Walker, George (Theophilus)

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Walker, George (Theophilus)

Walker, George (Theophilus), esteemed African American composer, pianist, and teacher; b. Washington, D.C., June 27, 1922. After piano lessons with local teachers, he pursued his musical training at the Oberlin (Ohio) Coll. Cons, of Music (Mus.B., 1941). He then studied at the Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia with Serkin (piano) and Scalerò (composition), taking his artist diploma in both in 1945. His other mentors there included Horszowski, Primrose, Menotti, and Piatigorsky. In 1945 he won critical accolades when he made his debut as a pianist at N.Y/s Town Hall. That same year, he became the first black instrumentalist to win the Philadelphia Orch. auditions, which resulted in his appearance as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s 3rdPiano Concerto under Ormandy’s direction. Further study with Casadesus earned him an artist diploma at the American Academy in Fontainebleau in 1947. He later studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he became the first black to earn the D.M.A. degree in 1956. In 1957 he went to France to study composition with Boulanger, and returned there in 1959 as the 1stJohn Hay Whitney composition fellow. He taught at Dillard Univ. in New Orleans (1953-54), the Dalcroze School of Music and the New School for Social Research in N.Y. (1960-61), and at Smith Coll. (1961-68). After serving as a visiting prof, at the Univ. of Colo, in Boulder (1968-69), he joined the faculty of Rutgers Univ. in 1969, where he was a Distinguished Prof, and chairman of the music dept. from 1976 until his retirement in 1992. He also held the first Minority Distinguished Chair at the Univ. of Del. (1975-76) and was a teacher of piano and composition at the Peabody Inst. in Baltimore (1975-78). Among his numerous honors are 2 Guggenheim fellowships (1969, 1988), Rockefeller Foundation grants (1971,1974), NEA grants (1971,1975,1978,1984), 2 Koussevitzky Foundation grants (1988), the Pulitzer Prize in Music (1996), an American Music Center citation (1998), the Lancaster Sym. Orch. Composer’s Award (1998), and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999), as well as many commissions. In his music, Walker has utilized several compositional techniques, including serialism. In a few of his scores he has also demonstrated a deft handling of jazz infusions.


ORCH: Lyricfor Strings (1946 rev. 1990; based on String Quartet No. 1) Trombone Concerto (1957; also for Trombone and Wind Ensemble, 1995); Address (1959; rev. 1991 and 1995); Antifonys (1968; also for Strings); Variations (1971); Spirituals,later renamed Folksongs (1974); Piano Concerto (1975); Violin Concerto (1975; rev. as Poèmefor Violin and Orch., 1991); Dialogusfor Cello and Orch. (1975; Cleveland, April 22, 1976); In Praise of Folly,overture (1980); Cello Concerto (1981; N.Y., Jan. 14, 1982); An Eastman Overture (1983); Serenatafor Chamber Orch. (1983); 2 sinfonías (1984, 1990); Orpheusfor Chamber Orch. (1994; Cleveland, March 12, 1995); Tangentsfor Chamber Orch. (1999). CHAMBER: 2 string quartets (1946, 1968); 2 violin sonatas (1957, 1979); Cello Sonata (1957); Perimetersfor Clarinet and Piano (1966); Music for 3for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1970); 5 Fanciesfor Clarinet and Piano, 4-Hands (1975); Music for Brass, Sacred and Profanefor Brass Quintet (1975); Viola Sonata (1989); Modusfor Chamber Ensemble (1998); Windsetfor Woodwind Quintet (1999). KEYBOARD: Piano: Caprice (1940); Prélude (1945); 4 sonatas (1953, 1957, 1975, 1984); Variations on a Kentucky Folksong (1953); Spatials (1961); Spektra (1971); Sonata for 2 Pianos (1975; based on Piano Sonata No. 2); Bauble (1981). Organ : 3 Pieces (publ. 1985); 2 Pieces (1996); Spires (1997). VOCAL: Mass for Soprano, Contralto, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1977; Baltimore, April 13, 1979); Cantata for Soprano, Tenor, Boy’s Chorus, and Orch. (1982); Poemfor Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (1986); Lilacsfor Voice and Orch. (1996); choruses; songs; arrangements of spirituals.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire