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Roma [Int.]

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Author Comments

I decided to tackle writing "program"/interpretative music following details of an excellent novel I recently finished (Roma, by Steven Saylor) as a English project, and it turned out to be one of the boldest and longest pieces I have written to date. The story follows a Roman family from the dawn of the city itself all the way to the end of the Republic. This piece, a brief three-movement composition, follows the first three chapters of the book.

The first movement (0:00-1:43) follows a brief romance on the banks of the Tiber at what would be the future site of Rome. The love theme, introduced on violin after a brief opening on horn and strings, develops into a broad and soaring duet between a violin and a horn. The melody falls when a jealous man kills the woman's lover the next day, but the music ends joyfully, as the line is continued.

Movement 2 (1:43-3:26) starts joyfully. On the site of future Rome is a small village, including the descendants of that ancient romance. However, the village is haunted by a beast named Cacus and the music becomes ominous, with the theme of Cacus played on harp in a dissonant manner. At the end of that half of this movement, a great roar occurs as the heroine of this chapter is chased by the beast, but is safe. Eventually, a hero (said to be Hercules) arrives and defeats Cacus in a violent harp-violins-trumpet struggle and the movement ends in another major ending out of the strife.

Movement three (3:26-4:21) starts gently, but with strength, as the village is now stronger. Then, a new theme comes in, in an entirely different key and with a chorus as well. Here the brothers Romulus and Remus are rising to power as what we would call warlords, and with a smashing finale, the founding of the city is completed. One should note that there is more to this tale, I simply decided to end the song here... so it would stand as more of a prelude to Rome more than anything else.

On the Instrumentation-
Instead of confining myself to instruments available at the time, I tried going back and forth between orchestral and a slightly more ethnic feel, using different scales (a sort of pentatonic was used in some parts) and instruments (harps and frame-drums were available at that time) to resemble the feel of that ancient time without eliminating the feel of a full orchestra (which only emerges in the last movement).

Created using the EWQL Symphonic Orchestra Gold and Finale 2009

Feel free to give any thoughts or feelings this piece gives you, or any critique you have. It's certainly not a perfect composition. Do understand that the use of dissonance is intentional.


Really like the dissonance at 2:41. 3:26 sounds like Knocks Me Off My Feet by Stevie Wonder (I've no clue why I heard it like that). Overall, the piece was very interesting and had great structure. Impressive work. And great research too!

samulis responds:

Hey there,

Glad to see you like the piece, it was a lot of fun to write honestly, but I have to hand it to Steven Saylor for writing such a perfect and expressive novel... I find it rather entertaining you found the start of the third movement sounding like Stevie Wonder. XD

Alright, since this is a sectioned piece... SECTIONED REVIEW TIME! Yaaaaaay. Confetti and all that. Anyway. On to the review!

Movement 1 - THE GOOD:
-I love the theme, very glad that this section has a more thematic idea tying it together - it keeps me from getting bored or feeling as disconnected as your other song I had reviewed did.
-While the end is not part of the theme, it works quite well for the "story" feel, and the dissonance in the strings really drives the feel of that part home.
-Nice use of a light timpani in the end of the section. It filled out a part of the mix that most people don't use.

Movement 1 - THE NOT-AS-GOOD:
-I was a bit confused - you had said the section ends joyfully, but it doesn't quite end in the way I was expecting. While it ends in a major chord, I was expecting something a little more... 'completing'. That might not have been the best word, but I feel like there should have been a little bit more of a tune there to truly 'finish' the section. Other than this, I have no criticism of this section.

Movement 2 - THE GOOD:
-I very much like the high strings with the low strings - leaving out strings in the mid section creates an interesting atmosphere, particularly with the harp to balance it out.
-I love that light percussion used in there.
-The dissonance is once again quite fitting and well-done.
-Wonderful transition at 3:00-3:06. Wonderful.

Movement 2 - THE NOT-AS-GOOD:
-The theme isn't quite as prevalent in this movement as in the previous one, and is a bit difficult to decipher, it mainly seems to be wandering (you know what I'm talking about, I mentioned this in the other review as 'rambling' - need to use vocabulary :D) and disconnected in the middle - though part of it does make a reappearance, which is good.
-I notice an odd buzzing sound from about 1:52 to the end of 1:56. Don't know what's causing it, but it doesn't quite work with the orchestral-ness of the rest of the song - though it is in tune, ironically.
-As JosephAS1 said, the strings at about 2:06 just randomly end, which sounds quite surprising and doesn't *quite* fit, though it isn't overly bad. Fading out a little bit more would be nice - that or a reverb'd end.
-Toward the end of this section, right after the transition I commented on, the background for the theme of Cacus seems to not be overly well-done. I'm not sure how you would improve this though, and it could just be a little personal nitpick - feel free to ignore this if you think it doesn't apply overly well.
-Also toward the end of this section, I think it could really, really use a stronger percussion section - after all, it's depicting a battle. If you don't like putting strong percussion in with the other instruments, then perhaps a percussion solo?

