When in Rome … – The Naxos Blog


I live in Canterbury, in the south east of England. It attracts many visitors, mainly with its magnificent cathedrals and many other reminders of medieval life, from city walls and towers to 14th-century pubs and the Dane John, a strategic defensive mound quoted in a tapestry from Bayeux.

However, check out the 15th-century Three Tuns Inn, and the notice will remind you of the city’s Roman roots, which are buried below current street levels; the Romans lived in Canterbury from the village. 70 AD yes c. 410 AD In one of the neighboring hotels, part of the foyer floor is made of glass so that visitors can see part of the walls that defined the modest theater, built at about the same time as the Colosseum in Rome and then turned into a large four-story amphitheater. Down the road at the Roman Museum of Canterbury, well-preserved mosaics of the home building are just one of the attractions.

So for this blog, I thought of moving from wordy descriptions to six pieces of music reminiscent of the Roman way of life – from Julius Caesar to thunderous chariots, fine mosaics, Roman roads and grand arenas.

We will start with a reference to the first of the main Roman roads, the Opium Road, built to transport military supplies to Rome and from Rome in 312 BC. He was immortalized in music by the Italian composer Atarino Respighi (1879–1936). He wrote 12 tonal poems divided into 3 sets, each with 4 parts and fascinating titles: Roman festivals, Fountains of Rome and Roman pines. The last set ends with Pines of the Appian Waywhich Respighi presented as follows:

“The Pines of the Opium Way are a misty dawn on the Opium Road. The tragic landscape is guarded by lone pines. Vaguely, incessantly, the rhythm of countless steps. In the poet’s imagination a vision of past glories arises; the trumpets sound, and the consul’s army moves brilliantly in the majesty of the sun that has just risen to the Holy Way, triumphantly ascending Capitol Hill. ‘

Pines of the Appian Way (8.574013)


Although Roman chariots were used both in war and as an entertaining spectacle, I chose a song that presents a darker, more attentive hue of the usually fast-unfolding carriage. The text of the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) presents a personification of Death, which visits the narrator of the poem and takes her in a carriage to the afterlife. American composer Aaran Copeland (1900–1990) believes that his staging of the poem inspired the rest of his Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinsonwhich he graduated from in 1950, saying:

“I fell in love with one song, Chariot, and kept adding songs one by one until I was twelve. The poems themselves gave me a direction that I hoped would correspond to Miss Dickinson’s lyrically expressive language. ”

Here is the text:

Because I couldn’t stop before Death
He kindly stopped for me –
The car held, but only Us
And Immortality

We drove slowly – He did not know in a hurry
And I cleaned up
My job and my vacation too
For his civilization –

We went through a school where children played
Their lessons have barely passed –
We passed Fields of grain-watching –
We passed the setting sun –

We stopped in front of the House, which seemed
Swelling of the ground –
The roof was almost invisible
Eaves – but a mound

Centuries have passed since then – but everyone
Feels shorter than a day
I first guessed about Horse Heads
Were towards Eternity

Chariot (8.559731)

One of the most famous names associated with the Roman Empire is Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC), a statesman and military leader who greatly expanded the empire before seizing power and making himself a dictator. Rome. During one of his military campaigns he found himself in Egypt, so my next work was chosen, an aria from Handel’s opera of 1724. Julius Caesar in Egypt.

Caesar sings his aria It needs to be kept quiet and hidden when he finds himself in the palace of Thalamea, king of Egypt, who has just coolly met Caesar and whom Caesar looks at with suspicion. Accompanied by strings and horns, Caesar compares himself to a covert hunter who closely monitors his prey (Talamea). Here is the English translation of the aria:

How silent, how cunning,
If after the fragrance is taken,
the hunter tracks the prey.

The traitor is shrewd and cunning,
never lets his prey wake up
if the trap is to be sure.

The role of Caesar at the premiere of the opera was sung by the famous alt-castrate Seneza. Our recording features the voice of Jochen Kowalski (b. 1954), a well-known German counterpart born in Poland. I suspect that the original Caesar would have considered himself more of a man trimautener.

It needs to be kept quiet and hidden (C10213)

Roman mosaics were not only beautiful works of art, they also documented life and objects. They have also proved to be a frequent source of inspiration for classical composers. Of all the works in the catalog with the title I chose Mosaic American composer Elliott Carter (1908–2012). Written for solo harp and seven instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass). Carter himself wrote the following note on the work:

“Carlos Salseda, an extraordinary harpist, was a member of a small group of modernists who surrounded Varese and Ives in the 1920s and 1930s, and has remained a memory I cherish. His unusual developments in the harp technique have always seemed to me too rarely explored in recent times. So written Mosaic, commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, I decided to explore many of his fascinating inventions to recall his friendship in the early 1930s. The score is created by many short mosaic mosaics, which, I hope, will make one coordinated impression.

Here is the second half of the work.

Mosaic (8.559614)

My last two excerpts are based on the same theme – the Roman Circus Maximus – the first of John Coriglian’s eight-part symphony № 3 “Maximum Circus”, the subtitle also forms the title of the sixth part. The composer presents the work as follows:

“The Circus of Maximus of Ancient Rome was a real place. The largest arena in the world, it has entertained more than 300,000 spectators daily for nearly a thousand years. Chariot races, hunting, and battles satisfied the Roman public’s need for more grand and wilder amusements as the Empire declined. The parallels between the high decadence of Rome and our present are obvious. Entertainment dominates our culture, and increasingly extreme “reality” shows dominate our entertainment. Many of us have been embarrassed by the violence and humiliation that fills more than 500 channels of our TV screens, like those crowds of imperial Rome who considered devouring people by hungry lions just another Sunday show. The Circus Maximus form was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarism.

Circus Maxim, the sixth part and the peak of the work unites all other movements and is a carnival of sonar activity. The band, which marches through the aisles, counterpoints the performers on stage and the surrounding fanfare. Big voices merge into chaos and the frenzy of overstatement. ”

Circus Maxim (8,559601)

Finally we return to Respighi and his view on the same subject. He preferred to name his symphonic sketch circus (think bread and circuses, as in “bread and circuses” often bloody entertainment) and introduced it as follows:

“The threatening sky hangs over the Maxim Circus, but it is a national holiday. Ave Nero! The iron door is open, the air mingles the cries of religious songs and the howls of wild beasts. The crowd rises to their feet in rage. The inviolable song of the martyrs gains strength, wins and then sinks into the hustle and bustle.

circus (8.574013)



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