About this Recording
8.554347 - Harp Showpieces
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Music for Harp

Who better to showcase the possibilities of the harp, an often misunderstood instrument, than harpists themselves? All of the composers on this recording were and, in the case of Lynn Palmer, are, fabulous harpists themselves. Spanning three centuries, this music shows how innovation in composition and technology changed the harp's place in society and how the composers 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 century with the Paris salons dictating musical fashion; to the turn of the last century when winning the Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatoire virtually guaranteed a successful solo career: to today where the harp has arrived as a solo instrument of enormous power and popularity. The instrument itself has also changed. As music became more and more chromatic, there was a need for the harp 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 even cross-strung harp (two intersecting planes of strings), back to a single strung harp – with the addition of seven pedals. Developed by the Erard Co. of France in 1810, this pedal mechanism enabled a harpist to produce three pitches on a single 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 the Paris Conservatoire in 1884. He created the French school of harp playing and taught it to many talented harpists, including Marcel Tournier, Marcel Grandjany, Henriette Renié and Carlos Salzedo, all of whom were to have a profound influence on the evolution of the harp. Hasselmans was a notoriously strict and demanding teacher: copious amounts of music had to be memorized every week. Students were taught in a group setting, with competitive mothers watching from the sidelines, praying their child would not be the one whose music 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 La Source was no exception. The music depicts a rushing stream using fast arpeggios throughout. Hasselmans was a very large man who dwarfed his instrument. With his 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 time who, remarkably, was blind. As there are many famous musicians named John Parry, it is helpful to differentiate this one by his Bardic Title, known in Welsh as Parri Ddall. With the Williams Wynn family as his patron until his death, Parry was expected to play for the family's guests as well as for their dancing, yet he was encouraged to pursue his very successful solo career as well. Handel greatly admired Parry's playing and in 1741, Parry performed Handel's harp concerto in London. He toured all over the British Isles including Ireland. Parry and Evan Williaru, his secretary, published the very first collection of Welsh Melodies in 1742. The Sonata in G major was originally published as a 'Lesson', one of four in a larger collection, in 1761. The Allegro Assai uses a Welsh melody, “Hunting the Hare” (Hela'r' Sgyfarnog), very freely. Parry would have played a triple harp, a descendant of a 17th century Italian harp, which is still the style of folk harp in Wales today. The triple harp had three parallel rows of strings, the outer rows of which were tuned identically and diatonically, while the inner row was tuned to the chromatic notes of the scale. These Sonatas were written to be played on harpsichord as well as triple harp. Adapted by Judy Loman, the music reflects the delicate sound of the triple harp, and is well suited to the modern pedal harp.

Marcel Tournier (1879-1951) was a student of Hasselmans at the Paris Conservatoire and won the Premier Prix in 1899. More interested in composition than in a solo career, he was the deuxième Prix de Rome winner in 1909. In 1912, he succeeded Hasselmans as professor at the Conservatoire. It was a controversial appointment, as Henriette Renié was also a candidate for the job, and reportedly she was Hasselmans' first choice in the weeks leading up to his death. Tournier was chosen primarily because of his Prix de Rome, and he held the position for 36 years. He was very intent on enriching the repertoire for the harp, by moving the instrument out of the Salon and into the realm of the abstract. He was a composer who wrote idiomatically for the harp at a time when many other composers treated it as they would a piano. Debussy and Ravel were among his influences. The Images, a set of four suites, were written 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 to El-Azib’), VIII. Danseuse à la fontaine d'Aïn-Draham (‘The Dancers at the Fountain at Aïn-Draham’) and IX. Soir de fête à Sedjenane (‘Night of the Festival at Sedjenane’), all depict scenes in Tunisia. Tournier successfully evokes North Africa by using exotic scales, complex rhythms, mysterious harmonics and a nasal sound which comes from playing very close to the sound board of the harp.

Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975) was an exceptional performer and dedicated teacher, but what he loved most was composition. Having studied with Renié and Hasselmans 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, and played recitals until he was in his seventies. His influence on North American harp study was immense: he was head of the harp department at the Julliard School of Music (1938-75), the Conservatoire de Musique et d'Art Dramatique in Montréal, Quebec (1943-63) and the Manhattan School of Music (1956-66). He was one of the founders of the American Harp Society in 1962. As a composer, he cited many influences: harpist-composers Parish Alvars, Renié, Hasselmans; and composers Ducasse, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky. Grandjany was a pioneer in programming solo harp recitals. Since he felt there was not enough solo repertoire, he composed and arranged music to meet his needs. The Rhapsodie, written in 1921, was intended to be an opener for some of these recitals. The Rhapsadie's melody is based on a Gregorian chant, Salve festa dies, used in the Roman Catholic service in France for Easter Saturday. Chant is sung freely and flowingly and that same character is evident in the Rhapsodie. Grandjany's pedagogical writings are voluminous and so carefully edited (with fingerings as well as directions) that they serve as his unofficial method for harp.

Henriette Renié (1875-1956) was a pioneer. She was the first woman to have a career as both a soloist and a composer at the same time. In fact, she supported her family and others in need with her teaching, performing and composing skills. As a child prodigy, she won Premier Prix at the Conservatoire in 1887 and began her professional career at age 12. She took composition at the Conservatoire in addition to her harp studies. A shy child, who was accompanied everywhere by her governess, she was asked to compose fugues as examples for the rest of the class though she was by far the youngest student. Renié wanted to apply for the Prix de Rome, but women were not permitted at the time and were discouraged from having careers. In fact, she reportedly never wanted to marry because it would be the end of her harp career. A proponent of the double-action pedal harp, she transcribed the Danses Sacrée et Profane by Debussy for pedal harp, appropriating this most famous piece written for the cross-strung chromatic harp. Renié's romantic compositions are very much a part of today's harp repertoire. Danse des Lutins, written in 1911, is based on a poem about elves and spirits by Sir Walter Scott in which the poet listens to their soft music and watches their agile feet. How appropriate that the harpist's feet must change over 100 pedals per minute!

The Sonata in C Minor, one of the Three Sonatas for Harp, Op. 2, was thought to have been composed by Jan Ladislav Dussek, husband of Sophia Corri Dussek (1775-1847). It was not until 1978 that Professor H. Allen Craw, the foremost Dussek scholar of today, felt that there was a question of authenticity regarding the authorship of this piece. In the American Harp Journal, editor Jane Weidensaul reported that Professor Craw had discovered a copy of the manuscript in the British Library in London with Madame Dussek printed on the front, making Sophia Corri Dussek one of the earliest successful women composers for the harp. While Mozart was at the height of his powers, Dussek was already using harmonies foreshadowing the style of Beethoven. The flowing ease of the music is deceptive as one must have a very solid technique to execute the fast passages clearly, particularly in the Rondo.

Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961), a multi-faceted harpist, emigrated to the United States from France in 1909, to become the principal harpist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Demonstrating his early virtuosity, Salzedo captured the Premier Prix in harp on the same day he won Premier Prix in piano – the first time that had occurred at the Paris Conservatoire, in 1901. A dynamic teacher, Salzedo founded the harp department at the Curtis Institute of Music (where Judy Loman studied with him) in Philadelphia. He also founded the Summer Harp Colony of America, now known as the Salzedo School in Camden, Maine. Salzedo had a magnetic personality which inspired devotion from many of his students. His enormous influence on harpists is still felt today through his teaching methods which survive through these students. Outside of performing, Salzedo developed his own design of harp, a stylized Art Deco instrument called the Salzedo Moderne, produced in 1928. As a composer he did more to explore sound effects and capabilities of the harp than anyone since Parish Alvars and codified them in his Modern Study of the Harp, published in 1921. Salzedo championed the harp to other composers and was the inspiration or catalyst for many compositions. A great friend of Varèse, together they founded the International Composer's Guild in 1921, which was responsible for introducing new music to North America. As a composer, Salzedo moved from tonal Ravel-inspired compositions to parallel harmonies and chords in a more abstract style. Salzedo completed Scintillation in September 1936 after returning from a trip to Mexico. Consequently, there are Central and South American rhythms sprinkled throughout, including a wondrous glissando passage in the middle of the piece. Here, the same glissando pattern is played repeatedly, and the chord changes one hears result solely from the changing of pedals, often three virtually simultaneously. Scintillation is reminiscent of a Picasso painting – fragmented to allow the theme to be seen from many perspectives in a single composition.

