AN 2 9990

Handel, Boieldieu, Mozart: Concertos for Harp

Album information


Possibly one of the oldest musical instruments along with percussions and the flute, the harp derives from the primitive musical bow. It has evolved differently from culture to culture, from the Celtic harp to the Latin harp, along with the experiments of the 20th century, leading to the modern harp.

The three concertos of this recording have all been composed during eras in which the harp had yet to be perfected to its full potential. However, Handel, Mozart and Boieldieu’s concertos all remain central works of the harp repertoire. Their interpretation on the modern harp proclaims them with an additional luster that would have most certainly appealed to both Handel and Mozart, who didn’t consider the instrument as indispensable. Boieldieu, in turn, had learned to cherish the instrument far more through cohabitation with the Parisian piano and harp maker Sébastien Érard. Valérie Milot, Bernard Labadie and the Violons du Roy present on this recording a significant repertoire marked with a palpable artistic complicity; three compositions as three privileged moments in the history of a fascinating instrument.

Handel: Concerto for Harp in B flat major

It was in 1736, at Covent Garden in London, that a concert dedicated exclusively to Handel’s work took place. Two odes were presented, Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day and Alexander’s Feast, both set to John Dryden’s poem. In order to ensure that the concert would be of acceptable length, Handel inserted the following concertos in between Alexander’s Feast’s short acts : the Concerto in B-flat major for harp HWV 294, the Concerto grosso in C major HWV 318 and the Concerto for organ in G minor HWV 289. Two years later, the Concerto for harp was published as part of a collection of six concertos for organ, therefore explaining why it is now an integral part of the repertoire for both instruments. Handel’s compositions followed a fast-slow-fast outline, an emerging style that later became the norm of the Classical era. After a brief orchestral introduction, the first movement leaves centre stage to the harp, followed by the second movement, in minor, where the orchestra intervenes only periodically between the reveries of the harp. When the suspense of the second movement’s pace dies down, the third movement appears as though resolving the accumulated harmonic tension with abundant circles of fifths.

Mozart: Concerto for Flute and Harp in C major K. 299

During the Classical era, the harp was not only excluded from the symphonic orchestra, but it was also considered as a salon instrument due to the various defects and encumbering noises of the single pedal mechanism that was still in development. Fortunately for the enrichment of the harp repertoire, it was the Duc de Guînes’ request to Mozart that forced the Austrian composer to take interest in this instrument that had previously never been seen as a solo instrument. While visiting Paris with his mother, Mozart was the composition professor for the Duke’s daughter, Marie- Louise-Philippine, who occasionally played the harp accompanied by her father on the transverse flute. The combination of these two instruments nowadays seems visibly apparent, but was quite audacious for the time. With an impeccable classicism, the double concerto has the orchestra exposing the thematic material while eloquently leaving the soloists dialogue rather then oppose. After the first joyful movement, Mozart reduces the orchestra only to the string section, while also dividing the violas for a silkier texture, demonstrating Mozart’s superior melodic flare. The final rondo, tempo di gavotta, a popular dance of the Parisian Court at the time, ends with a cadence and a coda like the previous movements. For both the Handel and the Mozart concertos, Valérie Milot has composed the cadences herself, adding a contagious joy to the pieces.

Boieldieu: Concerto for Harp in C major

Reconstitution of the orchestral parts by Jean-Philippe Navarre

In 1801, nine years before the famous double action pedal mechanism invented by Sébastien Érard was patented, his roommate, François-Adrien Boieldieu composed his Opus 77, a remarkable Harp Concerto. As a productive and popular opera composer and piano teacher at the Conservatoire de Paris, Boieldieu even worked at the Imperial Court of Saint Petersburg as the French Opera director. This predilection for the lyrical repertoire perhaps explains the array of ornaments and the surge of trills protruding from his concerto in a delicate virtuosity. The classical spirit impregnates the three movements that fade into the customary tempos, Allegro brillante, Lento and Allegro agitato. The first movement, giving centre stage to the harp, is followed by a short central movement in C Minor that allows the soloist to express every facet of the painful melancholy portrayed. The energy of the first movement increases again as Boieldieu leads us directly into his third movement in rondo, building the exuberance all the way to the final theatrical chords.

© Claire-Émilie Calvert
Translation : Marie Dubeau-Labbé

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Valérie Milot
Les Violons du Roy
AN 2 9990
AN 2 9990

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