Gwyneth Walker: An American Original

An Introduction To Her Work

by Carson P. Cooman (1999-2004)
8/04 rev.

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The purpose of this short essay is to provide a brief commentary on and introduction to the work of American composer Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) and to provide some suggestions for the beginning the exploration of her work. This website which you are now viewing contains extensive biographical information about Dr. Walker, and detailed information about all of her compositions. This essay provides some pointers and suggestions for good starting places.

Walker's output is large, consisting of numerous works in nearly every form. What is perhaps most notable about her catalogue is the incredible diversity it contains -- her works range from concertos for professional soloists and orchestras to folk song settings for school choruses. Her work is characterized by a tremendous energy and a strong sense of humor. Even in her most calm and serene pieces, there is a constant undercurrent of energy -- a lifeblood that ties the music together. Many personal stylistic traits appear throughout her work including elements that have often been classified as characteristic of "American music" (including the strong rhythmic sense, open sonorities, and influences of rock, jazz, blues, and American folk music). She is strongly in the American tradition of composers such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein -- but is a slave to no compositional school or prescribed style. Her music is recognizably her own and thoroughly original.

This is music of a composer who has a tremendous love for life and a love of writing music. Her work is always accessible, although never simplistic. The sense of craft and structure is never in doubt -- each note was placed with care and thoughtfulness.

These works show that they were written by a composer who loves performers and the connection with people that comes from live musical performance. Her firm grasp of instrumental and vocal writing has led to the creation of works that are written exactly to abilities of the performers involved.

The moods explored throughout her works are incredibly varied -- ranging, for example, from a humorous and highly theatrical portrayal of a baseball game (Coming Home from Traveling Songs for String Quartet [1996]) to a poignant elegy in memory of her uncle (In Memoriam [1980] for solo cello).

She has garnered many awards and accolades from organizations of all kinds (including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Vermont Arts Council) -- however, the greatest accolade is that her work is in continual demand. Her music is performed frequently, and she receives continual commissions for new works from orchestras, choruses, chamber ensembles, and soloists.

Analytic commentary is, however, a poor way to get to know the works of any composer. Thus, hearing or performing this tremendous music is the best way to get acquainted with its energy, beauty, and capacity for creating pure enjoyment.

Walker's works do appear on a number of commercially available CD recordings which are listed on this site with availability information. However, this website contains full listenable audio files for nearly every work in Walker's catalogue. The lists below provide suggestions for works that serve as good starting points or introductions into Walker's large and diverse catalogue. These also represent the major categories in her output: Orchestral Music, Chamber Music, Choral Music, and Solo Vocal Music

For each work listed below, the title and a link is given along with a short one sentence description. Clicking on the link for any piece will take you to the page where you can view full program notes for the work, hear complete audio of a performance of the work, and sometimes view photos of performances or see PDF excerpts from the score.

Orchestral Music

Chamber Music

Choral Music

This category is the largest in Walker's output, and the works listed below are only a few pointers within the catalogue. Directors and interested individuals are invited to peruse the full catalogue to get a sense of the breadth of the offerings. Most works in the catalogue have recordings online for immediate listening.

Solo Vocal Music