Harp Showpieces (Bonnie Silver/ Judy Loman) (Naxos: 8.554347)
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Music for Harp
Who better to showcase the possibilities of the harp, an oftenmisunderstood instrument, than harpists themselves? All of the composers onthis recording were and, in the case of Lynn Palmer, are, fabulous harpiststhemselves. Spanning three centuries, this music shows how innovation incomposition and technology changed the harp's place in society and how thecomposers of the day managed to meet these demands.
The harp and its musical world changed: from the eighteenth century,when patronage was the only means of survival; through the nineteenth centurywith the Paris salons dictating musical fashion; to the turn of the lastcentury when winning the Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatoire virtuallyguaranteed a successful solo career: to today where the harp has arrived as asolo instrument of enormous power and popularity. The instrument itself hasalso changed. As music became more and more chromatic, there was a need for theharp to be able to execute all of the new sounds. Various methods were devised,starting from a single row of strings, to a double, triple and evencross-strung harp (two intersecting planes of strings), back to a single strungharp - with the addition of seven pedals. Developed by the Erard Co. of Francein 1810, this pedal mechanism enabled a harpist to produce three pitches on asingle string. Called a double-action pedal harp, it is still in use today:Judy Loman plays a Lyon & Healy style 30 on this recording.
Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912) was appointed harp professor at theParis Conservatoire in 1884. He created the French school of harp playing andtaught it to many talented harpists, including Marcel Tournier, MarcelGrandjany, Henriette Renie and Carlos Salzedo, all of whom were to have aprofound influence on the evolution of the harp. Hasselmans was a notoriouslystrict and demanding teacher: copious amounts of music had to be memorizedevery week. Students were taught in a group setting, with competitive motherswatching from the sidelines, praying their child would not be the one whosemusic Hasselmans threw to the floor in a rage. Most of his Paris Salon-style
compositions were written to further the technique of his students and LaSource was no exception. The music depicts a rushing stream using fast arpeggiosthroughout. Hasselmans was a very large man who dwarfed his instrument. Withhis huge hands he was able to produce the most beautiful tone, full and mellow,which was admired and copied by his students.
John Parry (?1710-1782) was the most famous Welsh harpist of his timewho, remarkably, was blind. As there are many famous musicians named JohnParry, it is helpful to differentiate this one by his Bardic Title, known inWelsh as Parri Ddall. With the Williams Wynn family as his patron untilhis death, Parry was expected to play for the family's guests as well as fortheir dancing, yet he was encouraged to pursue his very successful solo careeras well. Handel greatly admired Parry's playing and in 1741, Parry performedHandel's harp concerto in London. He toured all over the British Islesincluding Ireland. Parry and Evan Williaru, his secretary, published the veryfirst collection of Welsh Melodies in 1742. The Sonata in G major wasoriginally published as a 'Lesson', one of four in a larger collection, in1761. The Allegro Assai uses a Welsh melody, \Hunting the Hare" (Hela'r'Sgyfarnog), very freely. Parry would have played a triple harp, adescendant of a 17th century Italian harp, which is still the style of folkharp in Wales today. The triple harp had three parallel rows of strings, theouter rows of which were tuned identically and diatonically, while the innerrow was tuned to the chromatic notes of the scale. These Sonatas were writtento be played on harpsichord as well as triple harp. Adapted by Judy Loman, themusic reflects the delicate sound of the triple harp, and is well suited to themodern pedal harp.
Marcel Tournier (1879-1951) was a student of Hasselmans at the ParisConservatoire and won the Premier Prix in 1899. More interested in compositionthan in a solo career, he was the deuxi?¿me Prix de Rome winner in 1909. In1912, he succeeded Hasselmans as professor at the Conservatoire. It was acontroversial appointment, as Henriette Renie was also a candidate for the job,and reportedly she was Hasselmans' first choice in the weeks leading up to hisdeath. Tournier was chosen primarily because of his Prix de Rome, and he heldthe position for 36 years. He was very intent on enriching the repertoire forthe harp, by moving the instrument out of the Salon and into the realmof the abstract. He was a composer who wrote idiomatically for the harp at atime when many other composers treated it as they would a piano. Debussy andRavel were among his influences. The Images, a set of four suites, werewritten over a period of seven years, from 1925-1932. The Images, 3me Suite,op. 35, written in 1930 were dedicated to Nicanor Zabaleta. The pieces, VII.
Les Anesses grises sur la route d'El-Azib ('The Grey Donkeys on the Road toEl-Azib'), VIII. Danseuse ?á la fontaine d'A?»n-Draham ('The Dancers atthe Fountain at A?»n-Draham') and IX. Soir de f?¬te ?á Sedjenane ('Night ofthe Festival at Sedjenane'), all depict scenes in Tunisia. Tourniersuccessfully evokes North Africa by using exotic scales, complex rhythms,mysterious harmonics and a nasal sound which comes from playing very close tothe sound board of the harp.
Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975) was an exceptional performer and dedicatedteacher, but what he loved most was composition. Having studied with Renie andHasselmans at the Paris Conservatoire (where he received Premier Prix in 1905),he moved to the United States in 1936 and became an American citizen in 1945.
He gave annual concert tours in Europe, the USA and Canada from 1924-35, andplayed recitals until he was in his seventies. His influence on North Americanharp study was immense: he was head of the harp department at the JulliardSchool of Music (1938-75), the Conservatoire de Musique et d'Art Dramatique inMontreal, Quebec (1943-63) and the Manhattan School of Music (1956-66). He wasone of the founders of the American Harp Society in 1962. As a composer, hecited many influences: harpist-composersParish Alvars, Renie, Hasselmans; and composers Ducasse, Ravel, Debussy andStravinsky. Grandjany was a pioneer in programming solo harp recitals. Since hefelt there was not enough solo repertoire, he composed and arranged music tomeet his needs. The Rhapsodie, written in 1921, was intended to be anopener for some of these recitals. The Rhapsadie's melody is based on aGregorian chant, Salve festa dies, used in the Roman Catholic service inFrance for Easter Saturday. Chant is sung freely and flowingly and that samecharacter is evident in the Rhapsodie. Grandjany's pedagogical writingsare voluminous and so carefully edited (with fingerings as well as directions)that they serve as his unofficial method for harp.
Henriette Renie (1875-1956) was a pioneer. She was the first woman tohave a career as both a soloist and a composer at the same time. In fact, shesupported her family and others in need with her teaching, performing andcomposing skills. As a child prodigy, she won Premier Prix at the Conservatoirein 1887 and began her professional career at age 12. She took composition atthe Conservatoire in addition to her harp studies. A shy child, who wasaccompanied everywhere by her governess, she was asked to compose fugues asexamples for the rest of the class though she was by far the youngest student.
Renie wanted to apply for the Prix de R