Circus Overture (Bolcom)

From Wind Repertory Project
William Bolcom

William Bolcom (trans. Bolcom and Paul Dooley)

This article is a stub. If you can help add information to it,
please join the WRP and visit the FAQ (left sidebar) for information.

General Info

Year: 2015
Duration: c. 3:30
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: E.B. Marks
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $150.00   |   Score Only (print) - $28.95


(Needed - please join the WRP if you can help.)


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Bolcom writes the following regarding his Circus Overture:

When the Boston Symphony Orchestra requested a 70th birthday celebratory piece for the Maestro [Serge Koussevitzky], I asked Leonard [Bernstein] what he wanted, and he suggested something like “a 6-minute fun and lively curtain-raiser for concerts.” I immediately thought of Anderson’s classic examples, and that is exactly what I set out to do in Circus Overture — a traditional concert overture meant just for fun. (As a boy I loved the circus, maybe mostly for its music. My favorite moment was usually when, as the trapeze artist landed, the band would hit a loud B-flat chord no matter what they were playing; I sadly could not find a spot to do that trick in the Overture.) A listener is free to imagine a circus act here and there in it, but Circus Overture is not necessarily programmatic unless one wants it to be. I haven’t any program in mind myself except one place for a few seconds toward the middle, a sort of sad-clown trombone moment: I couldn’t resist a rueful musical glance at the fact that Leonard and I are both very definitely senior people now. But we’re not old yet.

- Program Note from the Northwestern University Wind Ensemble concert program, 6 February 2016

William Bolcom’s compact and splashy Circus Overture was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to celebrate Leonard Slatkin’s 70th birthday. The premiere took place at Tanglewood on August 8, 2014. Paul Dooley assisted the composer in preparing the wind band version. The composer remarked, “I talked to Leonard and asked him, ‘What do you want?’ ‘I want a six-minute curtain-raiser-fast-type concert overture,’ so that’s what I wrote for him. It’s vaguely like an old-fashioned circus. "

- Program Note by Lone Star Wind Orchestra concert program, 16 July 2015 - WASBE San Jose

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Music Director Leonard Slatkin celebrated his 70th birthday on September 1 [2014], and to honor that occasion in advance the Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned William Bolcom’s Circus Overture which began the birthday concert the orchestra gave on August 8th under Slatkin’s direction at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts. When the BSO asked Slatkin whom he would like the orchestra to commission for the concert opener celebrating his 70th birthday, his choice was William Bolcom. Their paths have crossed and re-crossed many times in the 50-plus years since their first collaboration; in the ensuing years both have earned towering reputations in American classical music, and Slatkin has done as much as any contemporary conductor to further the cause of American concert music. Since his debut with the BSO in 1980, virtually every one of his programs with the orchestra has included a work by an American composer.

About Bolcolm, Slatkin has written, “Bill and I go back to student days in Aspen around 1962. I was a fledgling kid and Bill was clearly a composer to watch. In that year I did the first of what would be several works by this most important of American composers. It is only fitting, in my final summer of guest conducting, that I once again return to play a premiere by my good friend." Slatkin had two requests about the new work The only thing I m asking is one keep it short, and two, do not put Happy Birthday in it.

- Program Note form DSO Performance magazine, 2014

Circus Overture is a modern composition in all aspects. The piece is not tonal per se, but employs melodies and an open approach to rhythms and accompaniment that allow the audience to walk away with the music in their ears. The harmonies feature a variety of extension, thickening the overall sound of the work and pushing the independence of each performer's line. The piece, while short in duration, present a variety of sections, styles, meters, and tempos.

- Program Note from Teaching Music through Performance in Band



(Needed - please join the WRP if you can help.)

State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, conductor) - 10 March 2023
  • Florida State University (Tallahassee) Wind Orchestra (Kenna Veronee, conductor)– 25 April 2017
  • Indiana University (Bloomington) Wind Ensemble (Stephen W. Pratt, conductor) – 16 February 2016
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor) – 5 February 2016
  • University of Southern California Thornton Wind Ensemble (Sharon Lavery, conductor) - 11 October 2015
  • University of Michigan Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, conductor) - 13 March 2015 - '*Premiere Performance of Wind Version*'

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Bolcom, W.; Dooley, P. (2015). Circus Overture [score]. E.B. Marks Music Co.: New York.
  • Byrd, Josh. "Circus Overture." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 11, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 876-888. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2018.
  • William Bolcom website