George Walker

Folk Songs for Orchestra


    Completed in the fall of 1990, this work was premiered in May of 1992 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Zinman.

    The composer describes his intention as "to set these melodies in an interesting way, in a respectful orchestral manner.  They are wonderful melodies.  The four spirituals are quoted intact, which is an unusual procedure for me, because I am much more in the habit of using only snippets from various sources - pop tunes or folk songs.  The focus is to frame these melodies in a miniaturistic fashion; they should be easy for the listener to identify."

    After a brief introduction, the melody of "Going to lay down my sword and shield" is stated.  The second spiritual, "And they crucified my Lord" becomes fragmented after the initial trumpet phrase, but the melody is completed later after strings repeat the first phase and trombones accelerate the final pitches of the melody to the words "Not a word, not a word."  The flutter-tonguing of the flute above sustained strings links the second spiritual to the third, "My Lord, what a morning."

    In Walker's setting of this melody the tune is apportioned to several wind instruments, each successively playing only a few notes of the theme.   Between presentations of the theme, an interlude involving two trumpets is heard.   The setting of the fourth spiritual, "O Peter, go ring dem bells," employs a ritornello, introductory material that recurs between phrases of this most jovial of religious statements.