Just a random fun question for curiosity sake. What is the hardest orchestral harp part according to you? 🙂
How hard the harp parts are often depends on the conductor: breakneck tempi, too much rubato, poorly planned rehearsals, and/or general inconsistency.
Then there are the harp parts that are just unplayable as written because the composer didn’t understand how harps work, and didn’t consult with a harpist. With those, I feel free to rewrite as needed to make the part playable while still getting the musical effect across.
Having said all that, here are a few that stand out in my memory: Flying Dutchman Overture, Ancient Airs and Dances, Requiem for the Living, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Sibelius Symphony #1…..
- This reply was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by paul-knoke.
Oh, yes, Tzigane is one of them. For insane pedalling, there’s the Magic Fire Music by Wagner. Wagner also wrote impossible parts in some of his other operas, one of which, Tannhäuser, was so bad that the harpist who premiered it complained to him that it was unplayable. Herr Wagner replied, “Just play something sparkly in the right key.” https://harpcolumn.com/forums/topic/tannhauser-act-2-scene-4-difficult-spot/
On this subject, I have published a few of my editions of orchestra parts right here on Harp Column Music. Included is my adaptation of Brahms’ 4th Hungarian Dance, whose original part was impossible for my hands, and The Sorceror’s Apprentice.
Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande is another impossibly written part for two harps. It really needs four. I had to re-write swaths of it.
There are so many difficult parts which are scary right up to the moment of the harp’s entry & they are too numerous to mention, but in terms of the biggest sigh of relief afterwards: Vaughan Williams’ 5 Variants on Dives and Lazarus, (the circumstances were a difficult part to read, too little time to prepare, 2 quick rehearsals and my University tutor in the audience, who hadn’t known I was playing… until he started to recognise me behind the strings). I adore listening to this work.
I tend to agree on the Magic Fire Music, the solo harp version. The original is not nearly so hard. Tzigane is not so terrible. Bartok’s first Concerto for Violin is a massive part, with a passage that was unplayable until re-edited by Peter Bartok.
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