George Walker in Concert


George Walker has achieved international recognition as a pianist and as a composer. He has published over eighty works for every medium except opera. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996. With his inclusion in the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2000, he became the only living pianist-composer to receive this honor.

The four piano sonatas, the brilliant and dynamic Piano Concerto and other shorter works that he has composed have expanded the standard repertoire of classical piano literature. Nevertheless, his devotion to the music of the great composers of the past remains undiminished.

The Fantasia in C, op. 17, by Robert Schumann is a composition of extraordinary power, organization and imagination. A quote from the romantic novelist, Friedrich Schlegel, is engraved on the first page that includes a dedication to Franz Liszt. The quote contains a reference to the “soft tone for him who listens.” The swirling figuration beneath the intense descent of the diatonic melody above it at the beginning of the first movement belies the need to search for the scarcely audible tone. A restatement of this diatonic melody appears transposed in the transition to a second theme and is also characterized by a descending melodic line. Contrasting material appears in the middle of the movement before the return of the first and second themes.

The second movement, ridiculously labeled a scherzo,* begins, in fact, as a strongly Teutonic march. The dotted eighths and sixteenths that appear in the first large section have the insistency of the dotted rhythms in the Grosse Fugue of Beethoven. A middle section that begins with a sense of yearning becomes playful before the return of the rhythmic reiterations of the first section. The diabolical coda, with its infamous leaps in both hands, persists in this rhythmical character. The third movement, beginning with a certain placidity, is songful throughout. There are two dramatic climaxes before the poignant coda that completes this remarkable musical journey.

The three Preludes of Debussy, La Puerta del Vino, Bruyeres and General Lavine eccentric are from a set of twelve preludes dating from 1914. The first is dominated by a habañera rhythm. The second, Bruyerès, combines lyricism with nostalgia. The third introduces triadic material before the principal section begins. This section is characterized by a prancing rhythm satirizing the ludicrous character of the subject.

The Prelude in G, op. 32, of Rachmaninoff is from the second set of his preludes composed in 1910. A melody of great expressiveness is superimposed on a figurative quintuplet in the left hand. The simplicity of the writing, with its ever so slightly impressionistic quality, contributes to the lucidity of the piano sound.

The Prelude and Caprice of George Walker were originally separate works composed respectively in 1945 and 1941. The Prelude is characterized by a two note motive that expands lyrically. The Caprice, written when the composer was eighteen, is his very first instrumental work. It is virtuosic, replete with imitation, fascinating arpeggiated figures and demanding octaves in its conclusion.

The slow tempo of the Chopin Mazurka in f, op. 63 no.2, hardly reflects the dance-like nature of its origin. But, the rhythmical accentuation of the second pulse in triple meter is consistent with the character of this dance. The Chopin Etudes in E flat minor and C# minor, op. 10, manifest contrapuntal usages that are not often associated with this composer. The movement of sixteenth notes in the middle voice of the first etude and the imitative figuration in the brilliantly conceived second etude are examples of this technique.

The Chopin Ballade in f, op. 52 begins with an introduction that returns transposed in the middle of the composition. The principal thematic material is presented first in f minor and then in the relative major key of A flat. New material is inserted before recurrences of the principal melodic content. The final section preceding the demonic coda is highly charged emotionally, but with no relevance to the rest of the work.

*A Short History of Keyboard Music by F.E. Kirby

Notes by George Walker, © 2002

This recording is dedicated to the memory of my first piano teachers, Miss Mary L. Henry and Mrs. Lillian A Mitchell of Washington, DC.

Recorded in December 2001 in Montclair, NJ by George Walker.