Within the first movement called Circenses or Circuses, the music presents the theme of an ancient contest in which gladiators battle to the death, to the sound of trumpet fanfares. Strings and woodwinds suggest the plainchant of the first Christian martyrs which are heard against the snarls of the beasts against which they are pitted. The movement ends with violent orchestral chords, complete with organ pedal, as the martyrs succumb. Next, the Gubileo, or Jubilee, portrays the fiftieth year of festivals in Roman tradition. Pilgrims approach Rome catching a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background. L’Ottobrata, or the Harvest of October, represents the harvest and hunt in Rome. The French horn solo celebrates the harvest as bells portray love serenades. The final movement, called La Befana, or the Epiphany, takes place in the Piazza Navona. Trumpets sound again and create a different clamour of Roman songs and dances, including a drunken reveler depicted by a solo tenor trombone.
Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the music in Carnegie Hall in 1929. Toscanini recorded it with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Academy of Music in 1942 for RCA Victor. He recorded it again with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in 1949, again for RCA. Both recordings were issued on LP and CD. Although they lack the fidelity of modern recordings such as Telarc's sonic digital spectacular with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jesus Lopez Cobos, the Toscanini performances have an authenticity and excitement that still impress the listener. Indeed, the 1949 performance pushed the very limits of the recording equipment of the time as Toscanini insisted the engineers capture all of the dynamics of the music, especially in Circuses and Epiphany.