About this Recording
8.559601 - CORIGLIANO, J.: Symphony No. 3, "Circus Maximus" / Gazebo Dances (University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Junkin)

John Corigliano (b.1938)
Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble
Gazebo Dances for band


For the past three decades I have started the compositional process by building a shape, or architecture, before coming up with any musical material. In this case, the shape was influenced by a desire to write a piece in which the entire work is conceived spatially. But I started simply wondering what dramatic premise would justify the encirclement of the audience by musicians, so that they were in the center of an arena. This started my imagination going, and quite suddenly a title appeared in my mind: Circus Maximus.

The Latin words, understandable in English, convey an energy and power by themselves. But the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome was a real place—the largest arena in the world. 300,000 spectators were entertained by chariot races, hunts, and battles. The Roman need for grander and wilder amusement grew as its empire declined.

The parallels between the high decadence of Rome and our present time are obvious. Entertainment dominates our reality, and ever-more-extreme “reality” shows dominate our entertainment. Many of us have become as bemused by the violence and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as the mobs of imperial Rome, who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show.

The shape of my Circus Maximus was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarity. It utilizes a large concert band, and lasts approximately 35 minutes. The work is in eight sections that are played without pause.

I. Introitus. Trumpets and percussion surrounding the audience play fanfares, signaling the opening of the work. The full band enters with a primitive call from the clarinets. A short central section features the lowest winds and brass followed by the joining of the offstage and onstage ensemble playing together this time, and reaching the first climax of the work.

II. Screen/Siren. A saxophone quartet and string bass call from the 2nd tier boxes in seductive inflections. Other instruments scattered around the hall (clarinet, piccolo, horns, trumpet) echo the calls, which are suddenly interrupted by …

III. Channel Surfing. Our need for constant change echoes the desires of the ancient mob, only now we can access it all by pressing a button. Music in this section is constantly interrupted by other music and comes from all sections of the hall.

IV. Night Music I. Tranquility in nature. Away from cities, forest sounds suspend time. Animals call to each other.

V. Night Music II. The hyper night-music of the cities pulse with hidden energy and sudden flashes. Sirens and distant battles onstage build the tension to …

VI. Circus Maximus. The peak of the work incorporates all the other movements and is a carnival of sonoric activity. A band marching down the aisles counterpoints the onstage performers and the surrounding fanfares. Exuberant voices merge into chaos and a frenzy of overstatement.

VII. Prayer. In answer to this, a long-lined serene melody is set against a set of plagal (IV-I) cadences that circle through all the keys. The rising line grows in intensity against the constantly changing harmonies as the chords overlap from stage to surround trumpets and back.

VIII. Coda: Veritas. Music from the Introitus enters almost inaudibly, but grows in intensity until it dominates the “prayer” music, and the surrounding trumpet calls reach an even higher peak. A gunshot ends the work.

Gazebo Dances was originally written as a set of four-hand pieces dedicated to certain of my pianist friends. I later arranged the suite for orchestra and for concert band, and it is from the latter version that the title is drawn. The title Gazebo Dances was suggested by the pavilions often seen on village greens in towns throughout the American countryside, where public band concerts were given on summer evenings early last century. The delights of that sort of entertainment are portrayed in this set of dances, which begins with a Rossini-like Overture, followed by a rather peg-legged Waltz (only rarely in three-quarter time) a long-lined Adagio and a bouncy Tarantella. Each movement was given a dedication which are as follows: I. for Rose Corigliano and Etta Feinberg; II. for John Ardoin; III. for Heida Hermanns; and IV. for Jack Romann and Christian Steiner.

In both materials and temperament I think of this as a piece of my youth, and so it was appropriate, if aggrieving, to return to the Tarantella when, in 1990, I was composing my Symphony No. 1. Jack Romann, the co-dedicatee of that movement, had suffered horrifying dementia before he died of AIDS, and the folk origins of the Tarantella (as a dance to ward off the fever induced by the bite of the tarantula) haunted my memory of this movement as they never had at the time of its composition. Thus this music became his memorial in the Scherzo of that piece, distorted beyond recognition as Jack had been, but heard here in the 1972 Gazebo Dances in the version I prefer to remember.

Gazebo Dances was composed in 1972, and was recorded in 1992 by pianists John and Richard Contiguglia on John Corigliano: Early Works on CRI Records (CRI CD 659).

John Corigliano

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