Gwyneth Walker

Muse of Amherst

for Orchestra and Readers (2008)

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Download an MP3 file of an introduction to this work by the composer, with orchestral musical examples.

Examine demo recordings (as MP3 files, performed by the Windham Orchestra, Zon Estes, music director) and the PDF scores of each individual movement.
Click each link below to download both score and audio files for each movement.
Score #1 / Audio #1 -- Score #2 / Audio #2 -- Score #3 / Audio #3 -- Score #4 / Audio #4 -- Score #5 / Audio #5

Examine demo recordings (as MP3 files, performed by the Holyoke Civic Symphony, David Kidwell, music director) and the PDF scores of each individual movement.
Click each link below to download both score and audio files for each movement.
Score #1 / Audio #1 -- Score #2 / Audio #2 -- Score #3 / Audio #3 -- Score #4 / Audio #4 -- Score #5 / Audio #5

View/download a perusal PDF file of the full score of this orchestral work.

Download a PDF file of the Emily Dickinson poetry used in this work as text for printing in concert programs.


Premiered by the Holyoke Civic Symphony, David Kidwell, music director - May 4, 2008, Holyoke, Massachusetts

Muse of Amherst is a musical tribute to poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts. The five movements of this orchestral suite are each inspired by a particular Dickinson poem which will be read aloud before the musical portrait.

The first movement, “Invocation,” follows the reading of the poem, “This is my Letter to the World.” The music is intended as an invitation, a greeting and an opening message. The texture is sparse and light, as if sending a letter out to the world, through the air. The introduction features a solo flute, perhaps the voice of the poet. Trills in the woodwinds symbolize the poet’s message floating out across space. The principal theme then arrives in the violins, and might be heard to rhythmically speak “This is my letter to the world which never wrote to me.” This music is characterized by simplicity and tenderness, as evoked by the poem.

The second movement, “Spring,” is inspired by the poem, “A Light Exists in Spring.” The poem describes a special light in March which is so delicate that it passes away. Thus, the music opens delicately, with a glockenspiel tremolo (marked “as a ray of sunlight”) and short motives in the woodwinds (marked “as a speck of light”). The middle section, with the entrances of the brass instruments, presents dancing patterns of light. This music grows into a full, celebratory dance And, in the end, the patterns rise and the light fades away.

“Nobody! (or "the Frog Pond”)” is an homage to the frog and other insects referenced in the poem. The frog (portrayed by the tuba) speaks first, saying “I’m nobody!” Then there is a bit of “banter” in the winds, answering “Who are you? Are you nobody too?” Life by the frog pond is now depicted, with the sounds of crickets, mosquitos (swatted by the strings), locusts and many frogs. The “Nobody” theme returns. And one last frog jumps into the pond.

The poem “Wild Nights!” is an expression of “Passion.” The fourth movement is marked “passionately,” and should be played with abandon. Rippling patterns in the strings may suggest the sea. Oscillation between pitches may be heard as a boat tossing on the waves. There is grandeur to the passion, and even some peaceful moments. At the end, the boat settles into its mooring as the poem closes with the lines “might I but moor – Tonight – in Thee!”

“Indian Summer” is a celebration of the fullness of life. Thus, the music opens with expanding chords in the strings, filled in by the winds and brass. This introductory section is marked “unfolding, as the richness of autumn harvest.” This is then followed by delicate, scalar patterns in the woodwinds, reflective of the image in the poem of a “timid leaf” blowing in the wind. The blowing leaves, and the steady march to the end of the year (cello and bass patterns), form a background texture framing a theme in the oboe, answered by the horn. This melody is a lament of the end of summer. “These are the days when birds come back – a very few...” The enriching chords which opened the movement now reappear in the strings. And all of the orchestra join to celebrate Indian Summer: “Oh Sacrament of summer days, Oh Last Communion in the Haze... and Thine Immortal Wine!"

Notes by the composer