Gibbon's Rome for Chamber Orchestra

Kevin H. Franco, Bates College


My thesis is a three-movement music composition embodying the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, as told by Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The composition will be for a small chamber orchestra: a flute doubling on piccolo, alto flute in G, and bass flute; a clarinet in Bb doubling on bass clarinet; one piano; one percussionist on crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, triangle, snare drum, claves, wind chimes, small gong, tam-tam, glockenspiel, crotales, marimba, xylophone, and tubular bells; and a string quartet. The six volume Enlightenment-era history serves as a fantastic inspiration to a composer because it is subjective. Therefore, I as the composer possess a model of which events deserve recognition in the music.

There are two musical influences from which I draw: the little information that scholars know about Roman music, and the modern (c. 1500- ) demonstrations of Rome in western concert music. Composers have used many different applications to embody the Roman Empire, such as parallel fifth intervals, quarter tones, and various extended instrumental techniques that produce what we may consider a “primitive” or “ancient” sound. Examples include flutter tonging on woodwind instruments, plucking the strings of a piano, or striking the strings of a stringed instrument with the wood of the bow. From Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” to Respighi’s Roman Trilogy to the Miklos Rosza’s score to Ben-Hur, these techniques exist in a variety of western musical settings, which I too intend to use. Ethnomusicalogically speaking, this is not an attempt to recreate Roman music, but rather to represent it.