Mozart and the harp of his time

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    barbara-kraichy–2 on #147623

    Ron and I appreciate the informed replies to my earlier question about playing Mozart sonatas on the harp. It was right to take issue with my reference to

    paul-knoke on #147624

    Very well said, Barbara! Thank you.

    Please do let me know if you ever venture up to the frozen wilds of Upstate New York. I’d be very interested to find out what you think of my Cousineau harp. If I can perhaps add a further inducement, I also have a good violin of the same age that I’ve had restored to that period…..

    barbara-kraichy–2 on #147625

    Paul, it is great to know of those scattered around the country that are maintaining and promoting the early harp. Our Duo is not prepared to actually play any of them, as that would require a new side to my harp technique, and I am so far resisting Ron’s urging even to learn the lever harp (he is resisting my urging him to learn to play the harp at all). A relatively local professional harpist, Sue Carole DeVale, in the Tampa area, specializes in early harps but has not been able to keep

    barbara-kraichy–2 on #147626
    I saw
    paul-knoke on #147627

    Say, I haven’t seen Sure Carole DeVale in years! She used to come to the Historical Harp Society conferences. I’m sorry to hear she’s having problems with her harps. I really should get in touch with her.

    I’m surprised to hear that people are having problems mustering an audience for period harp recitals. I’ve had good attendance at the concerts I’ve given here. Maybe it’s a regional thing. After being snowed in all winter, Rochesterians are happy for any excuse to get out of the house!

    The idea of compositions with measures that could be shuffled persisted for a long time after Mozart. There was even a machine, The Componium, built that could do that, if you wanted to listen to it for hours while it worked through all the possible combinations.

    I play in the Brighton Symphony Orchestra. It’s a community orchestra made up of players of all ages (youngest is 15, oldest is 93) and skill levels (hobbyist to professional). We play at least 12 concerts a year, with each program performed twice, once for the general public and once for audiences who are not otherwise able to attend live concerts: nursing homes, residential hospitals, and the like. It’s a great group of people!

    Bonnie Shaljean on #147628

    The harp could have had unpleasant associations for Mozart, as his only foray into that territory was not a happy experience.

    Mozart wrote the Flute & Harp Concerto for the daughter of the Duc de Guines, a harpist to whom he gave private lessons in composition, and the duke himself, who was a gifted flautist. It’s not surprising therefore that he commissioned Mozart to write a duet for the two instruments, presumably so he and his daughter could play it together.

    At first things went well, and Mozart wrote to his own father praising the girl’s musical talent, and mentioning that she had an incomparable memory and could perform some 200 pieces by heart. (I think that figure is correct: I myself am writing from memory so I could be mixing her up with someone else from history.) But before long he was complaining in his letters that she was not only stupid, but also thoroughly lazy. To top it off, the financially-needy Mozart did not receive payment for his concerto. I have always thought that this disagreeable episode helped to put him off having anything to do with the harp ever again.

    Also, the sad truth is that it’s an instrument which not everyone likes – there are some notable harp put-downs in the annals of time. I suppose it’s the flip-side of the reaction many of us experience when first hearing its distinctive voice, that here be magic and there’s nothing on earth like it. If a sound inspires a strong response in some people, it’s also bound to have the opposite effect on others.

    In any case, I don’t think composers really bother their heads about pedal-changes (In fact, I KNOW some of them don’t!!) but tend to figure that those are the harpist’s problem. Which they are. Sigh…

    carl-swanson on #147629

    Bonnie- Nice post. Thank you. I think there may be several reasons that 18th century composers did not write for the harp. It may be that it had too small a sound, even by 18th century standards. Also, composition was advancing enormously and exploring many different keys within one composition, which the harp could not do. I’m guessing that in general child prodigies were generally pushed to the piano, which was taking center stage throughout this period. Lastly, composers and musicians of the 18th century did not think twice about using something written for a different instrument on their own. But that doesn’t always work on the harp. The harp resonates differently from a piano.

    I often play one of the Posse etudes, I think it’s number 7, when I perform recitals. It’s a gorgeous piece, and the only one of the 8 etudes that is really appropriate for concert use. Several times serious pianists have asked me for a copy of that etude. But I tried it on piano myself once and it sounds thin. it would have to be freely transcribed by a pianist/composer to work well on the piano. That’s just a small example of the problem of moving repertoire back and forth between piano and harp.

    Somewhere I read a funny story about the Duc de Guines, who commissioned the Flute and Harp Concerto from Mozart. He was an important diplomat in the French court, and he was very fat. He decided at one point that he looked thinner by wearing tighter fitting clothes, but when he did that, he couldn’t sit down or he’d split the pants. So he had two wardrobes of clothes in two different sizes. Each morning his valet would come in to get him up and lay out his clothes for the day, and would ask “Will his excellency be sitting or standing today?”

    Bonnie Shaljean on #147630

    What a lovely story! I had not heard that one before –

    People may have seen me burbling on in a couple of other threads about free harp music downloads from various sources. Well, here it is again, because you can download a PDF of the Posse 8 Etudes (and also his 6 Little Etudes) if you want to get a look at No. 7 – thanks for the heads-up on that, Carl.

    Links are here, though both of these seem to be the same edition so I don’t know why the duplication, unless they are different scans. There’s also a third PDF of another edition, but it’s not as clear a reproduction, the score is in rather rough shape, and for some inexplicable reason that one leaves out the first etude. Anyway:

    carl-swanson on #147631

    Bonnie- It is in fact No. 7 etude that I play.

    barbara-kraichy–2 on #147632
    I have appreciated and enjoyed all the replies to this question. My observation is that despite the
    Bonnie Shaljean on #147633

    Something of the same sort rather appears to have happened to Mozart’s concerto, because this composition lay in obscurity until revived in 1877 by the Welsh harpist John Thomas (who played an Erard Gothic but had been brought up as a boy on Welsh triple harp). When he “premiered” it at a concert it was at that time an unknown work. I’m writing all this from memory, quickly, so don’t have the details to hand; but it was Thomas who revived it for the modern concert repertoire.

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