Composers Datebook®

George Walker's 'Visions'

Composers Datebook - April 11, 2024


In 1996, American composer George T. Walker, Jr. became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. That was for his Lilacs, a setting for solo soprano and orchestra of Walt Whitman’s poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed,” an elegy for the assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

Walker died in the summer of 2018 at 96, leaving behind a substantial body of music ranging from solo works for piano and organ to chamber works and orchestral scores, including five works he titled Sinfonias.

His fifth and last sinfonia, Visions, was inspired by the 2015 hate crime shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and exists in two versions: one version includes elusive, enigmatic spoken texts and a video that includes a photo of the port of Charleston at its conclusion; the other version is purely instrumental.

Sadly, although completed in 2016, despite Walker’s stature and fame, he found no American orchestra able to schedule it during his lifetime. A studio recording of Sinfonia No. 5 was made under the composer’s supervision in 2018, but its public premiere by the Seattle Symphony occurred posthumously on today’s date in 2019.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Walker (1922-2018): Sinfonia No. 5 (Visions); Sinfonia Varsovia; Ian Hobson, conductor; Albany TROY-1707

On This Day


  • 1682 - French composer Jean-Joseph Mouret, in Avignon. He achieved belated fame in American when one of his trumpet fanfares was used as the theme for public televisions's Masterpiece Theater.

  • 1891 - Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (Gregorian date: April 23)

  • 1916 - Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, in Buenos Aires


  • 1689 - possible premiere of Purcell: opera Dido and Aeneas, in Chelsea (London) at Josias Priest's School for Young Ladies. This exact date and circumstance of this premiere is uncertain; April 30 is also cited as a possibility (April 11, 1689 marked the coronation of the Protestant monarchs William and Mary, and April 30 was Queen Mary’s birthday). In any case, the premiere most likely occurred sometime before the libretto by Nahum Tate was published in December of 1689.

  • 1727 - J.S. Bach: possible premiere of St. Matthew Passion (first version), at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig

  • 1814 - Beethoven: Archduke Piano Trio, at Hotel Zum Romischen Kaiser in Vienna, with violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, cellist Joseph Linke, and the composer at the piano. This was the last time the Beethoven performed in public as a pianist.

  • 1884 - d'Indy: symphonic poem La Mort de Wallenstein (Wallenstein’s Death), in Paris;

  • 1891 - Dvořák: Dumky Piano Trio, in Prague, at a concert celebrating Dvorák's honorary doctorate from Prague's Charles University, with Ferdinand Lachner (violin), Hanus Wihan (cello), and the composer at the piano

  • 1902 - Loeffler: Two Poems for orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, Wilhelm Gericke conducting

  • 1920 - Respighi: Ballata delle gnomidi (Dance of the Gnomes) for orchestra, in Rome, Bernardino Molinari conducting

  • 1934 - Bloch: Sacred Service, in New York City, by the Schola Cantorum, conducted by the composer

  • 1965 - David Amram: Passover opera The Final Ingredient is produced on television in New York City

  • 1967 - Hovhaness: The Holy City for orchestra, in Portland, Maine

  • 1999 - Augusta Read Thomas: Passion Prayers for solo cello and six instruments, in Philadelphia by the Network for New Music, with cellist Scott Kluksdahl


  • 1770 - Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart attend a Holy Week service at St. Peter's in Rome and hear Allegri’s Miserere performed by the Chapel Choir. The Vatican had jealously guarded Allegri’s score as their exclusive property, and under threat of excommunication, the Vatican choir was forbidden to let the score be taken out of the chapel, copied, or even seen by any outsider. That same evening, after one hearing, Wolfgang (age 14) transcribed the piece from memory. The Mozarts then returned to St. Peter's three days later to check Wolfgang's version against a repeat performance of Allegri's music.

  • 1874 - American premiere of Brahms' Haydn Variations, by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, conducted by Theodore Thomas

  • 1888 - The Concertgebouw opens in Amsterdam with a concert performed by a 700-piece ensemble. Later that year the famed Concertgebouw Orchestra was formed.

  • 1902 - Italian tenor Enrico Caruso makes his first 10 phonograph records for the Gramophone Typewriter Company in a room at the Grand Hotel in Milan. His last of his 498 phonograph recordings would be made in the Victor Studios in Camden, New Jersey on September 16, 1920.

  • 1919 - The New Symphony Orchestra, organized by composer Edgard Varèse for the performance of new music, gives its first concert in New York City

  • 1930 - American premiere of staged version of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring, in Philadelphia, choreographed by Massine and conducted by Stokowski

  • 1941 - Austrian-born composer Arnold Schönberg becomes an American citizen and officially changes the spelling of his name to Schoenberg

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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