"Riu, Riu, Chiu" is a 16th Century Spanish villancico
by an anonymous composer. The villancico is attributed
by some sources to Mateo Flecha the Elder, who died in
1553. The villancico is verse, set to popular dance
rhythms, depicting pastoral Nativity scenes with a
country flavor (animals and shepherds).
It was written in so-called villancico style, which
became a popular form for songs in post-Renaissance
Spain. Such songs are in ternary form, with a text
expressing some aspect of Christian principles or
"Riu, Riu, Chiu" became one of the more widely known
such works in its time. The author of this carol is
generally thought to be anonymous, but its text,
possibly originally written in Portuguese, has been
attributed by some to Mateo Flecha (1481-1553). The
melody to Riu, riu, chiu probably dates to the
fifteenth century or earlier. The words in the title
are vocalizations of the sounds made by a nightingale.
The main theme is lively and rhythmic and has an
instant appeal, lingering in the mind long after one or
two hearings. It exudes folk-ish color. One hears a
mixture of Renaissance-era elegance here with a sort of
peasant-like festivity. Its text speaks of the roles of
the Blessed Mother and the Redeemer.
This piece was popularized by the Monkees when they
performed it acapella for their TV Christmas special in
Although originally intended to be sung by a lone male
voice, with the main choir singing the chorus, I
created this arrangement for Clarinet Quartet (2 Bb
Clarinets & 2 Bass Clarinets).