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The Ancient Mariner


O'Neill dramatized Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem somewhat hurriedly to fill a gap in the 1924 production schedule of the Experimental Theatre for which he, Kenneth Macgowan and Robert Edmond Jones were the producers.  It was not successful, and, although O'Neill evidently had a musical plan in mind, his text does not provide specific musical details.  He calls for a number of choral effects by the chorus of drowned sailors:  a sailor chanty, a "hymn to a chanty rhythm," a hymn for the Hermit, and chants to serve at various points, as when the sailors are brought back to life to man their stations when the ship is released from the doldrums.  Although the play required some musical organization, there is no program credit given to a composer for the first production.  No music is specified by title except for that heard at the beginning and end of the play, a small piano piece from Tchaikovsky's Children's Album, "The Doll's Funeral March."  The text calls for the wedding guests, seen as shadows against a blind, to move in stiff, mechanical ways, like marionettes, and to dance to the Tchaikovsky melody, played (if Coleridge is to be followed) on a "loud bassoon."  The march, whose tempo marking is grave, is not music for dancing, but perhaps its lugubrious melody matched O'Neill's conception of the mood of the scene.

(A screen indicates a house.... A large window with a semitransparent white shade.  Music from within—Tchaikovsky, "Doll's Funeral March," to which guests are dancing.  Their shadows come and go on the window-like shadowgraphs.)  [The Unknown O'Neill, p. 169]

Enterrement de la poupée (The Doll's Funeral March) - Peter I. Tchaikovsky, from Album pour enfants, published 1878


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