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Rubicon

Level:

4.5

Duration:

15:05

Instrumentation:

wind band, fanfare band

contest piece, concert work, solo piece

Type

The Rubicon is a river in Northern Italy which Julius Caesar crossed with his army in 49 BC in defiance of the leaders of Rome, who feared his power. A civil war against rival Pompey ensued, which culminated in Caesar seizing power as the absolute ruler of Rome. The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” therefore refers to any person committing himself irrevocably to a risky, decisive and irrevocable of course of action.

The work consists of three parts that deal with this important moment in history. Part 1 (“Meditation”) symbolises Caesar’s request to the Gods to assist him in his difficult choice. In a slow introduction we hear the melancholy and beseeching sounds of the duduk (alternatively, this part can be played by a soprano saxophone) and of the soprano solo singer over the bourdon accompaniment. The soprano solo singer then sings “dona tibi pacem” (give him rest) in a melodious and probing theme.

In Part 2 (“Battle of Pharsalus”) trumpets and trombones resound alternately in a stately Roman fanfare, producing a stereophonic effect. This develops into a martial theme in which Caesar’s impressive army goes to battle against the army of rival Pompey. While the theme of Caesar’s army fades away, Pompey’s theme emerges as a naive dance in six-eight time. His army is definitely in the majority and it believes it can easily defeat the enemy. Suddenly trumpets and trombones clash on two sides of the orchestra: Caesar’s army advances and attacks. A fierce battle ensues in which the two themes are played alternately as well as simultaneously. Thanks to his shrewd battle tactics, Caesar manages to win this legendary battle after all: his theme resounds ever louder in trumpets and horns until everything dies out and changes into a kind of reconciliation between the soldiers of the two armies. The melancholy “dona tibi pacem” from part 1 now serves as a reconciliation theme.

Caesar is now the sole ruler of the New Roman Empire, which would be destined to leave its mark on our Western civilisation to this day. The third part is a sparkling succession of dance music (“Dance”) with many Greek and Roman elements in which Caesar’s victory is praised and celebrated. It is common knowledge that the culture (arts, gods, etc.) of the Romans drew heavily on Greek culture. I have therefore used an authentic Greek theme (the Seikolos song) several times in this part (bar 17 in the euphonium, bar 60 in the base section, bar 68 in the soprano saxophone) to suggest the music of that era and to evoke the right atmosphere. After a gradual increase in tempo in the entire orchestra, the opening melody gloriously resounds once more, surrounded by virtuoso dance music. The work ends with bombastic brass fanfares in which Caesar’s theme triumphs once more.