7 pieces for harp
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Just ten months ago Australian harpist Alice Giles launched a CD with SHE (Seven Harps Ensemble) featuring her colleagues and students at the Australian National University, Canberra, where she now teaches, after establishing an international career in Europe. This new disc`s title comes from “Especially … “ written by Dennis Eberhard at the request of Giles, then a 22 year-old student in Cleveland. He was a composer for Cleveland Orchestra, among others, and his many grants included a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. Giles liked his writing style and felt he could conjure something interesting. (Sometimes it pays to go right to the top!).
His “Especially . . . “ explores all manner of effects, drawing sound-colours rarely heard from a harp with techniques such as “bissbigliando“ (rapidly repeated figures), frenzied climaxes, resonances building without being muffled, `pedal buzzes’, even singing in quarter tones into the harp`s sound holes while playing. The vivid colours of Australian artist LisaJane Batki-Braun`s cover image reflects this dramatic music which did not faze the intrepid Giles. She tackled this music`s demands with the technical mastery she applied to Benjamin Britten`s sedate yet darkly tinged Suite for Harp, a set of contrasting scenes rather than dance movements, Moshe Lustig`s flourishing 17-minute Sonata and Sonatine, Paul Hindemith`s Sonata for Harp. Like Eberhard, Luciano Berio worked from treatises on modern harp technique by Carlos Salzedo to create his Sequenza II, another challenge for Giles. No wonder Berio praised the work of this extraordinary Australian technician and musician.
Brisbane Courier Mail, February 2011
Benjamin Britten Suite for Harp
Dennis Eberhard “Especially…”
Moshe Lustig Sonata
André Caplet Deux Divertissments
Paul Hindemith Sonata für Harfe
Moshe Lustig Sonatine
Luciano Berio Sequenza II
The two works which ‘frame’ this CD have an interesting history. Moshe Lustig was born in Lignitz, on the border between Poland and Germany. A child prodigy, he was sent to Berlin at the age of six to study piano and composition. In the 1930s he emigrated from to Israel (then Palestine), and fell in love with the beautiful and talented Aviva Hess who had also emigrated with her family. For Aviva’s 18th birthday in 1941 Moshe presented her with these two extraordinarily sophisticated and expressive works for solo harp. Although an accomplished pianist, Aviva was still almost a beginner on the harp. Soon they were married and a son was born; Aviva was busy with professional orchestral playing, and the pieces were left unperformed. Moshe died at the early age of 36. Aviva remarried to cellist Uzi Wiesel and they had a son Arnan. He married Alice Giles, who gave the first performance of the Sonatine in Jerusalem in 1998 and the first performance of the Sonata in Canberra in 2009. Both pieces are in one movement. The Sonata is the larger work, passionate and sensitive, expressive of all the emotions of an idealised young love. The Sonatine was written slightly later in the same year as the Sonata. In contrast to the Sonata’s restless passion, which rises and falls and finally resolves in a burst of E flat major, the Sonatine is more evenly sustained, with a rich legato that resolves in quietness. Both works express the incredible cultural richness, idealism, aspirations and struggle in the developing nation of Israel, as well as reflecting those aspects on a personal level. The harp writing is unusual and more pianistic in its demands on musical and sonoric expression. Lustig’s great musical loves were Debussy and Ravel, but also Alban Berg and Grieg. These influences can be heard in his compositions although his works have a definite individual musical language.
When Alice Giles was 22 and studying in Cleveland, she asked Dennis Eberhard if he would be interested in writing a solo work for harp as she found his music powerful and dramatic – an element she felt was lacking in harp repertoire – as well as feeling that his great understanding of orchestral colours would give him an ability to write well for the instrument. Wishing to understand the harp better for use in his orchestral writing at the time, Eberhard enthusiastically agreed. The piece “Especially…” lived up to these hopes and by the time it was finished a close friendship was forged. The piece itself expresses the incredible nervous energy, sadness, humour and explosive power embodied in his person, the result partly of a life made difficult by the crippling effects of triple polio as a child. As his starting point Eberhard has used the basic tenet of Carlos Salzedo’s harp treatises, his being that the essential and unique nature of the harp is to ring until muffled by the hand. The harpistic use of “bissbigliando” or rapidly repeated figures is extended to involve longer groups of more varied notes, often leading to frenzied climaxes; resonance is allowed to build rather than being muffled, and there are only a few instances where the effect of rapid muffling for shorter attack is used for contrast. Pedal buzzes (where the pitch changing mechanism touches on the string without fully stopping it) are used not only in “fortissimo” but also as a sustained note fading into nothing. The most notable effect, however, is produced by the performer singing into the sound holes at the back of the sound box by the performer whilst playing simultaneously. Sometimes quarter tones sung against the notes of the harp causes ‘beats’ to be set up inside the body of the instrument, another instance of Eberhard’s understanding of resonance as a colour of the harp. Eberhard wrote many large-scale orchestral works, including commissions for the Cleveland Orchestra, and was the recipient of many major awards and grants including a Guggenheim Memorial Fellow. A comprehensive biography can be found at http://www.voxnovus.com/composer/Dennis Eberhard.htm.