Composing water at GCSE and A-level

There regularly seems to be a composition brief about water. Many composers have attempted to capture unending, unpredictable and delicate water and it remains a challenge to do well. You can hear perhaps the most famous example of a river in music <a href=””>here</a&gt;. Notice how the river is established musically (the flowing water manifests itself in the flute line that gradually moves to other instruments, gradually extends) by a theme that is a development of the opening material. The rhythmical flow of the opening remains for much of the movement; this is important as the water never stops flowing. Think carefully about this as it would be easy for your river to vanish every time you encountered a new environment along your river’s journey. Smetana cleverly keeps the river going.

Debussy and Ravel both have captured watery figures on the piano with immense skill; perhaps listen to <a href=””>Reflets d’un l’eau</a>, <a href=””>Jeux d’eau</a>, and <a href=””>Miroirs</a&gt;. Think how the more angular the arpeggio the more moving the water is; more stepwise movement would create a gentler flow. You can manipulate the speed of the water pattern to show how the river is progressing on it’s journey. Consider too how the use of register helps to create the size of the river; lower register will help to create the necessary depth when the river becomes wider and this might be matched by a slower moving river pattern.

Texture becomes an essential element in capturing water; showing interweaving of various strands to help create the unpredictability. If the water is moving slowly perhaps consider how the harmonic rhythm will help to illustrate this. Consider how more adventurous harmonies will show the mystery of the water – think about Carnival of Animals movement ‘Aquarium’.

Takemitsu might prove inspiring for capturing water and it’s ambiguity. Listen to <a href=””>’I can hear the water dreaming’ (1987). </a> Schubert was an expert at watery accompaniments too; try <a href=”″>’Wohin'</a&gt;.

What other water-themed pieces do you know?


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