Big Top —1997

Composed for conductor Michael Morgan’s guest conducting spot with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Big Top is a lively orchestra fantasy on early American popular songs—a three-ring circus for your ears.

Program Notes

There was a lot of talk of running away to the circus, but few dared to go.

Big Top is a lively orchestra fantasy on early American popular songs.  There is no story to follow, but the extreme musical contrasts symbolize the differences between qualities of the real circus (a community of “outsiders”—bold and boisterous, comic and crude) and the dream of running away with the circus (romantic and longing).  In the opening and closing sections, collisions of fanfares and melodies result in a musical circus of familiar tunes, competing for attention, interrupting and layering over one another. The slow middle part centers on the Southern Appalachian spiritual “The Wayfaring Stranger”—a lyrical lamentation about the hardships of daily life, and the hope of a beautiful hereafter. Big Top was inspired by particular musical concepts of Stravinsky, Copland, and Ives, as well as music for cartoons and film.


Kudos to [Michael] Morgan for asking Robert Maggio to write a new work, ‘Big Top,’ specifically for this occasion. Described by its composer as a ‘three-ring circus for your ears,’ the piece is an eager to please hodgepodge of popular Americana, wherein Yankee Doodle meets Daffy Duck and most points between. Owing as much to John Philip Sousa as it does to Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, ‘Big Top’ makes judicious use of brass and percussion in its outer movements, quieting down in the more lyrical middle section with variations on ‘The Wayfaring Stranger.’ [A] rousing crowd-pleaser…

Susan Elliott, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 24, 1998