The Rivers of the Darkness op. 28 (2008)

- a fresco of sounds for string quartet and electro-acoustic 

The work is a sequel to a previous fresco of sounds, Porte de l’enfer, inspired by a group of sculptures by Rodin. Not only the theme (Dante’s Divine Comedy) creates continuity, but also the composition of instruments. The excellent Belgian group, the Spiegel String Quartet commissioned the work, after having performed Porte de l’enfer numerous times.

Divided into eight clear-cut parts, the work takes the listener trough all of the rivers and waters of the underworld. The key connecting element is Dante’s Divine Comedy, but it also features rivers that do not appear there, but “merely” in Greek mythology. The underlying tone of the work is summed up in the following lines: 

“And when to gazing farther I betook me

People I saw on a great river’s bank (…)

Fearing my words might irksome be to him 

From speech refrained I till we reached the river.

(Inferno - Canto III)

Exactly which river he is talking about can be identified exactly from the timeline:

0:00 - 1:04 - Introduction

A grand old man stands in the mount erect,

Who holds his shoulders turned tow’rds Damietta,

And looks at Rome as if it were his mirror.

His head is fashioned of refined gold,

And of pure silver are the arms and breast:

Then he is brass as far down as the fork.

From that point downward all is chosen iron,

Save that the right foot is of kiln-baked clay,

And more he stands on that than on the other.

Each part, except the gold, is by a fissure

Asunder cleft, that dripping is with tears,

Which gathered together perforate that cavern.

From rock to rock they fall into this valley:

Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon they form:

Then downward go along this narrow sluice

Unto that point where is no more descending.

They form Cocytus: what that pool may be

Thou shalt behold, so here ’tis not narrated.”

(Inferno - Canto XIV)


1:04 - 3:56 - Acheron, the river of sorrow and woe


3:56 - 6:19 - Styx, the river of hatred and wrath

“We crossed the circle to the other bank,

Near to a fount that boils, and pours itself

Along a gully that runs out of it.

The water was more sombre far than perse:

An we, in company with the dusky waves,

Made entrance downward by a path uncouth.

A marsh it makes, which has the name of Styx,

This tristful brooklet, when it has descended

Down to the foot of the malign gray shores.

An I, who stood intent upon beholding,

Saw people mud-besprent in that lagoon,

All of them naked and with angry look.

They smote each other not alone with hands,

But with the head and with the breast and feet,

Tearling each other piecemeal with their teeth.


Said the good Master: “Son, thou now beholdest

The souls of those whom anger overcame:

And likewise I would have thee know for certain


Beneath the water people are who sigh

And make this water bubble at the surface,

As the eye tells thee wheresoe’er it turns.


Fixed in the mire they say. ‘We sullen were

In the sweet air, which by the sun is gladdened,

Bearing within ourselves the sluggish reek:

Now we are sullen in this sable mire’.

This hymn do they keep gurgling in their throats,

For with unbroken words they cannot say it.”

Thus we went circling round the filthy fen

A great arc ‘twixt the dry bank and the swamp.

With eyes turned unto those who gorge the mire (…).”

(Inferno, Canto VII)

6:19 - 10:13 - Cocytus, the river of lamentation and frozen tears

(8:30 - 8:50 - Frozen tears)

“No feathers had they, but as of a bat

Their fashion was: and he was waving them

So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.

Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.

With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins

Trickled the tear-drops and the bloody drivel.”

(Inferno - Canto XXXIV)

10:13 - 13:48 - Phlegeton, the river of flame

“Speaking no word, we came to where there gushes

Forth from the wood a little rivulet,

Whose redness makes my hair still stand on end.

As from the Bulicame springs the brooklet,

The sinful women later share among them

So downward through the sand it went its way.

The bottom of it, and both sloping banks,

Were made of stone, and the margins at the side:

Whence I perceived that there the passage was.”

(Inferno, Canto XIV)

13:48 - 16:44 - Aornis, the river of mire

(16:31 - 16:44 - Tears)

“The land of tears gave forth a blast of wind,

And fulminated a vermilion light,

Which overmastered in me every sense,

And as a man whom sleep hath seized I fell.”

(Inferno, Canto III)

16:44 - 21:29 - Eridan, the river of remembrance of good deeds

“There is no greater sorrow

Than to be mindful of the happy time

In misery, (…).”

(Inferno, Canto V)

21:29 - 25:45 - Lethe, the river of oblivion

The work received its premiere on 9 October 2008 in the DeSingel International Arts Campus in Antwerp.

Duration: 26 minutes

Electro-acoustic sound material (free) is available:

Publisher: Hangvarázs Bt. - No. 32 (