In Memory of Composer George Walker

Cover of George Walker’s autobiography, Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist, 2009 (Call number: ML410.W278A3 2009)

I feel humbled to write a blog post after the death of George Walker (June 27, 1922-August 23, 2018), a monumental American composer and pianist. Rather, what I feel most able to do is share evidence in archival musical documents of George Walker’s legacy in our nation’s music library.

George Walker was closely connected to the Music Division for decades. His 1957 Sonata for Cello and Piano was performed on our concert series by cellist Paul Olefsky and pianist Walter Hautzig on November 12, 1976. On April 20, 2013, George Walker’s son Gregory gave the world premiere of Bleu for unaccompanied violin on our concert series on the 1704 Stradivari “Betts” violin. Two other works of Walker’s were performed by the Left Bank Concert Society on this concert: String Quartet No. 1 (1946) and Poem for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (1986).

At the end of this post, watch the video of George and Gregory Walker’s pre-concert talk from this performance and the world premiere of Bleu.

In addition to performances of his music, George Walker also received three commissions from funds in the Music Division:

 

1975, Hans Kindler Foundation Trust, Music for Brass

1988, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Sinfonia No. 2

1999, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Wind Set

In between Walker’s second and third commissions, he won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his song cycle Lilacs.

First page of facsimile score, Music for Brass by George Walker, 1975. Hans Kindler Foundation Trust collection, Music Division, Library of Congress
First page of holograph score, Sinfonia No. 2 by George Walker, 1988. Koussevitzky Music Foundation collection, Music Division, Library of Congress
First page of holograph score, Wind Set by George Walker, 1999. Koussevitzky Music Foundation collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

Walker was a DC native, and the city that surrounds the Music Division’s walls has been celebrating George Walker Day on June 17 since 1997. George Walker’s obituaries and online tributes are numerous; I encourage readers to seek out the incredible details of his life, musical accomplishments, and racist barriers he overcame. As of today, his website is still live. You can also read all about George Walker in his words in his 2009 autobiography, Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist.

The Music Division mourns the immense loss of George Walker and wishes all who knew and loved him – and his music – peace at this time.

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