Music for Solo Harp
The gradual development of the harp, one of the most ancient musical instruments, brought the increased possibility of chromatic notes and changes of key. The double-strung harps of the later sixteenth century led to the introduction of the triple harp, but an important change came with the eighteenth-century single-action pedal harp, which, nevertheless, still restricted the choice of keys in which the instrument could be played. The early years of the nineteenth century saw the introduction of the double-action harp by Erard, with its seven pedals allowing each string to be sharpened from the flats in which it was tuned, to the natural and sharp of each letter-name note. The present release contains works conceived originally for the single-action harp and others written for the double-action pedal harp, of which the English-born harpist Parish Alvars was an important pioneer.
Franz Liszt’s three Liebesträume (Dreams of Love) were originally songs, written about 1845 and later transcribed for the piano. The third of the group is a setting of a poem by the poet and for a period of his life political exile, Ferdinand Freiligrath: O lieb’, o lieb’ so lang du lieben kannst (O love, O love, as long as you can) on the transitory nature of love. The transcription for harp is by the French harpist Henriette Renié, who was awarded Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve and went on to a distinguished career, the inspiration of a number of important French composers, who later wrote for the instrument.
Lucia di Lammermoor is Donizetti’s operatic version of Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, in which the heroine is tricked by her family into marriage with a man she does not love and whom she murders in madness on her wedding night. In the first act of the opera Lucia, with her attendant Alisa, comes out of Lammermoor Castle and stands, in agitation, by the haunted fountain in the park, where she plans to meet her true returning lover, Edgardo. The harp solo is elaborated by the great German-born harpist Albert Heinrich Zabel, who made his career primarily in St Petersburg as solo harpist with the Imperial Ballet and professor at the Conservatory there.
Born at Novospasskoye, near Smolensk, in 1804, Glinka was to establish himself as a pioneer of Russian musical nationalism. In common with some of his successors, he had no systematic musical training and lacked the professionalism that the Rubinstein brothers later provided for Russian musicians. By 1828, when he wrote his harp Nocturne in E flat major, he was starting to turn his attention to opera, which came to fruition some eight years later, after study in Germany, in A Life for the Tsar. The Nocturne is a characteristic and charming example of salon music of the period.
The Austrian composer Hugo Reinhold was born in 1854 in Vienna, where he served as a chorister in the court chapel, before studying at the Conservatory and working with Bruckner, Otto Dessoff and Julius Epstein. He was a prolific composer, although much that he wrote is now neglected. His Impromptu, Opus 28, No.3, is a work as demanding as it is attractive, calling for some technical virtuosity in performance.
Chopin’s Etude, Opus 25, No.1, is the first of a set of twelve studies dedicated to Liszt’s mistress, the Countess Marie d’Agoult. It was published in 1836 and won the nickname of the Aeolian Harp, because of the arpeggio figuration. The present arrangement for harp is by Wilhelm Posse, a composer and harpist who centred his career on Berlin and, among other transcriptions, arranged versions for harp of three of Chopin’s Etudes, and, with the composer’s encouragement, of Liszt’s Liebesträume and Consolations.
Six of the keyboard sonatas of Franz Anton Rosetti have provided a useful addition to harp repertoire. Rosetti, born Rösler in the Bohemian town of Litome�r�ice about the year 1750, made his earlier career as a double bass player, eventually becoming Kapellmeister at Wallerstein and subsequently to the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He was highly thought of in his lifetime and was commissioned to provide a Requiem for Mozart in 1791, to be performed in Prague. The three-movement Sonata, with its final French Rondeau, is in the then current style of earlier Haydn.
Distinguished as a composer and violinist, Louis Spohr in 1805 was appointed Kapellmeister in Gotha, where, the following year, he married the harpist Dorette Scheidler, who served from 1813 to 1815 as principal harpist at the Theater an der Wien, where her husband directed the orchestra. Until 1821 the couple undertook concert tours together and in 1822 settled in Kassel, with Spohr as Kapellmeister, a position he held until two years before his death in 1859. His wife died in 1834 and Spohr’s compositions for harp belong principally to their earlier period of concert collaboration, designed for the single-action pedal harp, rather than for the new Erard instrument, which she did not use. The Fantasie, Opus 35, belongs to the first years of Spohr’s concert tours with his wife and was heard with particular critical acclaim in Leipzig in 1807.
Wilhelm Posse, born in Bromberg in 1852, the son of a military bandmaster, had his early musical training from his father and taught himself the harp before taking lessons from the harp virtuoso Louis Grimm, principal harpist in the royal musical establishment in Berlin and a pupil of Parish Alvars. Posse also later served in the Berlin royal Kapelle and taught at the Berlin Musikhochschule. His advice on technical aspects of writing for the harp was sought by composers including Richard Strauss and he was held in the highest regard by Liszt. Posse was one of the first virtuosi to adopt the American Lyon & Healy harp, developed from the Erard harp, but designed to withstand the variable American climate.
Born in the English town of Teignmouth in 1808, the harpist Elias Parish Alvars, of Jewish ancestry, made his first concert tour of Germany in 1823. He had studied in London under Erard’s protégé François Joseph Dizi and with Nicholas Charles Bochsa, who, condemned in France for forgery, had settled in London. He later studied with Bochsa’s pupil Théodore Labarre. Parish Alvars made his career principally in Vienna, where he was appointed chamber musician to the Emperor and continued to develop the technical possibilities of harp performance. He was held in great esteem and was much admired by some of the greatest composers of his time, including Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Liszt. He published almost a hundred compositions, principally for the harp, with his abilities as a composer assured by study in Vienna with Simon Sechter, Bruckner’s teacher, and Ignaz von Seyfried. His Serenade is an effective part of harp repertoire.
Liszt’s Un sospiro (A Sigh) is the third of three piano concert studies, published in 1849 with a dedication to the composer’s cousin Eduard and later given descriptive titles. Un sospiro invites transcription, with its accompanying arpeggios marked armonioso quasi arpa. The virtuoso arrangement for harp is by Henriette Renié.
ReviewsVirtuosity and expression are not the first two traits most listeners associate with the harp. But Elizabeth Hainen makes a case for the instrument as something more than the angel-food cake of the orchestra in this budget release of transcriptions and works written especially for harp. Her fine, fast work in Liszt's Liebestraume brings to a harpist of considerably more skill than we ordinarily have a chance to hear from her principal chair in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Elias parish Alvars' Serenade is a kind of bel canto for harp - fanciful ornamentation and strong melody - and Hainen treats it as such. She also gets a lovely bell-tone. The best thing about Hainen's playing is the way she makes a melody sing. It's hard to imagine Glinka's Nocturne sounding more musical. - Peter Dobrin,