Gems Rediscovered features unknown and unrecorded works for viola and piano from lesser-known composer of the Romantic tradition. It is Delos’ pleasure to highlight these composers on The Delos Insider:
Known widely as a performer, composer, teacher, and scholar, Ernest Walker (1870-1949) was a key figure in the English musical establishment during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Bombay to English parents, his family moved back to England in 1871, where he eventually began his study of piano, harmony, and counterpoint with some of the finest teachers of his time. Educated at the Balliol College at Oxford University, Walker received his Doctor of Music degree in 1898.
Walker served as assistant organist to John Farmer at Balliol College from 1891-1913 and as Director of Music from 1901-1925, eventually resigning the organist post because he felt that the texts that were sung by the choir were not compatible with his own mystical views. In his position as Director, he enriched the Sunday chamber music concert series begun by Farmer, where he frequently performed as a pianist with artists such as Adolf Busch, Lionel Tertis and Sir Donald Tovey. He also became quite well known as a collaborative pianist, and appeared in concert with Joseph Joachim and Pablo Casals.
Walker arranged for and participated in English premieres of works by the leading composers of the day, such as Debussy, Strauss, Wolf, Marx, Reger, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. In addition to his performance career, Walker was also a renowned scholar and critic. He edited and contributed articles in various publications, the most famous of which is the second edition of the Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians from 1902. He also wrote articles and critiques for The Times and Manchester Guardian, where he was known for his blunt opinions. His most important literary work is History of Music in England from 1907, which was revised and published in subsequent editions and is still in use today.
A highly regarded teacher, Walker worked with many students during his time at Oxford. The most famous include William Walton and Adrian Boult. His dedication to his students was recalled by J. S. Westrup in a memorial piece to Walker and fellow organist Stanley Robert Marchant: “[Both] had, however, one outstanding characteristic in common: they were both men of the highest integrity, and they were both generous in their counsel and encouragement to younger men.” (Music and Letters, vol. 30, no. 3, July 1949, 201.)
Walker’s compositional style was more conventional during the earlier part of his career; his use of chromatic harmony greatly increased later. While he is best known for his choral works, he also composed a considerable amount of chamber music. The Sonata in C Major for Viola and Piano from 1897 is one of his earlier works and follows a rather atypical movement structure. The first movement, Andante, sempre largamente, quasi un poco adagio, is especially evocative of the lieder of Wolf or Strauss, with its broad, full accompaniment. The first movement, while in sonata form, is quite brief – a mere 84 measures. The second movement, Presto agitato, is substantially longer – 430 measures. The movement is a large ternary form, opening with a rhythmically active,
staccato melody in F minor, which contrasts with the middle section, its F major cantabile melody sounded exclusively in the piano. The viola sounds motives from the opening section, which helps return us to the opening rhythmic section once again. The third movement, Allegro ma non troppo, may be loosely characterized as a sonata rondo form. Walker sets forth an easily recognizable, lyrical melody that contrasts with a second. The first melody appears as a “fugato” — a small section in which the melody is recast in the minor mode, and presented in individual voices. Finally, we hear the opening melodies in the major mode once again, and a brief allusion is made to the melody of the first movement in the piano.
This work was originally composed for violist Alfred Hobday (later to become the principal violist of the London Symphony Orchestra) and was edited for publication by Lionel Tertis in 1912. Robert Hull from The Musical Opinion (July 1931) says, “This work, both in mood and execution, reveals a freedom of invention and melodic fluency possessed of attractions which do not recede. We find appropriate harmonic variety without a corresponding complexity. Rhythmically the music is very much alive. It is rare to find a composer with such an assured aptitude for proper treatment of the viola as a solo instrument. The temptation is to think of it, tonally, in terms of the violin. Dr. Walker shows that his comprehension extends to every potentiality which reason demands; and in the security of his technique the poetry is not neglected.”
— Program notes by Dr. Amy Engelsdorfer, Assistant Professor of Music, Luther College