Gwyneth Walker

The Spirit of the Mesa

for String Orchestra (2015)

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Download an MP3 file of a performance of this work by the University of Wyoming Chamber Orchestra, Beth Vanderborgh, conductor.

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


Commissioned by Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado

The Spirit of the Mesa is a musical portrait of the Mesa Verde (Colorado) Cliff Dwellings, and an homage to the mysterious Cliff Dwellers who vanished without explanation. The musical essay is divided into sections focusing on particular aspects of the Mesa Verde life: "The Land," "The People," "The Sky."

"The Land" unfolds as open space. Harmonies are sparse (lacking 3rds to fill in the chords). Phrases float slowly above a rhythmic pulse, with space between the high and low sounds. There is a stillness to the landscape. Then perhaps comes a hint of life, a faint suggestion of vegetation. But the overwhelming barrenness prevails.

Tiny specks of sound (solo violin, high range) are heard. Then two violins, a step apart, form a playful pair of friends. Activity arises in "The People" section. After community exuberance, the music returns to the two friends (violins) a step apart. The activity calms.

"The Sky" is filled with stars (blurred, rapid patterns in the upper strings). A solo cello looks up to the celestial lights in wonderment. Eventually all of the strings share in the reverence for the sky. The tempo increases into a joyous celebration of the stars, the climax of the music.

A quiet ending speaks to the stillness that remains today.

Notes by the composer