Monday, August 27, 2018

George Walker (1922-2018): links to obituaries; blog posts by Ethan Iverson; videos of Walker's five piano sonatas; and four dissertations on Walker's music

George Walker has died.  I've written about his music in the past at this blog and it's sad news to read that he has passed.  He was a pioneering African American musician whose legacy I hope can be more robustly and fully appreciated.


Dr. Walker said that because he was black, he was often pigeonholed as loving jazz music and working in a tradition of African American spirituals. “I never listened to jazz until I went to college,” he wrote in a 1991 article for the Times. “Imagine my puzzlement when Rudolf Serkin, my piano teacher, instructed me to play an accompanimental passage in Beethoven’s Opus 101 Sonata ‘like jazz.’ ”

With mixed success, he sought to be viewed simply as a pianist-composer, without a racial label attached. When he did begin alluding to jazz standards and spirituals in his work — after attending a 1968 music symposium in Atlanta, where he said he met another black orchestral composer for the first time — he buried the references in atonal pieces that utilized complex time signatures and nontraditional chord progressions.

Walker's music has been described as being somewhat like a fusion of Stravinsky and Hindemith, but Walker said he had some issues with them.  Stravinsky, Walker once said, tended to abandon the idea of gestural development from Rite of Spring on out, while of Hindemith he said that the symphonic suite Mathis der Maler was very enjoyable but that the opera was one long interminable bore.  Even as a Hindemith fan I completely agree!  But my hunch is a journalist read somewhere that Walker believed younger composers would benefit from studying Stravinsky and Hindemith rather than move in some direction like Elliot Carter and ran with a partial recollection of whatever Walker said--just my impression.

There's a notice of Walker's passing over at Slipped Disc.

I first learned of Walker's music through the blogging of Ethan Iverson.  Since Iverson's just come back from a summer break from blogging and Walker's death is so recent there isn't

I'm sympathetic to the idea that someone works up the chops and passion to play all of George Walker's piano sonatas in a box set ... although since I already have the recordings of his five piano sonatas I can imagine Walker saying it would be superfluous to have a box set and, in any case, he didn't think any one pianist was cut out for interpreting all five of his piano sonatas in an interview he gave to Iverson years ago.  

In light of the Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer win it seems worthy of note the day after George Walker passed to mention he was the first African American musician to win the Pulitzer and he was unsparing in observing how little benefit came to him from it by way of commissions after he won it.  

piano sonata 1

piano sonata 2

piano sonata 3

piano sonata 4
1.       maestoso
2.       tranquilo

piano sonata 5

there's a dissertation on Walker's piano sontas with an emphasis on the fifth by Redi Llupa on Walker’s piano sonatas

The Piano Sonatas of George Walker: An Analysis of Performance Aspects with Emphasis on the Fifth Sonata

here is another dissertation that discusses ... 
Ryan Nelson, B.M.E., M.M.

and ... 
Intervallic Coherence in Four Piano Sonatas by George Walker: An Analysis
Everett N. Jones III 

an older dissertation from 2005 ...


I only recently discovered these so I haven't had a chance to read through them yet but as scholarly work goes finding ANY dissertations on composers who are still or recently living are simultaneously hard to find (in that you can't be sure any exist), but easy to find in the age of the internet if they actually do.

I've considered blogging more about Walker's music in the past but seeing as it seems to be unlikely to do better than what I have seen written about his work so far I'd rather link to that writing and link to performances of his music.  

RIP George Walker

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