The harp is an ancient instrument, with origins in the antiquity of perhaps many civilisations, and the modern orchestral harp is the culmination of a long evolution in form and technology. Its role has evolved as well, from that of solely an accompanimental and chamber instrument in the realm of folk music into a core member of the symphony orchestra with a repertoire of classical music by celebrated composers.
This attractive set of 17 works for harp concertante by 16 composers chronicles the instrument’s arrival and increasing acceptance on the orchestral stage. Many of the 18th-century works included here feature the harp for extra-musical reasons or as an alternate instrument to a keyboard. Handel’s, later bundled in with his other Organ Concertos, was originally for harp, written to evoke the ancient sound of the lyre in his Alexander’s Feast. Mozart’s Flute & Harp Concerto was written especially for a father and daughter who played those instruments. Wagenseil’s was for keyboard or harp, and Dittersdorf’s is an arrangement of a keyboard concerto. These fine pieces nevertheless laid a foundation for contemporaries and slightly later composers to embrace the harp for its own characteristics. Albrechtsberger, a teacher of Beethoven, had a penchant for solo instruments that were unusual in his day. In addition to the Harp Concerto and substantial Partita for Harp and Orchestra, his catalogue includes concertos for trombone, mandola and several for the jaw harp. Boieldieu relied on the harp’s colourful timbre in his many comic operas and would in turn write a number of concert works for the harp, the Concerto in C being one of the finest in the instrument’s repertoire. In the cases of Dussek and Spohr, their loved ones – their wives, and Dussek’s mother, sister and daughter – were harpists, encouraging these two remarkable composers to channel a fair amount of their considerable talent into music for the instrument.
Finally Krumpholz, a Czech compatriot of Dussek’s based in France, is the first in this line of composers of the emerging concert harp repertoire who played the instrument himself. He also played a pivotal role in the harp’s technological evolution. His compositions naturally reflect his mastery of the instrument in more idiomatic and adventurous writing.
From the second half of the 19th century, with the concert harp’s role, technological capabilities and performers of virtuosic stature firmly established, it became an attractive instrument for composers of the late romantic and modern eras. This set finishes with discs 4 and 5 offering a range of stunning concertante music for harp (sometimes with other solo instruments) from around the world. In addition to composers Saint-Saëns and Pierné from France, a stronghold of the harp due in no small part to the presence of Krumpholz and later pioneering harp (and piano) maker Sébastian Érard, there are notable contributions from Portugal, Argentina, the UK and Poland in Joly Braga Santos, Ginastera, Alwyn and 20th-century giant Lutosławski.
The harp is the ultimate romantic icon: the instrument of angels, and of Cupid, the god of love. One of the world’s oldest musical instruments, yet one of the most versatile and cherished, its modern counterpart also has the largest range of any orchestral instrument.
This extensive collection brings together an impressive range of concertos for harp, contrasting the towering figures of Handel and Mozart with gems by lesser-known composers such as Boieldieu, Albrechtsberger, Wagenseil, Krumpholz, Dussek, Spohr, Reinecke, Pierné, Saint-Saëns, into the 20th century with Ginastera, Lutoslawski and Alwyn.
A treasure trove of attractive concertos for that still slightly underrated solo instrument, the harp!
A worthy successor to the ever extending series of Instrumental Solo Concertos Editions on Brilliant Classics, previous issues including piano, cello, flute, clarinet, oboe, trumpet, horn, viola da gamba and recorder.