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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.