Four River Songs
composer: Nancy Galbraith (2002)
authors: Pablo Neruda
Langston Hughes
e.e. cummings
traditional, from "The Book of Psalms"
genre: SATB (a cappella)
length: 4 movements, 14:00 minutes
publisher: Subito Music Publishing (ASCAP)
60 Depot Street, Verona, NJ 07044
mail@subitomusic.com • 973-857-3440
audio/video:    
movements: 1. The Sea of Sunset – Pablo Neruda
2. The Negro Speaks of Rivers – Langston Hughes
3. the sky a silver – E.E. Cummings
4. Psalm 137
world premiere: 25 April 2003
The Pittsburgh Camerata; Rebecca Rollett, conductor
St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
composer's notes: “Four River Songs” is comprised of four separate texts drawn from widely diverse poetic sources—Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings, and King David—the common thread being the reference to a river in each. These poems were chosen for their powerful imagery and emotionally poignant messages. The musical settings for both “The Mountain and the River” (Neruda) and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (Hughes) are harmonically and melodically similar, in that they are both modal, and utilize pentatonic harmonies and syncopated rhythms. The text from “the sky a silver” (cummings) is treated quite differently, utilizing more dissonant harmonies. A complex texture is created in the choir as “now like a moth with stumbling wings” is super-imposed over “into a clutter of trite jewels,” eventually crescendoing and building into a repetition of “flutters and flops along the grass.” Following a slow, chorale-like introduction, the musical setting of Psalm 137 is, once again, energetic, rhythmic, and tonal, with the use of more traditional melodies and counterpoint. The Pittsburgh Camerata commissioned “Four River Songs” in the spring of 2002, and the work is dedicated to the choir and its music director Rebecca Rollett. — N.G.
press bytes:

The concert's focal point was the premiere of "Four River Songs" by Pittsburgh composer Nancy Galbraith: "The Mountain and the River" by Pablo Neruda, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes, "the sky and a silver" by e.e. cummings and "Psalm 137: By the Waters of Babylon."

Galbraith's distinctive compositional language vaunts crisply rhythmic harmonic progressions complemented by lyric, accessible melodies. For these works, she added the full spectrum of choral textures, eliciting pithy expressions of the texts.

Galbraith's first major a cappella opus, "Four River Songs" exemplifies her versatility and insight. She filled the pieces with harmonic clusters, vocal ostinatos and complex counterpoint befitting the nimbleness of a chamber choir. The Camerata executed the sophisticated music adroitly.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Church of the Ascension in Oakland. Galbraith's compositions make it a must-hear.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


movement 1: The Mountain and the River by Pablo Neruda

In my country there is a mountain.
In my country there is a river.

Come with me.

Night climbs up to the mountain.
Hunger goes down to the river.

Come with me.

Who are those who suffer?
I do not know, but they call to me

Come with me.

I do not know, but they are mine
and they say to me: "We suffer."

Come with me.

And they say to me: "Your people,
your luckless people,
between the mountain and the river,
with hunger and grief,
they do not want to struggle alone,
they are waiting for you, friend."

movement 2: The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
    flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
    went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
    bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

movement 3: the sky a silver by e.e. cummings

the sky a silver
dissonance by the correct
fingers of April
resolved

            into a
clutter of trite jewels

now like a moth with stumbling

wings flutters and flops along the
grass collides with trees and
houses and finally,
butts into the river

movement 4: Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept,
sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
For our captors there required of us songs,
and our tormentors mirth, saying,
"Sing to us one of the songs of Zion!"
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!