Genghis Khan't

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Spoof entry from the spoof article "The New Grove," listing entries that would NOT appear in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, from The Musical Times (Vol. 122, No. 1656, February 1981).

Khan't, Genghis (Tamburlaine) (b Ulan Bator, cl880; d New York, 22 Nov 1980). Mongolian composer and scourge of God. A great-great- (in his own words, 'very great') grandson of the philosopher, whose name is normally spelt in the German manner, he was musically self-taught, though he had some lessons with his father, a virtuoso battlecrier. In 1905, when news reached Ulan Bator that a great composer was working at Eszterhiza in Hungary, Khan't set out on horseback to pay him homage. He arrived, of course, too late to achieve his dream, and gave vent to his desolation in the exquisite lament I'm on a hidin' to nothin'. However, his spirits were roused by the display of singing and dancing which the peasants put on in his honour - so much so that he eagerly questioned them about the source of their art, hoping that it represented some vestige of the work of the musician he revered as 'Papa Hai-dun'. Alas, this was not so. Khan't then decided to continue his journey westward, stopping at Budapest, where he met two young Hungarians, Béla Bartók and Zoltan Koddly, and informed them of his discoveries at Eszterhaza. Khan't is next heard of in 1911 in Paris, where the young Stravinsky was desperately trying to think of something even nastier than Petrushka with which to enrage the audiences at the Ballets Russes. He had provisionally decided on a nauseatingly voluptuous score entitled Le sucre du printemps, which surviving sketches show to have been heavily indebted to Tchaikovsky, Lehdr, Puccini and Richard Strauss. Khan't was not slow in expressing his disapproval of this project and he indicated the type of music he believed would be more suitable. Stravinsky understood immediately and began work, under Khan't's guidance, on a new score, which the two completed in 1913. Khan't remained in Paris, working closely with Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and others, until 1916, when he left to avoid call-up into the French army. His decision to move to Vienna may be seen as an instance of that rashness so typical of him, for no sooner had he arrived than he was conscripted by the Austrians. He was fortunate, however, in finding as a member of the same platoon Arnold Schoenberg. The two became firm friends and Schoenberg soon began to pour out his problems with atonality. Khan't had the feeling that there was some answer to these in a game he had played as a child, with 12 differently coloured pieces of horsedung which could be moved among the steppes. The rest is history. Khan't spent most of the years 1930-48 in Paris, where he befriended Messiaen and later Boulez; he then moved to New York for a few years, associating there with Cage; and in the early 1950s he settled in Cologne. His extensive travels, always in the company of his faithful horse Brachycephalus, left him little time for composition, and the lament mentioned above is his only published work (Ulan Bator, 1912; limited edition of three copies embroidered in horsehair on uncured sheepskin). Besides this, he has said ruefully that others have always robbed him of ideas, though this is vigorously denied by those composers with whom he had come into contact during the course of a long and eventful career. He is the author of a scholarly biography (Ulan Bator, 1979) of his ancestor Gri Gory Khan't, usually known under the Latinized name of Cantus Firmus, the authoritarian inventor of plainsong.


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