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By Ralph Hultgren

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Masada composed by Ralph Hultgren. For concert band. Brolga Music Symphonic Repertoire. Grade 5. Score and set of parts. Duration 11:10. Published by Brolga Music Publishing Company (BL.BMC034).

ISBN M720038590.

Masada is an ancient fortress positioned on top of a giant mesa close to the southeast corner of the Dead Sea. It has become a symbol of national heroism for the Jewish nation. "Masada" means stronghold or fortress.

King Herod the Great fortified Masada during his reign (37 - 4 BC). The construction included heave walls as fortification, a system of aqueducts and water cisterns, and two ornate palaces.

After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jewish zealots garrison at Masada, led by Eleazar ben Jair, refused to surrender to the Romans who then laid siege to the fortress. The Roman legion X Fretensis, commanded by Flavius Silva and number almost 15 000, took almost two years to subdue the zealot garrison of less than 1 000, including women and children.

An earthen ramp was built to the top of the mesa and the attacking forces set fire to the wooden walls. Eleazar exhorted his followers to not allow themselves to be taken prisoner by the Romans. After feed their valuable to the growing fire at the walls, lots were drawn and ten men were chosen to slay all the others. When that had been accomplished they drew lots once more, and one was chosen to kill the other nine and finally take his own life. Seven women and children hid in a water conduit and lived to tell the story of the zealots' pact.

This work is unashamedly programmatic and seeks to portray both the fervent spirituality and nationalism of the zealots and the power and majesty of Rome. Both protagonist and antagonist are to be found in the Jewish and Roman positions. Context defines which term best describes either side and the juxtaposition of musical material in this work allows the listener to hear both separately and then joined in combat, as it were.

As a composer I am drawn to the fervour and passion of the zealots. They were committed to their ideals and they wanted to restore Jewish rule to Israel. Yet, I cannot help but think that Flavius Silva was just doing his job. He was attempting to subdue a revolt in a small, isolated part of a large empire, an empire to which we can trace back many of our civilisation's social and cultural structures.

The work ends in a fervent Hebrew style dance in conflict with the powerful legion motifs. The listener can decide if the power of the passion conquer or are conquered. Whether I, as a composer, have decided, is an interesting question.
-Ralph Hultgren

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