Gwyneth Walker

Shady Grove

for String Orchestra (2017)
(A solo piano version of this work is available.)

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String orchestra version:
Download an MP3 file of the first movement ("Shady Grove") of this work as a MIDI demo.
Download an MP3 file of the second movement ("Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies") of this work.
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 perusal PDF file of the score of this composition. This file is for perusal only and is not printable.

These short pieces for string orchestra are 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 string 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 string 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 includes an 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 third verse is presented forecefully, followed by solo passages. The lively theme then returns, ending with strumming strings (rolled pizzicato) in Appalachian zither-playing style.

"Tiny Swallow (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 tremolo 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. Staccato 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 of the players on their instruments (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 string orchestra 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