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George Walker (1922-2018)
Lyric for Strings
Composed in 1946
George Walker’s long life was full of firsts. He was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the first to perform at Manhattan’s Town Hall, he was also the first African American soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra (performing the granddaddy of all piano concertos, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.)
He was the first African American man to graduate with a doctoral degree from Eastman School of Music, and the first to earn a master’s degree at the esteemed Curtis Institute.
This is just the short list of his countless accomplishments that began at the early age of five when he started studying the piano and continued until his passing at age 96.
Lyric for Strings is the second movement of his String Quartet No. 1 and was originally composed under the title Lament. Many parallels have been drawn between Walker’s piece and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings considering the two composers were classmates at the Curtis Institute.
Walker’s composition is full of evocative imagery and charged with emotion. Walker wrote much of the music after the passing of his grandmother, an important figure in his life.
We are incredibly pleased to bring this crucial diverse composer’s work to the podium this evening. We know that just like our symphony orchestra, our region is made up of people from many different walks of life. Our goal is to encapsulate their message and allow their music to provide a moment of reflection for us all.
CPE Bach (1714-1788)
Flute Concerto n D minor
The three sons of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach were all accomplished musicians, composers and some would say geniuses. However, Carl Phillip Emmanuel (CPE) is the most accomplished and well-regarded. As a composer, CPE was very involved in the transition from Baroque to the newer classical style. He is noted for his compositional style of empfindsamer Sill (or sensitive style) full of long melodic lines and sometimes turbulent converging lines. CPE was sometimes referred to as “Berlin Bach” during his time in the city as his half-brother Johann Christian, from his father’s second marriage, was known as “London Bach,” due to his position as music master to Queen Charlotte of England.
His flute concerto was originally written for Princess Anna-Amalie of Prussia and sisters Zippora Wulff and Sara Levy. Bach was in the princess’s favor while in Berlin. His flute concertos are rumored to have begun as harpsichord concertos but were transcribed most likely by flutist Johann Quantz. Quantz is well known for his decorative and virtuosic playing with a well-defined solo flute part. These concertos have many of CPE’s hallmarks including the furious drive and shock contrasts in the finale of his D minor concerto.
This hallmark is best known as Sturm und Drang (storm and passion) movement.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Composed in 1884
Many composers have historically looked to previous generations for creative inspiration. Grieg also looks to the past and shakes off the Romantic confines of the day and models ideals more aligned with the Classical era.
The piece was written in honor of the playwright Ludvig Holberg, noted for his plays The Politician, Witchcraft, and Masquerade among many others. The piece is set in the style of country dances appropriate to the playwright’s time.
The work was originally composed for piano but was reworked for string orchestra in honor of Holberg’s 200th birthday. Despite normally having strong Norwegian ties in his music, Grieg wrote this piece exclusively based on French and Italian dances.
Many have noted that this five-movement work seems to be an attempt at “concealing his own personality” or that he was trying to slip back on a “wig” from the olden days. Perhaps it was a nod to the simpler times of the earlier period.
The work opens in a joyous fashion creating an almost galloping feel. This “trot” gives way to an intricate dance of different rhythms and beats. From there the work embraces a Gavotte, a popular dance from France. Following the form and the day, the fourth movement is full of long phrases and great melodic lines albeit in a minor key. The work ends sprightly in a concerto grosso style with violin and viola solos paired against the whole orchestra.