Music of George Walker


My Piano Sonata No. 2 was composed as a dissertation for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree which I received from the Eastman School of Music in 1956. The theoretical premise underlying its structure is the consistant project of third relationships. The theme of the first movement is reflected in the ground bass upon which six variations are built. The second movement, a brief scherzo, is followed by a monothematic slow movement. The fourth movement, in sonatina form, ends with a coda derived from the theme of the first movement.

Spatials is a set of six twelve tone variations on an original theme called "Statement", composed in 1960. Its title suggests colors emanating from changing dispositions occurring in the different registers of the piano.

Spectra, from 1970, presents contrasts in color in a freely atonal context.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 was begun in Paris in 1958 and completed in Fontainebleau, France, the following summer. After an introduction, a fugal allegro is followed by a brief piano interlude. This initiates the second section characterized by alternating moments of playfulness and scalar intensity. The third section, a recitative for the violin, is followed by an intense lyrical section that concludes with the return of the introduction that begins the work.

The Prelude and Caprice were composed in 1945 and 1941 respectively. The latter was my first work for piano, composed as a first semester composition student at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The Prelude was originally one of Three Pieces for Piano that I composed for my Town Hall recital debut in 1945.

The songs presented on this recording are culled from works composed over a period of thirty years. The first song, Response, a setting of a poem by the first significant black American poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, was composed in 1941. Three of the Emily Dickinson songs, Legacy, I Have No Life But This, and What If I Sat I Shall Not Wait, were commissioned by Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The last named song concludes with a canonical treatment of a quote from the folksong, I Wonder As I Wander.

The Variations, composed in 1953, are based on a folksong discovered in the Songbag of Carl Sandberg. The six variations on the theme reflect the distinctly American flavor of the folksong.

- Greorge Walker

In a long and varied career, GEORGE WALKER has achieved wide recognition as an American composer and pianist. He has also been a path breaking leader for blacks in classical music. This began when he started concertizing in his early teens and culminated in 1996 when he became the first black composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

George Walker was born in Washington, D.C. in 1922. He began the study of piano at age five. He gave his first public recital at Howard University when he was 14 and was admitted to Oberlin College on a four year scholorship. Upon graduating from Oberlin at age 18 with the highest honors in his class, with a major in piano and a minor in organ, he was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music. He studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, composition with Roario Scalero, teacher of Samuel Barber and Gian-Carlo Menotti, chamber music with William Primrose and Gragor Piatigorsky.

In 1945, he became the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute and made his acclaimed New York debut in Town Hall in a recital sponsored by Mrs. Mary Curtis Bok Zimbalist. Two weeks later, he became the first black instrumentalist to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra as the winner of the Philadelphia Youth Auditions. He performed the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto with Eugene Ormandy as conductor.

In 1950, he became the first black pianist to obtain major management under the aegis of National Concert Artists and Columbia Artists Management, he toured the United States and Europe. In 1956, he became the first black to earn a doctorate degree from the Eastman School of Music. In 1957, he received a Fulbright Fellowship to Paris, where he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger. In 1958, he received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship, the first composer to be awarded that grant.

In 1960, he taught at the Dalcroze School of Music and at the New School for Social Sciences, where he initiated a course in aesthetics. In 1961, he accepted an appointment to Smith College. He became a Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado in 1968. In 1969, he was appointed Professor of Music at Rutgers University where he became Chairman of the Music Department and Distinguished Minority Chair at the University of Delaware. He retired from Rutgers University as Professor Emeritus in 1992.

George Walker has been the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships, several MacDowell Colony and Yaddo Fellowships, five National Endowment for the Arts Awards, grants from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, research grants from Smith College, the University of Colorado and Rutgers University. In 1963, he received first prize in the Harvey Gaul Competition. In 1982, he received an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a Koussevitsky Foundation Award in 1988. Honorary doctorates were bestowed on him by Lafayette College and Oberlin College.

He has published over 75 works that include two overtures, two Sinfonias for Orchestra, concertos for Trombone and Orchestra and Piano and Orchestra, two works for Cello and Orchestra, a violin concerto entitled, Poème, two string quartets, two sonatas for violin and piano, four piano sonatas, sonatas for cello and piano and viola and piano, a brass quintet, works for clarinet and piano, a Mass for four soloists, chorus and orchestra, a Cantata for Boys Choir and Orchestra, numerous songs and choral works, organ pieces, works for chamber orchestra (Serenata and Orpheus), a piano trio, the famous Lyric for Strings and the Address for Orchestra.

He has been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic (Cello Concerto), the Cleveland Orchestra (Dialogus for Cello and Orchestra), the Boys Choir of Harlem (Cantata), the Philharmonia Virtuosi (Violin Concerto), the Cleveland Chamber Symphony (Orpheus), the Eastman School of Music (An Eastman Overture), the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2), the Washington Performing Arts Society (Piano Sonata No. 3) and many other important orchestras and institutions in this country and in England.

Walker received the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra, which was commissioned and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.