Choosing | Introduced to music at a very early age, Valérie Milot studied the piano for several years before choosing the harp at the age of ten. Although, to most people, the harp evokes romanticism [...]
They spoke about it
A talented and charismatic young artist; shimmering and mesmerizing sonorities; great works for harp by Ravel, Ginastera, Britten and Salzedo; a world premiere: Revelation, a new Analekta album featuring harpist Valérie Milot.
Although the earliest harps we know about go back to Sumerian times, they were to remain rather unsophisticated until the 17th century, when Tyrolean instrument makers modified the tuning and added pedals, for modulation. Their success came about almost overnight, especially in France, after Erard’s improvements. At first harpists used the lute and harpsichord repertoires, but soon works created specially for the instrument were thriving, thanks particularly to Elias Parish-Alvars, and reached a summit in the 20th century. This recital intends to illustrate the possibilities inherent in the instrument, its resonance, sonic volume and contrasts, as well as its particular effects.
Godefroid: Étude de concert
A student of Nadermann, Labarre and Parish-Alvars, and considered the best harpist in Europe by Berlioz, Dieudonné–Félix Godefroid (1818-1897) put the instrument in the limelight and dedicated many pages to it, among them his well-known Étude de concert. “It is to a large extent thanks to him that France has kept an interest in an instrument whose timbre, at times warm and soft, at other times silvery and clear, always blends so artistically in the polyphony of the orchestra,” his disciple Hasselmans asserted.
Renié: Pièce symphonique en trois épisodes
After hearing Hasselmans in a recital in Nice, Henriette Renié (1875-1956) became totally seduced by the harp. She was forced to wait until she was eight years old to play, and since she was too short to reach the pedals, her father invented an ingenious system of pedal extensions. Progressing at a dazzling pace, she overwhelmed the jury of the Prix du Conservatoire at age ten with her playing. In her studies she took up composition as well, and, throughout her lifetime wrote a large number of magnificent works for the harp. The Pièce symphonique en trois épisodes mines the entire register of the instrument with virtuosity, in a solemn and dramatic atmosphere, characteristic of Renié’s style.
Another of Hasselmans’ students, Carlos Salzedo (1961-1995), had a determining influence on the evolution of the language of the harp in the 20th century. Scintillation has remained his most accomplished work for the variety of effects produced, such as pedal slides, brassy sounds (with the harpist’s nails, close to the sound board) and the muting of strategic chords. The use of glissandi by Salzedo gives the piece a very special mood. The pedal changes, while keeping harmony in mind, allow the player to take up the same motif and extract from it a progression of chords. Many composers up to the present have used the technique he invented.
Hindemith: Harp Sonata
Written by Paul Hindemith in 1939, the Harp Sonata correctly represents the aesthetics of this period, when he composed his alluring Mathis the Painter. During this time the composer was working on simplifying his language. One shouldn’t look at the sonata as an opposition of themes, but rather as a means of developing an idea, specifically through imitation. The fist movement evokes the sound of an organ that might reach us as we enter a church, while the second one is meant to portrait children playing on the church square. A true song without words, the last movement encapsulates the very essence of a poem by Hölty, tinted with melancholy, sublimating Hindemith’s hesitations concerning his eminent emigration.
Britten: Suite for Harp
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) liked to offer works to friends and close colleagues, as evidenced by his Suite for Harp, composed for Osian Ellis in 1969. “I feel it’s rather 18th-century harp writing, but somehow it came out that way,” the composer simply explained. In five complementary movements, the Suite juxtaposes technique and refinement, magnifying the lyric possibilities, especially the introspective ones, of the instrument (namely in the Nocturne).
Lizotte: La Madone
Valerie Milot was intent on including La Madone here, a true favourite of hers, a work composed expressly for her by Caroline Lizotte (1969- ), who has been her teacher. “La Madone is a love song depicting the contemplation of the child by the mother,” the composer stated. “Thanks to the comings and goings of the arpeggios and the grinding of the low chords, one continually hears the rocking chair where the mother sits, singing. Her words are sometimes sweet, sometimes bewildered, filled with both weariness and admiration. You know… these moments between the mother and the newborn. Both end up falling asleep in the sweetness of the harmonic sounds and the bliss of belonging to each other.
The gestation of this work was due to two births: that of a little boy to a friend and harp colleague, and my own daughter, born, to my great surprise, on Christmas Day, the day the Virgin gave birth to the Messiah… For that reason, La Madone is dedicated to Isabelle Fortier, her son Maxim, my daughter Alfrëde and myself.”
Ravel and Ginastera: Two transcriptions for harp
Two transcriptions complete the recording, one of the well-known Pavane for a Dead Princess, a work by the young Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), and the other by Valérie Milot, of the entrancing Milonga by Alberto Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), one of her favourite composers.
© Lucie Renaud
Translation : Annie P. Prothin