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At-A-Glance

Orchestration: 7 first violin, 6 second violin, 5 viola, 4 cello, 3 bass

About this Piece

Pianist and composer George Walker (1922–2018) knew his grandmother – his mother’s mother – very well. She had experienced much during her long life, including losing her first husband when he was sold; she herself managed to escape slavery. About a year after she died, the 24-year-old Walker composed his first string quartet. When he was given the chance to hear its poetic slow movement performed by a string orchestra, he added the title Lament and dedicated it as an elegy “To my grandmother.” Later titled Lyric for Strings, the six-minute work – he continued to call it “my grandmother’s piece” – became his best-known and most-performed work in a long and remarkable career. In 1996, he became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for Lilacs, which Walker wrote for soprano and orchestra.

Pianist and composer George Walker (1922–2018) knew his grandmother – his mother’s mother – very well. She had experienced much during her long life, including losing her first husband when he was sold; she herself managed to escape slavery. About a year after she died, the 24-year-old Walker composed his first string quartet. When he was given the chance to hear its poetic slow movement performed by a string orchestra, he added the title Lament and dedicated it as an elegy “To my grandmother.” Later titled Lyric for Strings, the six-minute work – he continued to call it “my grandmother’s piece” – became his best-known and most-performed work in a long and remarkable career. In 1996, he became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for Lilacs, which Walker wrote for soprano and orchestra.