Beyond Dreams - The Spirit of Romanticism - Features some of the most important concert etudes for harp so it is surprising that no less than five of the recordings are World Premièrs. This beautifully performed and recorded disc is a must for lovers of Romanticism.
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|1||Rêverie **||John Thomas||7.01|
|2||Églogue **||Franz Liszt, trans. D. Piana||4.24|
|4||Mazurka in Bb Major Op. 7, #1||Frédéric Chopin||3.07|
|5||Étude De Concert in Eb Minor Op. 193||Félix Godefroid||4.39|
|6||Romance Without Words||Félix Godefroid||2.21|
|7||La Sérénade Op.201, Fantasie on a Theme by Schubert **||Félix Godefroid||3.28|
|8||La Source Op. 23||Albert Zabel||6.15|
|9||Grosse Konzert -Etüde #2 **||Albert Zabel||4.45|
|10||In Der Fremde||Robert Schumann, trans. A. Hasselmans||2.18|
|11||Widmung **||Robert Schumann, trans. F. Liszt||3.14|
|12||Spanish Dance Op.7||Alfred Holy||4.41|
|13||Romance #3||E. Parish Alvars||2.15|
|14||Improvisation #1||Wilhelm Posse||1.14|
|15||Improvisation #4||Wilhelm Posse||2.30|
|** denotes World Premier Recording|
believe that Art’s mission is a mission of feeling and
With this collection of lyrical works, the performer wishes to illustrate the manifold character traits of the harp and to link its still neglected 19th century repertoire to the sweeping movement of Romantic inspiration. The common thread running through the selections illuminates the concept of the harp as an instrument capable of singing in its own resonant way, with forceful and varied expression just like the piano or the violin. By defying the harp’s ethereal image and testing its mechanical limits, an interpretation of heightened intensity takes shape, released from the strings in a way in which the formal beauty becomes subordinate to the quest for “flesh and blood” emotion, artful yet truthful! So let us move Beyond Dreams...
ON ROMANTICISM Romantic thought begins with the search for the Ideal, fashioning a dreamworld straight out of the book of Nature."Let us weave in the moonlight a poem made of lace, a 'Dream' in golden letters clear like the blue sky, harmonious like the trills of the firebird!,” says the poet Alfred de Musset.
Soon, though, this kind of Rêverie turns inward, leading to a shift of consciousness. Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am” mutates and is reborn as “ I feel, therefore I am.” As — in Lamartine’s expression — the “nuances of the heart” are revealed, the human experience is enriched with a palpable inner life. Of which Nature now becomes the responsive witness, providing the live decor or the atmosphere for the impulses of the soul.
Églogue, a small Pastorale in a morning mood, is composed after this motto by Byron:
“The morn is up again, the dewy morn, with breath all incense, and with cheek all bloom, laughing the clouds away with playful scorn, and living as if earth contained no tomb!.....," whereas Nocturne has an effusive, amorous cantilena rising in the cool of the night.
The elements of Nature also play a key role, displaying a sensitive enveloping presence. Romance without Words evokes this most romantic theme, the woods experienced in solitude, along the lines of the famous poem Waldeinsamkeit by Eichendorff.
“Solitude of the forest! You green grove, How far away is the world from here! Sleep, how soon comes the beautiful evening, The springs flow Through the silent forest, The Mother of God wakes, Covering you softly With her starry dress In the solitude of the forest, Good night, good night!”
The same poet carries on in a similar vein in the lied In der Fremde, the beautiful woods becoming the refuge where the sense of belonging known in the past comes to dissolve.
“From my homeland beyond the lightning red the clouds come drifting in, but father and mother are long since dead, now no one remember me there. How soon, oh, how soon till that quiet time when I too shall rest, and above me will rustle the lovely, lonely wood, and no one will remember me here.”
And water, in La Source, conjures strong romantic feelings with the suggestion of a pair of lovers meeting by a gurgling fountain, eventually carried away in a passionate Waltz whirling to a breathless climax.
In a step forward, Love or the loved one is addressed directly. Hear the Serenade, the most tender song of longing, unrequited love, love for the sake of love. .. in the words of Rellstab:
Or the Romance, an expression of pure ecstacy, on a motto by Byron again:
Or Rückert’s Widmung, Love triumphant, love at the end of the voyage, docked in safe harbor.
