16 Sep 2018

RAVEL: Introduction & Allegro

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 16 September 2018
Amici Ensemble 2018

Amici Ensemble 2018 Photo: WCMT

Bridget Douglas (flute), Patrick Barry (clarinet), Carolyn Mills (harp), Donald Armstrong & Malavika Gopal (violins), Lyndsay Mountfort (viola), Ken Ichinose (cello)

This piece, one of the masterpieces of twentieth century chamber music, came about as a result of a ‘harp war’ between rival harp manufacturers in France.

In 1904, the Pleyel company manufactured the chromatic harp and commissioned Claude Debussy to write his Danses sacrée et profane in the hope of increasing sales for their recently invented instrument.

Composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and harpist Lily Laskine (1893-1988) during a performance of Ravel's Introduction et allegro in 1935.

Composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and harpist Lily Laskine (1893-1988) during a performance of Ravel's Introduction et allegro in 1935. Photo: Public Domain

In response, instrument makers Érard, who had invented the double-action pedal harp in 1810, commissioned Maurice Ravel to write his Introduction and Allegro. The purpose of the commission was to show that the pedal harp was a better instrument than the chromatic harp.

Though Debussy’s piece could be played on Érard’s harp, Ravel’s piece was impossible to play on Pleyel’s chromatic harp. The more versatile double-action pedal harp won the ‘harp war’ and is the commonly used harp today.

In this piece Ravel manages not only manages to show off the harp (including a long cadenza in the Allegro, which must have pleased his commissioners), but manages to create an impressive array of orchestral-sounding effects with just seven instruments.

(Notes by Donald Armstrong)  

Harpist Carolyn Mills in action

Harpist Carolyn Mills in action Photo: Chris Watson, screen grab

Recorded at a Wellington Chamber Music Trust concert, 16 September 2018 at St. Andrew's on The Terrace, Wellington by RNZ Concert

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Darryl Stack

The Amici Ensemble was formed in 1988 and the performers are mostly principal players with the NZSO and leading chamber musicians on the New Zealand music scene. For this concert, Amici comprises Donald Armstrong (violin), Malavika Gopal (violin), Andrew Thomson (viola), Ken Ichinose (cello), Bridget Douglas (flute), Patrick Barry (clarinet) and Carolyn Mills (harp).

 

 

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