program notes by composition > R > Riverdance


Bill Whelan/arr. by Carl Strommen

Riverdance began as a composition for the interval (intermission) of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. Within a few years that seven-minute display of tradi- tional hard-shoe Irish dancing had become a full-length Broadway stage produc- tion. It is presented here in four movements transcribed for wind band.

The Wellspring Theme/Women of Ireland: Originally scored for low whis- tle and/or Uillean pipes, the haunting introductory theme is performed here by the soprano saxophone. Countess Cathleen was often used by poet W. B. Yeats as a feminine image for Ireland, and hence is the title for the slip jig, the first of two tunes in this set. The second, Women of the Sidhe (pronounced “Shee”), is a lively jig that accompanies a dance in which powerful fairy women over- whelm and subdue male intruders who have tried to capture the queen.

The Hearts Cry: This movement is also in praise of feminine qualities. The lyrics refer to the salmon, a traditional symbol of wisdom whose daring jour- ney back to its birthplace exemplifies the powerful natural instinct to procreate, and the eagle whose fierce protection of its young symbolizes motherhood.

Thunder and Lightening: In the stageplay, a group of male dancers tap out unison rhythms. A solo dancer then sets a cadence which the other members follow in a call and response pattern. It ends with a shout.

Finale: The inspiration for Riverdance was the life of a river. In the show, the slip jig is danced by the Riverwoman who vanishes with the entrance of the male dancer, symbolizing the Earth. River and Earth are then united in a full blown jig.

Composer Bill Whelan (b. 1950) is a native of Limerick, Ireland. Educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King's Inns, he played key- boards in a rock band. He has worked extensively in traditional Irish music, theater, television and film. Production and arranging credits include U2, Van Morrison and Kate Bush. He was honored with a Grammy award in 1997 for his Riverdance CD.

Last updated on April 5, 2012 by Palatine Concert Band