Gustav Hoyer: Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Gustav Hoyer’s “Rime of the Ancient Marriner” works on two levels. And that’s a remarkable feat. This album features two versions of the composition. One includes a recitation of the poem, The other is just the music. 

Played under the recitation, Hoyer’s music supports and amplifies the poem’s disturbing imagery. But this is not just background music. 

Without the narration, the work becomes an epic tone poem. One that conveys the drama and arc of the narrative exclusively in music. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem was published in 1798.  It set the tone for gothic horror of the 19th Century. The Ancient Mariner of the poem is a cursed sailor. He frivolously kills an albatross, a good luck symbol. In doing so, he condemns the entire crew to death. Only he is spared to wander the earth, recounting his tale over and over. 

Coleridge’s poem carries a hint of menace. The mariner waylays a wedding guest about to enter the church for the ceremony. As his tale unfolds, it’s clear that the mariner is driven to tell his story to specific people. But why this person, and why at that moment?

The poem implies there’s a reason, but it’s never revealed. The wedding guest is compelled to listen to the mariner, but he can’t explain why. Hoyer’s music perfectly captures that concept of unease and unspoken danger. It defines the work and gives it emotional power.

The Budapest Film Orchestra is directed by Peter Pejtsik. The orchestra delivers a lush, emotive performance. One can hear the ocean swells, the approach of death, the unfolding of the curse.  This is powerful and effective orchestral writing. 

This is a tale of the supernatural, but the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a tale of redemption. By telling and retelling his story, the mariner is atoning for his sin. Hoyer’s music conveys that feeling of hope, which peeks through from time to time. 

Kent Stephens is an excellent narrator. His reading is dramatic, yet restrained, adding to the unsettling nature of the poem. I can’t say which version I prefer. Both provide a moving listening experience. 


Gustav Hoyer: the Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Budapest Film Orchestra; Peter Pejtsik conductor
Kent Stephens narration
Navona NV6590

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