DON WALKER/ SAMPLES FROM RECENT Vienna Modern Masters-CDs

The Composer

Don Walker (b. 1941) received a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory from the University of California, Berkeley (1971). While a graduate student at Berkeley, he won the Ladd Prix de Paris (1966-68) which enabled him to study in Europe for two years. During the 1970s Walker taught composition and theory at Sonoma State University (California), the University of South Florida, and Oregon State University. He also received a Master of Library Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley (1974) and worked for a time in the library there. During the 1980s the composer was organist at a church in Stockton, California, and subsequently earned an MA in History from California State University Sacramento (1991). This enabled him to become Archivist at the University of the Pacific, where he oversaw creation of the Dave Brubeck Collection. He is now retired and lives near San Diego, California.

Don Walker has composed more than two hundred works, including eleven symphonies, fourteen string quartets, fourteen piano sonatas, three operas, and more than 100 songs. Many of his compositions, including two string quartets, several orchestral works, choral music, solo songs and a piano concerto, are available on the VMM label. Like his favorite precursor, Charles Ives, Don Walker uses, and often mixes, a wide variety of musical idioms and enjoys inventing new compositional systems.

Heard exclusively on the VMM label, Walker's recorded music includes sev­eral orchestral works: What the Doctor Ordered (VMM 3044), Topolobampo (VMM 3051), and Capriccio (VMM 2042); a cappella choral music (VMM 2042); and much instrumental chamber music: Blue Sample for fl, cl, vn, vc and pn, Serenade for Flute and Violoncello, Katmandu for cl, tpt, vn and hp (VMM 2042); Scherzo Polacca for solo vn, Three Pieces for Violoncello and Piano, String Quartet #5, String Quartet #7, String Quartet #3, movt. 3, and Third Piano Trio (VMM 2046).

TOPOLOBAMPO is the third movement of my Fifth Symphony, composed in 1999. It is named after Topolobampo, Mexico, a small commercial city on the Sea of Correz, humble and unambitious, like an empty Coke bottle by the side of the road. Here life runs its gamut in many parameters, and in this modest musical evocation of the city, "life" is expressed in gamuts of pitch, dynamics, attack density, duration, register and timbre.

Don Walker


Blue Sample

Both movements of Blue Sample are examples of what Walker calls “matrix” compositions. In these works all possible manifestations or combinations of a given parameter are exhausted without repetition. The Psalm Motets, for example, exhaust a complete matrix of available major and minor chords. In the first movement of Blue Sample (2002), all 31 possible combinations of five performers constitute a matrix. This matrix generates the thematic structure of the work in that all solo sections use varied reiterations of the same material, as do all duet sections, all trio sections and so on. Themes and pitch material are generated intuitively, but with constant reference to the sonorities of blues music. In the second movement (1988), pitch organization is also related to the blues, but results from a six-note collection (FAbBbBCEb) which is used in transpositions corresponding to the traditional tonic, subdominant, dominant, tonic chords of a traditional eight-bar blues. The blues pattern is first heard on F, then on C#, then on A, then again on F. Textures are controlled by a matrix of possible interactions between the four players. These interactions include unison, homophony, free imitation, canon, and non-interaction. Over the course of the second movement one hears, without repetition, each of the possible combinations – – expressed among five instruments – -of the five interactions mentioned above


Third Piano Trio (2005)

An homage to the composer’s best teacher, Arnold Elston, was created out of several chromatic, intuitively composed, monothematic constant variation pieces written more than forty years earlier (1964) in Elston’s composition seminar. The first movement is a scherzo, featuring an extended development section. The second movement is a jazzy ricercar in which the theme is perpetually varied and heard against a great variety of Ivesian countersubjects. The third movemenr is a passacaglia in which the theme is first heard in the bass as a sequence of eight equal tones, F# E# D G# A# E F G. It is later heard inverted and even in retrograde, while the three instruments generate and develop brief motifs against it. Ultimately, the passacaglia subject is heard in canon in long values in the final bars.


Serenade for Violin and Violoncello (1986)

Serenade for Violin and Violoncello (1986) is an ABA structure; the outer sections are cast in a free Mixolydian mode on D, while the central section is in E flat major. The style of the work is vaguely Latin American, since an earlier ver¬sion of it was deleted from my Fifth String Quartet (VMM 2046), which features movements in various World Music idioms. Serenade was premiered in Vienna in April 2008, on an Österrreichische Gesellschaft für Zeitgenössische Musik concert.


Fourth Piano Sonata

Movements two, three and four of this work are stylistic variations on movement one, a tuneful, happy sonatina written somewhat in the manner of Sergei Prokofiev. Movement two slows down and chromaticizes the material; movement three provides jazzier rhythms and quartal, tritonal “jazz substitution” chords for the original tertian harmonies (C major becomes B’-E-A, for example); while movement four breaks down the motivic structure of the first movement and creates a Minimalist additive construction where motives are gradually extended through repetition. Movement one was written in 1961. Material for the later movements began to appear following the birth of the idea for a piano piece consisting of a set of stylistic variations (1968). The composer originally thought to structure the whole as a single movement mobile form but decided that this approach was probably too unwieldy for the performer and subsequently reworked the variant materials into three individual movements (1978-81).


String Quartet No. 10 "Pictures at an American Exposition"

Suggested by the famous Mussorgsky work, Pictures at an Exposition, this seven-movement quartet (2005) consists of Walker's attempts to create musical realizations of four paintings by well-known 20 century American artists, together with a recurrent, always varied "promenade," between each pair of "paintings." The artists represented are, in order of appearance: John Mann, "Sea Piece-Boat Fantasy"; Georgia O'Keefe, "The Mountain, New Mexico"; Stuart Davis, "Hot Still-Scape for 6 Colors"; and Robert Motherwell, "Pancho Villa Dead and Alive."


Three Lyric Pieces for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano

These movements were commissioned by Lucinda Hohn and her husband Dr. David Hohn of Buflalo NY and were first performed there at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in September 2008. At that time the pieces were scored for the instruments that were available to me: oboe, violoncello and organ. I later decided that the Lyric Pieces would be more likely to be performed with their present scoring. The music was composed, as I was advised it should be, for the enjoyment of a broad spectrum of listeners. It was intuitively composed, using simple formal structures and an easy-going lyric, tonal vocabulary.