Elias Parish Alvars (1808-1849) led a true Romantic life complete with a flashy persona, international touring, and an untimely death. He was very famous and well respected among the great musicians of his time, including Berlioz, Liszt and Mendelssohn. Much of Parish Alvars' music was preserved and published by John Thomas. Parish Alvars wanted to make the harp the equal of the piano – not just a salon instrument, but a solo one. In so doing, he furthered the technique of writing for the double-action pedal harp. He was the first person to notate a glissando played on one string aided by the use of a harp tuning key, a technique that is very popular with composers today. He also wrote several kinds of harmonics, including double harmonics, four harmonics at once and harmonics mixed with glissandos. He made extensive use of enharmonic effects on the harp (playing two different strings which have the same pitch, which can be achieved with the double-action pedal mechanism) which also led to his writing chordal glissandos. Many of his pieces require bringing out the melody with the thumbs and arpeggiating with the rest of the fingers of both hands – a new technique he called the 'three handed' technique. Berlioz, whom he met in Dresden in 1842, called him 'the Liszt of the harp' as well as a magician and critics compared him favourably to Paganini. English-born, he preferred living in Vienna. He toured extensively throughout Europe, including Eastern Europe, and spent time in Italy which gave rise to his operatic style, of which the Introduction, Cadenza and Rondo is an example. In addition to composing for the harp, he wrote an opera, The Legend of Teignmouth and composed a symphony which has never been found. He climbed Mount Vesuvius in 1844 and was so seriously injured in a climbing accident that he couldn't play for two months. He died at the age of 40 from excessive touring and the Palsy (tremors and paralysis) arising from his injury.

From early childhood, Lynne Wainwright Palmer was saturated with music. Starting piano at age three, adding the violin at age six, continuing with many other instruments of the band and orchestra, she finally found her favourite, the harp when she was twelve. She began her studies with Velma Froude and completed them with Carlos Salzedo at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Palmer held first harp positions in the All American Youth Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, the Indianapolis Symphony under Fabien Sevitsky, and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, in addition to teaching and performing. Palmer subsequently held faculty positions at the University of Michigan and the University of Washington. She chose to retire from the University of Washington to devote as much time as possible to the study of composition, with GeraJd Kechley, primarily to supplement the harp repertoire. Palmer once told Judy Loman that it was when she heard about Salzedo's death that she determined at that time to seriously dedicate herself to composing for the harp. Palmer has been active in the American Harp Society since 1968 when she served as president of the newly-formed Seattle Chapter. She has been Regional Director, Chairman of the Board and a member of the Executive Committee, as well as Conference Chairman in 1974. In 1984, Palmer was honored by an invitation to give the opening recital at the American Harp Society's National Conference in St Paul, Minnesota. This recital was made up entirely of her own compositions for the harp and included her daughter playing the flute.

John Thomas (1826-1913), a Welshman, became harpist to Queen Victoria in 1871. He also taught at the Royal Academy, the Royal College and the Guildhall School of Music. Thomas wrote many arrangements of the music of Gounod, Handel, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Verdi, Meyerbeer and others and was also a great proponent of Parish Alvars' compositions. The Minstrel's Adieu to his Native Land was composed for Thomas's brother, who was leaving Wales to settle in North America. John Thomas thought it was likely he would never see his brother again, hence the melancholy nature of the music. This piece is in the form of theme and variations. The second variation is notable because Thomas uses harmonics to approximate the sound of the Welsh triple harp, with which the performer could rapidly repeat the same pitch. While Thomas was equally comfortable playing both the triple harp and the double-action pedal harp, he preferred the pedal harp, and enlarged its repertoire by transcribing many traditional Welsh pieces.

Julia Seager


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