In Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, I heard
I’m a composer so maybe I can help to clarify. Berlioz didn’t call for 40 harps in the Symphonie Fantastique, but near the end of his instrumentation treatise he gave the breakdown for what he called, if I remember correctly, his “dream orchestra”. The numbers are staggering and impractical on any scale – and he calls for dozens of harps. Perhaps 40, but I don’t remember the exact number.
Bantock asks for 6 harps in his Celtic Symphony, but I don’t believe that they are 6 real parts, since it is a request on his part, and he states that to have the proper effect, 6 harps should be employed.
As for highest number of real parts, I think Wagner holds the record.
P.S. How do you make italics in this forum?
Check in Berlioz’s memoirs. I spoke with Simon Rattle recently, and he said he always likes to have at least six harps for Symphonie Fantastique, and had just used three for Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. I forget the composer, but an early French opera called Ossian used something like nine harps, around 1810.
Ernest Bloch wrote a lengthy article once calling upon all symphony orchestras to employ a section of harps, four or greater, preferably much more, to create an entirely new dimension of sound in the orchestra. It implies that his Shelomo, which has two harp parts, should be played with two or more harps per part.
I can’t imagine what the tuning must have been like. Especially in the days before tuning machines! I also wonder about the mammoth harp extravaganzas that Salzedo used to put together, with 75 or 80 harps on stage.
Sam Milligan told me that when he was working at the Lyon & Healy harp salon in New York Salzedo came in one day and told him that he had just conducted a harp ensemble of 75 harps.”OH my gosh” Sam said,”the tuning must have been awful!” “Oh, it all sort of evens out” was Salzedo’s response. And maybe it does…
I wonder about how well they could all play the music. His Recessional was one of the pieces composed for such a performance, and it is so difficult, I can’t imagine more than a handful of people mastering it.
I recommend reading the History of Orchestration by Adam Carse to find more about how the harp was introduced to orchestras. It was primarily used in opera orchestras, but as a continuo instrument, it may well have been used in Esterhazy and other such places where they had skilled harpists. Berlioz was very much inspired by Gluck, who used the harp in his opera Orfeo. And, of course, Monteverdi used it in his Orfeo. As did Stravinsky.
What is interesting to note is that three harps playing three separate parts are no louder than one harp, where three harps playing one part are at least a little louder, hopefully. It is a more full and rich sound, though. Gounod’s Faust uses six harps as I recall.
I’d like to know the other 15 pieces, just composers and titles, if you have time, Mr. Nieweg.
Hindemith has a wonderful piece for piano, 2 harps and brass, that would benefit from doubling the parts.
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