Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator has died
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator George Walker has died at the age of 96. Walker’s music was firmly rooted in the modern classical tradition, but also drew from African-American spirituals and jazz. His nearly 100 compositions range broadly, from intricately orchestrated symphonic works and concertos to intimate songs and solo piano pieces.
“His music is always characterized by a great sense of dignity, which is how he always comported himself,” says composer Jeffrey Mumford, who, as a music professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, uses examples of Walker’s music in his classes. “His style evolved over the years; his earlier works, some written while still a student, embodied an impressive clarity and elegance.”
In 1996, Walker broke new ground again when he became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Lilacs for voice and orchestra, set to a text by Walt Whitman, is a moving meditation on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Walker’s reputation as a composer of works for orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony slowly grew and Walker’s fame was hard-won.
Walker is often identified as an “African-American” composer instead of simply an American composer. In a 1987 interview with broadcaster Bruce Duffie, Walker said there are two sides to that label.
“I’ve benefited from being a black composer in the sense that when there are symposiums given of music by black composers, I would get performances by orchestras that otherwise would not have done the works,” Walker said. “The other aspect, of course, is that if I were not black, I would have had a far wider dispersion of my music and more performances.”
Walker had a long and distinguished academic career. He held teaching posts at New York’s New School, Rutgers University in New Jersey (where he chaired the music department), the University of Colorado, the Peabody Institute in Maryland, the University of Delaware and at Smith College, where he became the first black tenured faculty member. Walker received two Guggenheim Fellowships, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and honorary doctorates from six institutions, including Oberlin and Spelman Colleges. In 1997, Washington D.C.’s mayor, Marion Barry, declared June 17th as George Walker Day.
Quelle: Tom Huizenga, npr-Music
• Orchestra/chamber music
• Educational and/or solo works