The Rio Grande (Lambert)

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The Rio Grande is a work by Constant Lambert, for alto, choir, piano, brass, strings and a percussion section of 15 instruments, needing five players.[1] It was written in 1927, and achieved instant and long-lasting popularity on its appearance on the concert stage in 1929.[2][3] It is an example of symphonic jazz, not unlike the style of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, although it is very much Lambert's individual conception. The Rio Grande is set to the poem of the same name by Sacheverell Sitwell, and takes about 15 minutes to perform.[citation needed]


The Rio Grande combines jazzy syncopations, ragtime and Brazilian influences, harmonies and rhythms inspired by Duke Ellington, with a traditional English choral sound. The outer sections are brisk, surrounding a central nocturne. The piano part often plays triplets against duplets, redolent of a rumba.[4] The coda is based on material from the central section.[5]

The poem refers to a river in Brazil, although there is no Brazilian river called Rio Grande.[4]


Its first performance was a BBC Radio broadcast on 27 February 1928; the piano soloist was Angus Morrison, to whom the work was dedicated.[6][7]

The first concert performance was in Manchester on 12 December 1929 with Sir Hamilton Harty as piano soloist, and the composer conducting the Hallé Orchestra.[6][8] It had its London premiere the following day, 13 December, at the Queen's Hall, London, with the same forces. It was repeated at the subsequent Hallé concert the following month.[1]

The first performance in Canada, and in North America, was on 11 February 1930, with Ernest Seitz and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.


The composer made two recordings of The Rio Grande as conductor, both of which have held their place in the catalogue:

Later recordings include:

Sitwell's poem[edit]

The poem The Rio Grande by Sacheverell Sitwell was from "The Thirteenth Caesar, and other Poems":

By the Rio Grande
They dance no sarabande
On level banks like lawns above the glassy, lolling tide;
Nor sing they forlorn madrigals
Whose sad note stirs the sleeping gales
Till they wake among the trees and shake the boughs,
And fright the nightingales;
But they dance in the city, down the public squares,
On the marble pavers with each colour laid in shares,
At the open church doors loud with light within.
At the bell's huge tolling,
By the river music, gurgling, thin
Through the soft Brazilian air.
The Comendador and Alguacil are there
On horseback, hid with feathers, loud and shrill
Blowing orders on their trumpets like a bird's sharp bill
Through boughs, like a bitter wind, calling
They shine like steady starlight while those other sparks are failing
In burnished armour, with their plumes of fire,
Tireless while all others tire.
The noisy streets are empty and hushed is the town
To where, in the square, they dance and the band is playing ;
Such a space of silence through the town to the river
That the water murmurs loud -
Above the band and crowd together;
And the strains of the sarabande,
More lively than a madrigal,
Go hand in hand
Like the river and its waterfall
As the great Rio Grande rolls down to the sea.
Loud is the marimba's note
Above these half -salt waves,
And louder still the tympanum,
The plectrum, and the kettle-drum,
Sullen and menacing
Do these brazen voices ring.
They ride outside,
Above the salt-sea's tide.
Till the ships at anchor there
Hear this enchantment,
Of the soft Brazilian air,
By those Southern winds wafted,
Slow and gentle,
Their fierceness tempered
By the air that flows between.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "The Rio Grande - Lambert - PACO028". Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  2. ^ "Composers at Oxford University Press". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  3. ^ "Constant Lambert (Composer, Arranger) - Short Biography". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Villa-Lobos Website
  5. ^ "Constant Lambert - The Rio Grande] notes by Paul Serotsky". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c Audiophile Audition
  7. ^ "Lambert and Rawsthorne by David Heyes". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  8. ^ Gramophone, September 1990[dead link]
  9. ^ "LAMBERT". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  10. ^ "Constant Lambert Vol.II - Composer [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  11. ^ "Lambert Rio Grande [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Feb 2003 MusicWeb(UK)". Retrieved 21 August 2016.