Gwyneth Walker

Symphony of Grace

for Orchestra (1999)

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View/download a perusal PDF file of the full score of this orchestral work.

Download an a MP3 file of the first movement of this work performed by The Women's Philharmonic, Apo Hsu, conductor
Download an a MP3 file of the fourth movement of this work.

Commissioned by The Brevard Symphony Orchestra (Melbourne, FL), The Carson City Community Orchestra (Carson City, NV), The Holyoke Community Orchestra (Holyoke, MA), The Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra (Allentown, PA), The Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra (Bel Air, MD), and The Women's Philharmonic (San Francisco, CA).

The title Symphony of Grace was chosen with several definitions of grace in mind. Grace may be defined simply as thanks. And this is indeed a symphony written in thanks for the beauty of life -- nature, friends, animal friends and abiding faith.

Grace may also mean the favor and love of God, freely given to us on earth. And it is this grace which inspires the four movements of the Symphony of Grace.

"For the Beauty of the Earth" is based on the Protestant hymn tune of that title. The initial sonorities are sparse and open, perhaps reflecting open fields and sky. After introductory rhythmic pattern are formed in the strings, the hymn tune enters, exchanged between flute and trombone. The tune is expanded upon by all instruments. Interwoven with the melody are cascading motives, perhaps suggesting waterfalls. An interior section (perhaps nightfall) features solo oboe and bassoon accompanied by piano. Then, a single ray of light (violin) dispels the darkness. The hymn tune returns joyously to conclude the movement.

"Companions for the Journey" is composed for strings only. This is a strongly diatonic melody, with homage to the American folk music idiom. Whereas the primary theme is gentle and graceful, the contrasting section features energetic and rough textures influenced by the fiddling genre. The opening section returns briefly. The final chord suggests the friends drawn together in closeness.

"Many Creatures" is inspired by a wide variety of animals. This movement is a rondo in form, with the opening tango ("Animals in the Barn") serving as the refrain. The contrasting sections of the rondo are "Birds" (hopping and flying), "Animals Who Run or Gallop" (no explanation required!) and "Fish in the Ocean" (whales, dolphins and schools of small fish). It is during the Ocean section of the movement that the "Predator" arrives (a shark or alligator, portrayed by the closing jaws of a Slapstick in the Percussion section). The "Predator" chases all of the animals, and has the last word (bite!).

["Many Creatures" has been enhanced in performance by showing slides of the various animals depicted in the music. If the hall is darkened during the slide projection, the conductor might use a "glow stick" (illuminated baton) for visibility. The use of slides or other visual elements has delighted audiences.]

"The Spirit Within" is composed in thanks for abiding faith. This is therefore a movement with a single theme -- the first five notes of the ascending C Major scale. The theme is introduced by a solo oboe -- one voice alone. Another single voice (flute) answers. And then the energy of life (the spirit within, faith) surrounds the solo as the orchestra enters, with rhythmic patterns and then the theme. Various tonalities and thematic transformations are explored. The music grows in speed and dynamic strength. And the final statement is celebratory.

Notes by the composer