“You my soul, you my heart, you my bliss. O you my pain, you my world in which I live, my heaven you, to which I float, O you my grave, into which my grief forever I’ve consigned. You are my repose, you are peace, you are bestowed on me from Heaven. Your love for me gives me my worth, your eyes transfigure me in mine, lovingly you raise me above myself, my good spirit, my better self”
In another twist, the rhythmic patterns of folk music become the frame for the work of art. Mazurka brims with life energy, allowing for a brief introspective break, while the buoyant Spanish Dance sings with lively accents in unmistakably Viennese style.
The two Concert Etudes, one French and the other German, create magic out of the same simple finger pattern called crossfingering, the first highly atmospheric, with both dramatic and delicate moments, the second a deep melody seamlessly gliding over its own undercurrent.
In Improvisation I, a simple thought is drawn out to the maximum in Mahler’s “schleppend” way, and in Improvisation IV the tight harmonic weave serves as a crucible for short motives spurting out of unusually low ranges of the instrument.
THE 19TH CENTURY HARP AND HARPISTS - COMPOSERS
The added bonus provided by this invention was the use of “synonyms,” an effect created by pedal combinations that juxtaposed identical pitches on different strings and turned the first romantic harpists like Parish Alvars into wizards in the eyes of their contemporaries (i.e. Berlioz). The device is featured in the arpeggio section of Rêverie, which also features “Thalberg’s three-handed technique” (so named because an invisible hand seems to pluck the melody) and, briefly, in the trill section of Étude de Concert, as well as in the final glissando of Spanish Dance.
Nevertheless it took a few decades for the new instrument to gain widespread acceptance, as these excerpts of Félix Godefroid’s introduction to his Exercises will attest to. “How strange!.. The harp, one of the most ancient of instruments, is today the newest and most ignored, even by the composers who make use of it rather haphazardly.” “No, it’s no longer David’s harp, so soothing to Saul’s nerves, nor the harp used by the Egyptians to accompany the somber threnody of the Isis mystery plays; it isn't even the modest instrument suspended on the fingers of the Seraphims by the famous painters, nor the Troubadours’, nor Marie-Antoinette’s harp, since I must clarify it once and for all, but it is and always will be the dream harp of the poets, with its moving expressions, still more touching, more ideal, more powerful today, thanks to the one who invented it.”
The harpists composers of that era believed — rightly so — that the harp sounded best in flat, with the strings in the longest and least stretched position. All the songs included on this album are in flat keys, which lend them a warm and penetrating sonority. Contrary to the present situation in piano manufacture, harp makers and individual instruments have retained well-differentiated characteristics. The major “improvement” in today’s harp is the bigger size, with an enlarged pear shaped soundboard allowing for a richer and more sustained resonance, a “blooming” of the tone.
During the romantic era the major schools of harp playing were interconnected while already showing enduring trends in the technical and musical approach. The Belgian-French school emphasized tone production and phrasing with Godefroid (a touring virtuoso and composer of operas) and Hasselmans (the famous professor at the Paris Conservatory who established the French sound for generations to come). The Austro-German school distinguished itself with virtuosity and chordal structure. Its finest representatives are: Posse (the soloist of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and Opera, Professor at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and frequent collaborator of Liszt), Zabel (who immigrated from Berlin to St Petersburg where he became solo harpist for the Imperial Ballet and later Professor at the Conservatory), and Holy (Mahler’s favourite harpist who after stints in Vienna and Berlin, joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra). The English school is represented by the short-lived Parish Alvars (the “Liszt of the Harp,” who settled in Vienna after numerous tours of Europe and a memorable one of the Near East) and Thomas, whose life spans almost the entire century (a Welsh triple-harp champion, he was trained classically under the patronage of Byron’s daughter and ended his life as harpist to Queen Victoria of England).
Throughout the performance, the “anticipated bass”, an expressive effect akin to portamento, has been used discreetly, inherited in direct line from Hasselmans’ days through the interpreter’s first teacher Lili Gryson.
Recording: Don Cicchetti