I’m conducting the full Nutcracker ballet this year and see that the original score calls for 2 harps. I’ve played the score in the orchestra many times (I’m not a harpist) but have never seen more that one harp player sitting across the way. How do harpists handle this – can one of the parts be left out – or do I need to combine the 2 parts into one?
Harpists either play the principal part only, or do a little combining where necessary, and only if they have to. We do not want to put second harpists out of work! New York City Ballet always uses two harpists. You should, as well. A harp adds more color than another violin. The two harps are necessary to have the full harmony and patterns Tchaikovsky wrote.
The only time I’ve ever really found myself missing the 2nd harp part is near the end of the ballet, in the beginning of the Pax de Deux, where Harp I has the arpeggios, and Harp II is playing the big block 1/4-note chords. Last time I conducted it, I gave the Harp II opening chords to my pizz strings. Another option is to give those chords to the Celeste player who isn’t doing anything (and have him/her play the chords G, Em, etc. on piano or a keyboard set as close as possible to a harp. Beyond the Pax de Deux, I personally find the rest of the Harp II part expendable.
I agree with all the harpists that only the conductor can say that only one harp is needed. Not only we need a job but also we need the real music of Tschaikowsky and this 2 harp parts are so different that is makes difference. However I know that often it is hard to angage 2 harpists all the time so I was also performing as a one harpist. I did combined part which was really difficult and in the end of the ballet
It is better to use the second harp to double the first harp when not playing very much than to forego it. It is not really up to the conductor, but the composer and the audience. Of course, the conductor and manager mind the budget, but a second harp adds more dimension to an orchestra than one more violin. But who listens to us?
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