What pieces do you consider most seriously to be what is often
called “standard concert repertoire”? This means music you would play
for a New York debut recital to which all the critics were attending
(as if that still existed), music you would present to show the harp
at its very best, to impress audiences and other musicians. Don’t
include favorite pieces you learned as a student just because they
are favorites. Try approaching this more objectively, or from a final
teacher’s point of view. How many transcriptions can appear on the
same program before it looks like we haven’t got enough repertoire of
What pieces do you consider most seriously to be what is often
I think two is a good limit on the number of transcriptions on a program unless you are doing a group of them, or an all-transcriptions program.
Standard Repertoire Suggestions:
Faure: Impromptu, Une Chatelaine en sa Tour
Handel: Theme and Variations, Concerto, Harmonious Blacksmith
Glinka: Nocturne, Variations on a theme by Mozart (not as interesting)
Grandjany: Children’s Corner Suite, Frere Jacques, Divertissement, children at Play
Salzedo: Ballade, Variations, Five Preludes, Five Etudes, Scintillation, Prelude for a Drama, Preludes for Beginners (includes Chanson dans la Nuit), Sonata for Harp and Piano, Prelude Fatidique, Suite of Eight Dances
Maayani: Toccata, Passacaglia, Maqamat, Sonata No. 1
Flothuis: Pour le Tombeau de Orphee
Prokofiev: Prelude in C, Piece for Harp
Srebotnjak: Five Preludes
Dussek: Sonatinas, Sonata in c Minor
Beethoven: Variations on a Swiss Air
Rota: Sarabande and Toccata
Just a starter list to give some examples.
I pretty much agree about what makes transcriptions work. But we do have to deal with critics and critical audiences, so I stand by my position. The Spohr Variations are interesting, but a bit light, though more virtuoso than the Glinka for sure, but have you tried to play them? I don’t know anyone with large-enough hands to reach his notes. Hasselmans is a great example of a harpist-composer whose music does not hold up well with the kind of audiences I am talking about. There is not enough sophistication in form and harmony. Lolita La Danseuse is a strange piece, with a long interesting cadenza, and then a trite theme that doesn’t justify all the build-up. It suggests a third-rate Mata Hari stripping for a bored clientele in a dusty Moroccan saloon in the movies. Tournier can also be a risky choice for these audiences. And I speak based on thirteen years of observation of New York audiences at harp recitals. His Sonatine is a well-formed piece, but pianists find it so derivative of the Ravel Sonatine that they can’t bear it, I’ve found. I don’t know enough of his Images to say which ones are most suitable, but I like the Grey Donkeys. But one
mmm I come from this in a seriously amateur point of view because i don’t really have the capability of playing much of this repetoire (with a few exceptions)… As for the variations it has just come into my mind thatt sphor of course wrote his pieces for a little nadermann harp, on top of that tuned DOWN a semitone (in order to achieve better tone when playing in the sharp keys of his violin harp duos) so i guess it would have been SO much easier on the harp of his day. I think Albeniz can be very effective on the harp,especially “torre bermeja”. i do also see what you mean about the Hasselamans; very twee. Why don’t you try and read Natalya Shameyva’s develpoment of harp music in Russia; it has some really interesting sounding pieces in it. speaking of russian what about the tchaikovsky lullaby or the khatchaturian (though that might be abit unsophisticated; but i like it) i also think the petite suite by david watkins is very descriptive and fun.Debussy’s “en bateau” adn ” fille aux cheveux to lin” is something i like to hear/ play on the harp…
I’m not quite sure what you mean by bleooouugh, or how it sounds. When I’ve heard the Beethoven played well, it’s a wonderful small-scale piece. The Lucile Lawrence edition helps bring out its substance. I agree that Albeniz can sound great and natural on the harp as do the Debussy pieces you mentioned. I heard the Watkins a lot in the late 70s, and got quite sick of it. But it’s pretty good as harpist composing goes. I prefer his collection of Elizabethan lute and keyboard pieces. But lets get back to the core, essential pieces. Leave the twee with the tweedledee. What is twee? Cutesy? Sentimental? Chintzy? And I hope you are going to buy a full-size L&H concert grand. That’s the standard over here for orchestral playing. It may seem like a little old harp can be heard, but I can pretty much guarantee you that it’s not projecting. Even a Salzedo model can’t always be heard in a thick tutti. The recordings I have on old Erards and straight-sounding-board harps are very muddy sounding, with little or no pitch definition, just a wash. I can get the wash on my 23 but I still have pitch definition.
I could allow for Mathias Three Improvisations as standard repertoire in some instances or at a college or younger level. There aren’t quite enough notes otherwise. It surprises me how few pieces are leaping to mind without looking at a catalogue or in my files. Well that’s why I’m composing so many pieces for harp, to fill in those gaps.
I love the Hindemith Sonata, and I also vote for Tournier’s Grey Donkeys. I did these
pieces, years ago, on a recital, along with Salzedo’s Quietude, Iridescence, Whirlwind (and
the other one in that suite whose title slips my mind). The problem with a lot of harp
repertoire is its showiness coupled with lack of musical content. We tend to forget that the
audience may not be so enamoured with the harp that they can forgive sappy, repetitive
themes and boring harmonies.
Nancy Allen’s recordings are a good source of excellent choices of solo harp repertoire,
just to mention one excellent musician.
I only skimed over this thread, but did any one mention any thing by our good friend Camille Saint Saenns? (sp?) He wrote SO much great stuff! One of my composers. I like his “Fantasie pur harpe” Its very showy and not that difficult. Always the “carnival of animals suite” i LOVE IT! i learned it on piano a while ago. I don’t think the majority of the peices would be doable on harp but…
OKAY THEN back on subject! How about Feerie by Tournier? Beautiful peice and very tricky at parts.
Well theres two. Saint Saens Fantasy and Tournier Feerie.
The Saint-Saens Fantaisie is an interesting choice. It’s very difficult to do it extremely well. It can easily sound trite as the themes are very simple and presented simply. With a very rich and warm tone quality and even technique it can make an interesting impression. I would include it with a qualification. At least he’s a major name. As for Feerie, I don’t care much for the mood or harmonies. This kind of piece can really tire out the audience. Maybe it’s time has passed. Maybe not. It’s the kind of piece enjoyed most by other harpists, I think, or casual sorts of performance, afternoon tea programs, and such. It’s kind of post-Victorian.
I love the Ibert Scherzetto as an opening piece, to warm up for even harder pieces, or as an encore or something. It is fun to play and fun to listen to and is one of those few pieces that even though I haven’t played it in a year or so, it only take a few weeks for me to get it back up to performance level.
There may be at tendency amoung audiences and critics to compare the harp’s repertoire with the piano. Since many of the greatest minds throughout history were pianists or organists, the pianist repertoire is nearly unriveled. I began as a pianist and switched to harp because the harp has unique expressive abilities in its amazing range of color. I try to include pieces on recitals that show this expressive ability. Some of the harp repertoire that I believe shows the harp at its best include the CPE Bach Sonata, Faure Impromptu, Glinka Nocturne, Tailleferre Sonata, Hindemeith Sonata, Britten Suite. Luciano Berio’s Sequenza no. 2 for harp rarely gets recorded, and is expressively challenging to interpret, but is an awesome piece showing an extended range of effects the harp can create. Hovhaness’ music is
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