Dating back to antiquity, the harp has for centuries been a staple source of music for many cultures. Today, the modern concert harp continues to enjoy a colourful role in the performance of classical music of all styles, with its versatility allowing it to shine either as a recitalist, an accompanist, an orchestra member, or a concerto soloist.
A selection of discs featuring the harp in different roles and ensembles follows.
To visit the complete Naxos segment catalogue of music with harp, click here.
To get you into the mood, here’s an excerpt from Hasselmans’ La source
This recital of mainly late Romantic harp repertoire not only illustrates the important contribution of French composers to the genre but some of the innovative techniques introduced by composers of the early twentieth century, concluding with the virtuosic Ballade composed by the great Franco-American harpist Carlos Salzédo.
Elizabeth Hainen, one of today’s foremost virtuoso harpists, has done much to encourage the composition of new works for her instrument. This release includes works conceived originally for the single action harp, introduced in the eighteenth century, and others written for the double-action pedal harp of which the English-born harpist Parish Alvars was an important pioneer.
Welsh harpist John Thomas (1826-1913) was one of the most acclaimed harpist-composers of his time. His career culminated as official harpist to Queen Victoria. This CD features the composer’s most captivating solos and duos, all imbued with Welsh folk melody.
Listen to an extract from Grand Duet: III. Allegro con spirito
Britten’s five Canticles are marvellously vivid, intensely dramatic works. Although they were not designed to be performed together, they form a remarkably effective sequence. Each is in some way inspired by religion and takes the form of an extended song, scena, miniature cantata or even, in the case of Abraham and Isaac, virtually a mini opera. The last, the Death of Saint Narcissus,was written for tenor Peter Pears and the harpist Ossian Ellis.
Spohr's chamber music proved to be very popular for its light character and attractive melodies. He wrote a number of works for the combination of violin and harp, to be played by himself on violin and by his harpist wife, Dorette Scheidler. Occasionally he added to this combination, as with the Trio for violin, harp and cello featured on this recording.
Ravel wrote his Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet in 1905. Relatively simple in conception, this work contains in it both the spirit of an age and a poetic national mood. The harp is beautifully handled in music that expresses beyond the power of words that world on which Ravel had earlier touched in his Pavane pour une infante défunte.
Listen to an extract from the opening of Introduction and Allegro
Remembered today mainly as an educator, pianist and conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Carl Reinecke has a long and varied list of compositions to his name. They include operatic, vocal and choral works, three symphonies and concertos for the piano and for other instruments, including his Harp Concerto in E minor, Op. 182.
Each of the five works on this recording occupies a significant place within Lutosławski’s output. The Dance Preludes represent the climax of his folk music-based period, whereas the Double Concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra and Grave are part of a sequence of increasingly creative orchestral pieces that culminated in the Third Symphony in 1983.
With a mother, a mistress and then a wife who were harpists, it was natural that Jan Ladislav Dussek should write music for the instrument. This included – notably in the 1790s – a number of sonatinas and sonatas, as well as a number of concertos.
Listen to an extract from Dussek's Harp Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 15: III. Rondo: Allegro molto