orchestral | 1993

Rivers of Paradise


Year: 1993

Duration: 15'

Instrumentation: 2 speakers/3(2picc)332 cbn/4331/ timp/3 perc/pf/str

Program Notes

Rivers of Paradise was commissioned by the University of Limerick to celebrate the official opening of its new Concert Hall in September 1993.

The work is written for large symphony orchestra and speakers. The title is derived from the conjunction of two metaphors of the metaphysical poet, John Donne (1572 – 1631); the University as Paradise; and Knowledge, flowing as in a river. The piece is a celebration and a reflection on the University and the life of the intellect and imagination as manifested in scientific and artistic exploration. The spoken text is compiled from a variety of sources, ranging from the sonorous language and striking imagery of Donne and Shakespeare, through the light- hearted anonymous seventeenth century Irish description of the scholar’s life to the cool modern lyricism of William Carlos Williams.

The notion of the Arts and Sciences as complementary means of giving substance to the same creative impulses finds expression in the juxtaposition of Shakespeare and Kepler. Shakespeare’s image of the poet’s eye glancing from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven finds a striking resonance in Kepler’s description of Galileo, darting the glances of his acute intellect from the lofty to the deep.

Running through much of the text is the image of exploration as a necessary condition of our human nature:

‘Nature… Doth teach us all to   have aspiring minds:’ ( Christopher Marlowe)

‘ … and are taken up by the books’ winds, seeking, seeking down the wind’

(William Carlos Williams)

‘We shall not cease from exploration’ (T.S. Eliot)

Throughout the work, the spoken text and the music are intended to be complementary – the one amplifying and providing a commentary on the other. Musically, the piece opens with declamatory and celebratory fanfares, with prominent parts for brass and percussion. The central section is for the most part slow and lyrical in disposition, though it also incorporates dramatic and vigorous writing reminiscent of the opening. The closing section draws together many of the earlier musical strands to provide an energetic conclusion.

I am most grateful to Pat Kelly of the University of Limerick and to Hugh Maxton for their helpful suggestions and advice regarding the text.


Rivers of Paradise  Text

The University is a Paradise, Rivers of knowledge are there, Arts and Sciences flow from thence… ; bottomless depths of unsearchable Counsels there.


The University training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world.


The Idea of the University (1852/1873)

Aoibhinn beatha an scolaire bhios ag deanamh a leighinn; is follas dibh, a dhaoine, gurab d6 is aoibhne in Eirinn.

Gan smacht riogh na mire na tighearna  da threise gan chuid ciosa ag caibidil

gan mocheirighe, gan meirse.


Mocheirighe na aodhaireacht ni thabhair uaidh choiche;

‘s ni m6 do-bheir da aire fear na faire san oidhche.

Do- bheir se greas ar thaiplis ‘s ar chlairsigh go mbinne, n6 f6s greas eile ar shuirghe is ar chumann mna finne.


Maith biseach a sheisrighe ag teacht i dtus an earraigh; is e is crannghail da sheisrigh

Ian a ghlaice de pheannaibh.

Pleasant is the student’s life,

engaged in his studies;

it is clear to all of you,

that his lot is the most pleasant in Ireland.


Without control from king or prince

nor lord however powerful,

without rent to the chapter

without dawn-rising, without straining.


Dawn-rising or shepherding are never his concern,

his is not the worry

of the watchman in the night.


He spends a while at draughts,

and at the sweet harp

and yet another while at wooing

and courting a fair woman.


His ploughing-team shows good profit

At the coming of spring;

The harrow for his ploughing-team

is a fistful of pens.



The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.


What I Believe (1930)


Philosophy is written in this grand book – I mean the universe – which stands continually open to our gaze, but cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word thereof; without these, one is wondering about in a dark labyrinth.


Il Saggiatore (1623)

 How the subtle mind of Galileo, in my opinion the first philosopher of the day, uses this telescope of ours like a sort ofladder, scales the furthest and loftiest walls of the visible world, surveys all things with his own eyes, and, from the position he has gained, darts the glances of his most acute intellect  upon these petty abodes of ours – the planetary spheres I mean- and compares with keenest reasoning the distant with the near, the lofty with the deep.


Letter to Galileo (1610)

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.


A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1595-96)



A cool of books

will sometimes lead the mind to libraries

of a hot afternoon, if books can be found

cool to the sense

to lead the mind away.


For there is a wind or ghost of a wind

in all books echoing the life

there, a high wind that fills the tubes

of the ear until we think we hear a wind,


to lead the mind away.


Drawn from the streets we break off

our minds’ seclusion and are taken up by

the books’ winds, seeking, seeking

down the wind

until we are unaware which is the wind and

which the wind’s power over us

to lead the mind away


and there goes in the mind

a scent, it may be, of locust blossoms

whose perfume is itself a wind moving

to lead the mind away


The Library (Paterson, Book 3, 1949)


Nature that framed us of four elements,

Warring within our breasts for regiment,

Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:

Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend

The wondrous architecture of the world;

And measure every wandering planet’s course,

Still climbing after knowledge infinite,

And always moving as the restless spheres,

Will us to wear ourselves and never rest,

Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,

That perfect bliss and sole felicity,

The sweet fruition of the earthly crown.


Tamburlaine the Great (1689)


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.


Little Gidding (1944)