Three Rivers was composed in 1995 for the Union College orchestra, to help commemorate the college’s bicentennial year. The work is based entirely on my guitar music from the 60’s — or rather on fragments I can still remember (I had never written any of it down) — composed into a single movement of three distinct sections. The first section, named for the Mohawk River, summons the sights and sounds of the upstate New York of my childhood. The second section refers to the John Fahey composition “Sligo River Blues”; it appeared on his first album Blind Joe Death and was, perhaps, the piece that showed me most clearly how music could be both simple and powerful at the same time. I have adapted it here as a tribute to Mr. Fahey. The third, “Meander”, refers not to the actual river in Turkey but to the one described by Ovid in Book IX of The Metamorphoses: “the river that coils its way against its source.” If to drink from the river Lethe is to forget, then from what river, I wondered, did one drink in order to remember? No such river may exist; Ovid’s Meander suggests the reluctance with which we leave our sources behind as we head to destinations unknown.
The language of Three Rivers is, to use Fahey’s adjective, “primitive”: tunes appear and repeat themselves, with a rhythmic gait and tonality more characteristic of a budding (or lapsed) rock musician than a “serious” composer. Despite the luxury of hindsight and maturity, I have tried to preserve the sense of immediacy apparent when this music flowed freely from heart to fingers, unimpeded by matters of style, theory, or criticism.
Score available through American Composers Alliance (BMI)
This recording is by the Slovak Radio Orchestra, conducted by Joel Suben. It appears on the CD of my music titled Five and has been a frequent addition to many an airline’s “in flight” playlist: