acqua alta


per arpa e 9 strumenti (2001-2002)
23 minutes | no.30

This work for solo harp and nine instruments is the first part of the cycle entitled la Serenissima, a series of compositions dedicated to the city of Venice and its lesser-known, often dark sides.

'Acqua alta' is the expression with which Venetians refer to their high tide. The phenomenon, during which the Piazza San Marco is completely flooded, plagues the sinking city on average a couple of times per decade. It is caused by the conjunction of sun and moon, excessive rainfall, south-south-easterly winds and increasing subsidence. On 4 November 1966 the water level reached a staggering 1m94.

The work acqua alta, for solo harp and ensemble, is situated around the nocturnal square - the only piazza in the entire city. Day trippers have left because of the late hour, indicated by the Torre dell'Orologio, but ever so more because of the floods. At the head of the square we find the Basilica di San Marco of which the cross-shaped floor plan provides the base for the construction of the composition. The result is a sequence of musical arches, thirty-six in number, which happens to equal the amount of arcades of the lower colonnade of the Palazzo Ducale (Duke's Palace). The form most resembles what might be called a series of 'variations without a theme'. The beginning of each arch is easily recognizable by its downward cascade in harp, celesta and vibraphone. The Campanile opposite the cathedral rings out the end of the day, though not the end of the city's drowning.


hrp solo-1.0.1(=bcl).0-

flute (also piccolo), bass clarinet, horn
vibraphone (also tubular bell c'), celesta
harp (solo)
violin, viola, cello, double bass

Written for

Ernestine Stoop (harp)
Nieuw Ensemble (Netherlands)


19 September 2002
Klangspuren (Schwaz, Austria)
Collegium Canisianum
Innsbruck, Austria
Ernestine Stoop (harp)
Nieuw Ensemble (Amsterdam)
Jurjen Hempel (conductor)



[...] With its subtle instrumentation and its lovely long static spans, the piece, which lasts almost half an hour, beautifully touches the atmosphere of the nocturnal, desolate, ancient, mysterious, staggeringly graceful, flooded San Marco Square. [...] The fact that all those small self-contained movements are made directional in one large sweep is remarkable, plus that surprising details are constantly placed on the smallest level and well timed, makes this work - for the time being - Rijnvos's Masterpiece.

Roeland Hazendonk, De Telegraaf, 3 February 2003

[...] Long pauses are pregnant with tension, pregnant with sounds that are about to explode, which simply have to explode under enormous pressure. [...] Rijnvos was the only composer on the programme capable of creating his own universe. [...]

Ernst Vermeulen, NRC Handelsblad, 3 February 2003

[...] A sounding bocage unfolds, light flaring up, darkness, and emptiness, of a shimmering beauty. [...]

Saskia Törnqvist, Het Parool, February (?) 2003

[...] Written for harpist Ernestine Stoop and the Nieuw Ensemble, the piece consists of 36 musical 'arches', each one separated by a garland of descending notes, scattered around harp, celesta and vibraphone. [...] These instruments create a constant sparkling dispersions of sounds, evoking something unreal and mysterious.

Aad van der Ven, Haagsche Courant, 21 September 2002

Audio Fragments


Ernestine Stoop (harp) & Nieuw Ensemble
David Porcelijn - conductor


28 January 2003, De Rode Hoed, Amsterdam (Netherlands)
by Dutch Radio VPRO (reproduced with permission)

acqua alta

excerpt 1

acqua alta

excerpt 2

acqua alta

excerpt 3

Score Excerpts