Gwyneth Walker

A Thousand Prayers

for High Voice and Piano (2013)

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Download an MP3 file of the first movement of this work performed by Karen Nussbaum, soprano and Young jee Cho, piano
Download an MP3 file of the second movement of this work.
Download an MP3 file of the third movement of this work.
Download an MP3 file of the fourth and fifth movement of this work.

Download a PDF file of the score of this composition.

Download a PDF file of the Anne Sexton poetry used in this work as text for printing in concert programs.

A Thousand Prayers is a song cycle based on poems by Anne Sexton (1928-1974 - Weston, MA). All of the texts are found in her book, The Awful Rowing Toward God (published posthumously). The poet struggled with depression throughout her life. These last poems were written after Sexton's meeting with a Roman Catholic priest who, although unwilling to administer last rites, told her "God is in your typewriter." His words gave the poet the desire to continue living and writing.

The composer was drawn to this poetry due to the unique combination of the mundane and the sacred. The poet was seeking God in everyday places, in the daily routines of a homemaker. Is God in the tailor, mending my pantsuit... in Boston, raised up by the skyscrapers? Where then?

Her search is day-to-day, and it is all-consuming. I cannot walk an inch without trying to walk to God. I cannot move a finger without trying to touch God. She keeps her sense of humor: I went to the bird with the human head, and asked, Please Sir, where is God? Her quest is timeless and limitless. Yet, at the end, she finds answers within. Look to your heart that flutters in and out like a moth. God is there.

The musical settings vary between recitative style (when there are many words to present) and cantabile style (when certain key phrases elicit lyrical expression). In addition, there are moments of special imagery, such as the hand clapping in the first song ("Two Hands"), the singer walking about the stage searching for the mysterious bird ("What the Bird with the Human Head Knew"), the falling snow accompaniment ("Snow") and the fluttering tremoli ("Look to Your Heart"). The texts abound in imagery which is explored and enjoyed in the music.

Although Anne Sexton's life was often one of darkness, there are moments of pure ecstasy in her writing. She does indeed find divinity in her typewriter!

Unwind, hands, you angel webs...cup together and let yourselves fill up with sun and applaud, world, applaud.

Notes by the composer