RTC-72: 1994 The River of Time for SATB Chorus and Orchestra

Text: “The Future” (1852), Matthew Arnold

Commission: CBC

Length: 16 min.

Premiere: 1996-01-25, WSO and Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, Bramwell Tovey (cond.)

Other: 2000-04-30, Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, Shannon Hiebert, piano, Yuri Klaz (cond.)

Publication: CMC


Robert Turner writes:

“I have always been fascinated by the subject of Time, beginning with my reading of Thomas Wolfe’s novel Of Time and the River in my early twenties. Since then, I have read many books on the subject, most notably those by the Austrian-American authority, J.T. Fraser. There are several areas and levels of Time – biological, psychological, real or “clock” time, etc – but as a composer, I am concerned with the passage of time, as the basis of art of music.

In his poem entitled “The Future” (1852), the English poet and critic, Matthew Arnold, depicts the flow of Time as a river, originating in the cool, pristine forests and mountains, flowing down to the overpopulated and sullied plain, and finally out to the glimmering, infinite sea. These three main sections can also be equated symbolically with Past, Present and Future, or Childhood, Maturity and Old Age (or Death).

My own title for this setting of the Arnold poem is “The River of Time,” a phrase that recurs throughout the text. This 15-minute work was commissioned by the CBC for performance by the Can-Am Choir and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra during its 1994-95 season. Composed during the winter of 1993-94, it is scored for the normal mixed chorus (SATB) and full symphony orchestra. [The work was never performed by the Can-Am Choir; instead it was premiered at the 1996 New Music Festival with the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, Garry Froese (cond.)]

Every note in the composition is original, there being no “quotations” from other musical sources as occur in many of my other works. Employing mainly the usual vocal means, the music also features a passage involving whole-tone clusters and another with spoken words. The three main sections mentioned above make up movements I, II and IV, while II is a short parenthetical movement (with Biblical references to a quieter, simpler Time) consisting of a lyrical waltz for women’s voice and a piquant march for men’s voices. All four movements are intended to be performed without a break.”