River, River, River

for Orchestra

James Matheson

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Duration: 00:10:00
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Although the original impetus for writing River, River, River was purely musical, as I completed it became clear that the particular flow and energy of the piece was highly suggestive, to me, of the rhythm and pace of the river. I then came across T. S. Eliot's poem Virginia, which thematicizes the river, finding in its phenomenology tensions and paradoxes, which struck me as remarkably similar to the music. As one would expect from one of Eliot's images, the river in Virginia is a highly personal one; he does not create a mere naturalistic evocation of the river, but is concerned more with its effect on human consciousness. Through the image of the river Eliot conjures a sense of timelessness and one of paradox: the river is both still and full of a deep motion, and manifests both life and degeneration (“White trees, wait, wait,/Delay, decay./Living, living, Never moving. Ever moving”).

The title of my work comes from the final line of the poem (“Red river, river, river”). In the work, such paradoxes are manifest through ideas which are often harmonically static but full of an inner textural intricacy and activity. While the overall sense of pacing is often slow, each of the piece's four principal sections proceeds on the basis of a continuous flow of ideas, which move with a clear sense of direction and intensification. Thus while, like the Eliot, River, River, River does not depict riverness naturalistically, it does evoke a similar sense of riverly flow, current, and inevitability of destination, while at the same time evoking the broad palette of emotional textures and images which we, with Eliot, have come to associate with this phenomenon.

—James Matheson

Scores & Parts

River River River - Full Score - Study
River River River - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Composition Date 2001
Orchestration 3(2 dbl. Picc., 3 dbl .A.Fl.) 3(E.H.) 3(dbl.B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) – 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Hp. Pno./Cel. 3Perc. Str.
Premiere February 11, 2002, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, conducted by Cliff Colnot; Orchestra Hall, Chicago

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