement is divided in two sections: one describes the majestic fortress of Alamut, and a second represents one of the murders by the members of this sect. Both sections are linked by a cadence of Tibetan Bowls which evocate the moment of consuming drugs, creating an atmosphere that’s worrying and awesome at the same time.

In Taklamakan the music becomes languid representing the march of the Merchants through Taklamakan, a desert of big dunes of sand located at the western part of China. Halfway their trip through the desert, Marco Polo and his people observe the progressive rapprochement of a Mongolian Army (represented by the percussionist through a crescendo). After this martial passage the warriors are gradually moving away, and the merchants continue with their slow march.

Llegada a Cambaluc. In the first part of this movement, subtitled “Pescadores en el Huan He”(“Fishermen en el Huan He”) the music describes a calm scene at the Huan He, the Yellow River, close to Beijng. During this part, the Hulusi plays an expressive and fluid melody that represents the calmness of the Chinese fishermen while they are working. This calmness will change into exultation when Marco Polo and his people observe finally, after four years of marching, the city of Cambaluc on the skyline. Finally, Marco Polo enters triumphant and somewhat impressed into the broad and paved avenues of the city, because of big fire trees in the sky, which cause big explosions and are welcoming him this way. These are of course fireworks, only one of the many marvellous things that the Venetian traveller discovered in the East.

The composer wanted to imagine the journey through the eyes of the people who experienced the trip, creating a work with deep contrasts and colourful sonorities, which he obtained specially by the rapprochement of the popular music of these regions that Marco Polo went through, and by using their ethnic instruments. After all, an authentic musical journey.