Movement 3 - THE GOOD:
-While there's not too much to this section, it certainly fits exactly what you said.
-I love the choir sound in the middle of this section.

Movement 3 - THE NOT-AS-GOOD:
-I think the choir, while sounding awesome, could really use a bit more to do - choirs can sing more than large notes, after all.
-The bass percussion rumbling in the middle with the choir makes it difficult to hear the staccato bass strings.
-This section is, well, too short. It's really good for its length, but could definitely stand to be extended!

Overall song - THE GOOD:
-Wonderful melodies, very fitting for the story (or stories, whatever) that you were painting with the music.
-The dissonance is extremely well-done and is also quite fitting.

Overall song - THE NOT-AS-GOOD:
-Generally the same things as in your other song, the themes aren't very well-developed and could stand to have a lot more buildup to them.
-The sections are a bit too short sometimes, and don't have the best endings they could have.
-A few little program errors, I'd guess, as well as issues with fadeouts.
-Need more percussion in some sections.

But still. This is awesome, and much better than a lot of what I see on new grounds. Good work!

...and I just about filled the character limit - only 5 characters left. :D


People find this review helpful!
samulis responds:

Thanks again for writing such an excellent review, I will be sure to return the favor when I have some time. :)

The little audio glitch with the buzz is something I have been trying to get rid of for a while. It only is added in the final rendering of the song and seems to be caused by sustained notes on either the violin harmonics or contrabass/double bass. Finale is much harder to work with VSTs in that most real DAWs, as it isn't designed for playback but rather scoring and orchestrating.

I am glad you found the dissonance to be effective. I honestly love using dissonance whenever possible to create tension.

I really love that you took the time to judge each movement as its own section and thus focus on the flow of each movement. I do know the second is a little weaker than the rest (ironically, I wrote the second movement first and then decided it would make a better second movement and wrote a new first movement). I would have done more on the battle, but I didn't want to stretch out the material too long, as I was afraid the feeling of conflict would get lost if it kept going and going.

The third movement honestly should be longer, including the killing of Remus by Romulus and the killing/ascension to the heavens (depending on which legend you are familiar with) of Romulus. After my next piece, I might come back and revisit that third movement or perhaps even work on additional movements.

Thanks again for giving such detailed and constructive critique. I will definitely be working on more melody-based thematic music and trying to keep making things longer (For some reason, I seem to like writing short pieces much better, but there's no reason to not try).

Excellent this piece gave me goosbumps!

Sounds like it's telling you a great story indeed!

This "compilation" of distinct but at the same time "alike" melodies is just so delightful, you used the harp very well and it really reminds me of the ancient Rome, also I loved the way you used the percussion and woodwinds!, oh!, and the ending was so "cinematic" if you want to call it that way!

But maybe you could fix those strings: 2:06... they suddenly stopped! It would be great if you slow them down so they can gently dissapear, anyways this is a great piece, you're very talented!

Definitely one of my favorites! :)

Your pieces are geting better and better!
I hope to see more of your work in the near future!

samulis responds:

I might try retouching the piece up a bit in a week or so... I wanted a more dramatic shift there, but might consider making a better transition.

I am happy you and others like the direction my style is progressing... hopefully NG Opus 100 will be a continuation of the feel I impart now with my work.

The story you have included with this makes the piece so much more beautiful. It is extremely admirable when you are able to create and convey such strong emotion with only music.

Excellent job.

samulis responds:

I honestly love writing program music like this more than any other style... it's really a very enjoyable experience to throw yourself at the ideas behind the story and draw a feeling with only the tones of instruments. :)

Absolute masterpiece.

samulis responds:

Thanks! I am glad you like it. :)

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Credits & Info


May 21, 2012
5:21 PM EDT
File Info
9.9 MB
4 min 19 sec
4.32 / 5.00

Licensing Terms

Please contact me if you would like to use this in a project. We can discuss the details.