Flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano

Duration: ca. 8:00

Premiere by The Mousai


The Columbia River is a defining element in the geography of the northwestern region of North America. With headwaters in the snowmelt and lakes of the Canadian Rockies, over 60 tributaries converge on the Columbia as it travels through southeastern British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, before dispersing into the Pacific Ocean. In addition to its wild runs, the Columbia’s natural course and habit have been altered by over 40 dams, yielding irrigation, transportation through locks, and electricity at various points.


The musical idea of the river’s journey begins with a slow and simple ascending arpeggio that outlines the distance ahead and gradually gains enough momentum to build to a rivulet flowing along in the high mountains. The Kootenay River tributary joins in, characterized by an icy sound in the high range of the flute representing its origins in glaciers and its running rapids and precipitous drops from the Canadian Rockies. Music of the Kootenay, and the other themes, stops midstream for a dam and the crackle of electricity (heard in key clicks on the instruments) it generates before continuing on. After a journey from volcano territory and through Hell’s Canyon, the enormous Snake River joins the flow with a sinuous oboe melody, which quotes a whole-tone and rather hellish variation on a British Columbian folk song, “The Song of the Sockeye,” and moves the entire river into the whole tone scale for a while. A calm and glassy clarinet sound depicts the lake origins of the Pend Oreille River and the way the tributary cuts and creates space through the American Rockies. Finally, industrial rhythms encompass the story of the Willamette River, a major transportation and shipping corridor in the area. Quotes from the “Song of the Sockeye” return in their original form, and the river, ever running downhill, broadens and flows into the expanse of the ocean.

Converge Disperse

SKU: SP131
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