Repertoire Search

John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Circus Maximus (Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble) (2004),
Commissioned by the School of Music, The University of Texas at Austin, for the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Jerry F. Junkin, Director of Bands
G Schirmer Inc
Band/Wind/Brass Ensemble
Sub Category
Concert Band
Year Composed
35 Minutes
Programme Note
John Corigliano Circus Maximus (Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble) (2004),
Composer Note:

Circus Maximus is my first work specifically written for concert band. Many years ago, I arranged my piano-four-hand suite, Gazebo Dances, for band, but I have always felt more comfortable writing for the symphony orchestra. The sight of a multi-staved-and-transposed-band score still fills me with dread.

Attending a band concert, in contrast, I find exhilarating. For starters, the repertoire of band music is largely contemporary. As a result the audiences expect and look forward to new works. Listening in an environment largely ignored by the press, they learn to trust their own ears and respond directly to what they hear. Most important of all, concert bands devote large amounts of rehearsal time over a period of weeks – not days – to learning thoroughly the most challenging of scores. With its combination of new notations and spatial challenges demanding an intricate coordination of a large work, Circus Maximus could only have been attempted under such special circumstances.

I owe a great debt to the dedicatee of Circus Maximus, Jerry Junkin. He approached me about writing an original band work years ago. I declined at the time, because – frankly –
the thought of that enormous ensemble, composed of so many instruments I had never written for, overwhelmed me. But Jerry persisted; and his encouragement both in commissioning me to write this work and during the composing process (during which he was incredibly supportive) has really made this piece possible.

Jerry wanted a large and theatrical piece: a third symphony. And, when I thought about that, it made a certain sense. My first symphony was for large symphony orchestra, my second for string orchestra alone, and this piece is for winds, brass and percussion alone.

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.

-- John Corigliano

Please click here to listen to a Naxos podcast interview in which John Corigliano discusses his compositional process and why he especially enjoyed writing music for band.

  • Ensemble
    University of Texas Wind Ensemble
    Jerry F. Junkin
...[the] wild spatially conceived, with a huge ensemble onstage, eleven trumpets ringing the first tier, a saxophone trio at the edge of the second tier immediately above, and directly across from them, a horn duo. Additional percussion could be heard from upstairs, somewhere in the back....Oh, I neglected to mention the small marching band that entered from the back, paraded up to the front of the stage and then returned via the other aisle... Those trumpets began the slightly mad diversions with a unison blast that seemed to circle the auditorium...the result was as if blinding searchlights had been flipped on, which spread feverishly through the ensemble until all sections of the group were in full cry, including some impressively braying clarinets. And as in his FIRST SYMPHONY (and perhaps his score to Ken Russell's "Altered States"), Corigliano's language is eclectic...and wisely taps this excellent group's youthful exuberance, without sacrificing discipline....The audience reaction was almost as humorously over-the-top as some of Corigliano's ideas, but bully for them: it's always heartening to see people standing to cheer a new piece.
Bruce Hodges,,01/01/0001
It isn't every night that one sees a composer at a concert of...classical music besieged by fans seeking his autograph. But...the UT Wind Ensemble's premiere of John Corigliano's CIRCUS MAXIMUS was more than a concert; it was an event... This was a work that swelled to a deafening roar then faded to a whisper; that encompassed sinuous jazz, martial fanfares, circus music, hunting calls, and more, at times with one type of music interrupting another; that swung dramatically from apocalyptic chaos to pastoral serenity to urban turmoil to farce, each mood pushing or pulling against the next. It was a symphonic portrait of a world of extremes, of fragments competing for primacy, of a barrage of eclectic elements assaulting the senses. The work came at you from all directions - quite literally, as pockets of the ensemble were stationed all about the hall...The sense of being surrounded, of being at the center of the monumental arena of the title, was alternately enticing and intimidating... Corigliano wisely included passages of peace and reflection, moments that summoned the tranquility of deep night in the country, where nature still reigns, and of human prayer....What was most powerful and extraordinary about CIRCUS MAXIMUS was the way it reflected those pressures and the character of our culture - the violence, the pride, the impatience, the disconnectedness, the sense of menace and of mourning - to a degree that was unnerving.
Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle,01/01/0001
Close X

Newsletter Signup

Enter your email address to keep up to date with the latest news and special offers from Wise Music Classical.
Your data is secure and you can unsubscribe at any time. Read our Privacy Policy

Click here to receive regular news
© Copyright 2020 Wise Music Classical. Part of Wise Music Group.