Gwyneth Walker

Shady Grove

for Piano (2014)
(A string orchestra version of this work is available.)

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Piano version:
Download an MP3 file of the first and second movements ("Shady Grove" and "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies") of this work performed by Linda Holzer, piano.
Download an MP3 file of the third movement ("Three Ravens") of this work.
Download an MP3 file of the fourth movement ("Interlude") of this work.
Download an MP3 file of the fifth movement ("House Carpenter") of this work.

Download a PDF file of the score of this composition. This file of excerpted sample pages is for perusal only and is not printable.

This set of short pieces for piano solo is based on folksongs from the Appalachian Mountains. This music originated in the British Isles as unaccompanied ballads. The tunes were brought to the United States. As time passed, instruments were added - zither, banjo and, eventually, guitar. The guitar versions have become well-known "standards" of the American folk repertoire.

Common traits of these songs are the modal/diatonic harmonies. The "refinement" of European chromaticism is absent. Root position chords and consonant sonorities are prevalent.

A special challenge in creating piano arrangements has been to inject occasional "appropriate" dissonances to enliven the harmonies. In addition, the strophic, ballad style of the songs, which relies upon storytelling to maintain the dramatic interest, must now be replaced by musical variation and development. The intent has been to create new piano repertoire within the "folk spirit" - rough hewn, straightforward, energetic and beautiful.

"Shady Grove" is a popular 18th-century American folksong with many versions of the lyrics. The title may refer to a beloved woman, or to a place where the speaker is traveling. ["Going to Shade Grove..."] However, the energetic music itself is well-defined, and memorable.

This new interpretation for piano includes a slowly-unfolding introduction before the arrival of the theme, and a contrasting, ascending interlude section. The third verse is presented in a slow, rhapsodic manner, to allow time for reflection. The lively theme then returns, ending with strumming the strings inside the piano, in Appalachian zither-playing style.

"Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies" is a woman's lament for her lost lover. To escape her sorrow, she sings "I wish I were a tiny swallow, and I had wings, and I could fly." Thus, the swallow becomes a central image in this song. The listener may hear the fluttering of wings in the accompaniment motives. Near the end, a free section features bird call patterns "calling from afar" above a rippling undercurrent. The song ends with a final bird in flight.

"Three Ravens" tells the story of a slain knight lying in a field. Three ravens, watching from their perch in a tree, plan to devour the knight. But he is protected by his loyal hounds. There is kindness and honor in this ballad.

However, the focus of this new musical depiction is on the ravens, rather than on the knight. With the three ravens in mind, the music shifts to a triple meter (3/8). Chord clusters of three notes introduce the music, and return throughout. Staccati notes represent the ravens "chattering" among themselves. A special interlude, the "Ravens' Dance," is inserted between verses of the song. One might picture the ravens daintily performing a minuet on their tree limb, while nodding to one another! Three knocks on the piano (pecks on the tree) end the song.

A brief, newly-composed "Interlude" is inserted into the suite. This music speaks in the composer's own voice -- in a language derived from the American folk idiom. The intent of this movement is to provide the listener with a peaceful break between the lively surrounding songs.

"House Carpenter" is a song of betrayal and tragedy. A young woman, married to a house carpenter, is lured away from her husband and baby by her former suitor, now a wealthy sailor. A life of adventure and romance is promised. The lovers run off together, and drown at sea.

The piano interpretation is influenced by the traditional guitar accompaniment often associated with this ballad. Grace notes approximate the "hammered" effect. Rapid arpeggios simulate guitar picking. The texture is fairly sparse. The rhythmic energy drives through this music to the deep (sunken) ending.

Notes by the composer