Today’s article is obviously about a TV series, though the music you will hear is not the one you’re used to. Marco Polo indeed sets in Mongolia, and it is a wonderful TV show you can find on Netflix, with already two seasons and a film between the two seasons called One Hundred Eyes.
Personally, I love it! The plot, the music, the fights (Kung-Fu) are wonderful! The music was composed by Daniele Luppi, along with Jim Black. However, each ending of episode has a different music, and usually it is a music that was composed by the band Altan Urag. Their compositions are marvelous, you should definitely listen to it! You can find them here.
As you may have noticed if you clicked on the previous link, each one of them is a Mongolian type of music. To help you get along and understand it, I have several links to listen to several instruments that I will quote during my analysis.
- First, you must have noticed the singing, called Mongolian throat singing or also Tuvan throat singing. I am amazed each time I listen to it. In this video, the man is playing the Morin Khurr, a string instrument that has the form of a horse’s head at the top of it.
- What’s also used in Mongolian music is the Ever Buree. It is a horn-shaped clarinet, and in the video I chose, you can first hear the clarinet, then the Ever Buree, to spot the difference between the two, despite their closeness in sound. There is an other wind instrument that is common – it is the Tsuur. A flute with usually 3 holes, and played in a peculiar way, though vertically.
- Then, there is the Khuuchir, a bowed musical instruments with 2 strings, that resembles the Ehru a lot. Actually, in the theme I will analyse, it is not the Khuuchir you will hear but the Ehru.
- Now I will quote 2 sorts of zither: the Yochin, and the Yatga. The Yatga is very close to the Gu Zheng, its Chinese version, with the manner in which you play it and the sound.
- Finally, the Gong, the percussion that you might all know already. Even if you do, I suggest you listen and observe the video. I know it seems weird at first, though it gets amazing from 3:12. A sound I never would’ve guessed it could come from the Gong.
I haven’t quoted every Mongolian instrument of course, just the more important ones, and you will hear mostly those I quoted in the main theme of Marco Polo. There will not be a lot of analysis as I usually do, simply because the theme is short, and I wanted you to discover the Mongolian music and also the TV show Marco Polo.
My short analysis
This is the video of the main theme of Marco Polo:
I divided it into 2 parts: 0:00-0:36 and 0:36-end.
We first hear the Mongolian throat singing, which is always the same note and is held – I also have the impression there is a Morin Khurr holding the same note. It gives, since the beginning, the Mongolian vibe to the music, and to the TV show. It tells it will set in Mongolia. At 0:02 and until 1:24 (so throughout the theme), the drum is the bass. It is repetitive: the same rhythm can be heard throughout the musical piece.
At 0:04, the Ehru can be heard and plays the main theme. The theme is then played by an other instrument at 0:14, which is the Ever Buree, that is structured by the Gong. I said “structured”, because it is more and more present, and I have this sensation of control. I see it as the Ehru being dominant, and the Ever Buree serving it. In other words, the Great Khan in the TV series is the Ehru, and Marco Polo is the Ever Buree, as it is being controlled, and cannot escape it. This instrument is also accompanied by an other instrument at 0:24, but I haven’t been able to determine which one. It may be the Khuuchir, but it emphasizes the fact that Marco Polo is trapped and cannot escape the Great Khan.
To me, the Gong could represent royalty, and it leads to our next part: it ties both parts as royalty is central in the TV show.
Here, there is a long crescendo, so much that you don’t have the impression there is one, as it grows very slowly. It is also amplified by the addition of instruments, one after another.
Again, we hear the Mongolian throat singing, then the Yatga makes its entrance, each note being plucked and following the pulsation. The notes are ascendant, and with the combination of the addition of instruments and the notes getting higher, it foretells that something is bound to happen.
At 0:46, we can hear the Yochin which is the instrument playing very quick notes, giving an other Asian vibe to the musical piece.
As the drum can still be heard, we can deduce it represents the Great Khan’s men – his soldiers – as it is repetitive and seems to frame the whole piece by giving rhythm.
The theme is heard again at 0:56 by the Ehru, which means it is the return of the Great Khan, with its splendour. Of course it is leading, so it enhances his role (leading his people).
Finally, it ends on the Mongolian throat singing so that we do not forget it is the main theme of the TV show.