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Marco Millions


Marco Millions, produced by the Theatre Guild in 1928, required the most elaborate of the composed scores. It was written by Emerson Whithorne, a composer of symphonies, ballets, as well as works for piano and for voice, many of which have an oriental coloration. The score for the play was his only work for the legitimate theatre. Orchestral parts are housed in the Theatre Guild Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. These parts are for flute (piccolo), oboe (English horn, musette), trumpet, violin, cello, mandolin, guitar and percussion (celesta, gongs, cymbals, etc.). O'Neill's text also required a brass band. O'Neill makes full use of music to aid his lavish spectacle. Music bridges the scenes as Marco moves from Venice to Acre, then through the Near and Far East. One hears Venetian guitars, church bells, a muezzin call, a tartar kettledrum, and finally the full, blaring band at the Chinese court.

Two developments in the play are worthy of comment. The first is the use of music to create a sense of space around the action. In the early scenes, O'Neill calls for sentimental songs and guitars 'from near and far off' to make the small stage setting no more than a window where Marco takes leave of his Venetian love, Donata seem part of a larger community of lovers. Similarly in act 2, scene 1, the lengthy approach of Marco's self-glorifying military band, underscored by Chu Yin's satirical description of Marco as the Cock of Paradise, is first heard far away, growing increasingly louder until it climaxes as Marco struts onstage. The effect is repeated in the following scene where O'Neill writes: "From the distance comes the sound of Polo's band playing the same martial music... The music grows quickly louder...Finally it seems to turn a corner, and a moment later, to a deafening clangor, Marco enters."

The comic use of the band contrasts sharply with the music at the funeral ceremony for the Princess Kukachin in act 3, scene 2. The ceremony begins as do many of the scenes in the play with the sound of bells big, little, near and far. Overlaid on this is a "rhythmic wail of mourning" from women onstage. Suddenly, they and the city bells are silent except for one deep-toned bell heard from within the palace. Then, from outside, the funeral music arises and in-creases in volume as the procession enters with instrumentalists and singers of a wordless chant, their "thin, cracked voices" rising in "queer breaking waves of lamentation." A choral chant, accompanied by a clangor of brass, follows, and thereafter a Mongol Chronicler declaims an official lament in a high wailing voice, accompanied by the musicians and chorus who sway and rhythmically hum "a rising and falling accompaniment." The scene has no narrative action; it is all ceremony carried for the most part by the music. For a moment, O'Neill has abdicated his stage in favor of the composer a highly uncharacteristic action.

A selection from the score, arranged for piano solo, entitled "At the Court of Kublai Kaan" was published by Carl Fischer, New York. This is the music intended to introduce act 1, scene 6.

(Music from full Chinese and Tartar bands crashes up to a tremendous blaring crescendo of drums, gongs, and the piercing shrilling of flutes. The light slowly comes to a pitch of blinding brightness. Then, as light and sound attain their highest point, there is a sudden dead silence. The scene is revealed as the Grand Throne Room in the palace of Kublai, the Great Kaan, in the city of Cambaluc, Cathay...) [II, 411]

At the Court of Kublai Kaan - Emerson Whithorne, published 1928


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