The Romantic Spirit – harp in de Blauwe Kamer

28 augustus 2011 | ,
Deel dit bericht:

A solo program of 19th century music for harp and poetry.

Memories of a paradise lost and legends of a proud bardic past conjure visions of a mythical instrument that can only be wrested from its lofty perch, with its ancient magic still intact, through renewed dancing of the hands upon the strings.

Dominique’s recital program The Romantic Spirit embodies the subtle yet powerful messages of Romanticism. Lyrical and epic 19th century music is linked poetically with the great literary themes of Nature, Love and the Beyond. Performed in the grand manner of that era, the harp reveals itself as a unique instrument capable of singing in its own way. Her interpretations decisively capture the essence of romantic inspiration in changing moods. Works by the great romantics and harp virtuosos evoke images of a sentient landscape colored with the palette of emotion.

Recently, Dominique has added baroque, classical and modern pieces as well as her own compositions to the mix, to expand the notion of Romanticism beyond the romantic period of the past and to move beyond nostalgia. This, in turn, opens up a new window in the present, allowing us to recognize Sentiment as the timeless ingredient that underlies lasting artistic creations and as the clue (and glue) to our indisputable connectedness.


  • Meeresstille (Stillness of the Sea),  tr. D. Piana after Liszt,  Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
  • Scenes of My Youth, op. 42 or The pleasures and sorrows of an Artist, Elias Parish Alvars (1808-1849)

Romance #1

  • Mottos: “You are truly cruel if you do not feel pain
  • Thinking about what was announced to my heart
  • And if you do not weep because of it, what will make you weep?”
  • “Love, who remits no love to the lover, took me with such great desire for him, that, as you see, it still holds me.” (Dante Alighieri)

Romance #2

  • Motto: “I saw thee weep—“ from Byron’s Hebrew Melodies

Romance #3

  • Motto: “It was enough for me to be,
  • So near to hear and —oh! to see
  • The being whom I loved the most.” (Byron, from Mazeppa)
  • Rêverie, John Thomas (1826-1913)
  • Schubert-Fantasie, op. 7,   Hans Trnecek (1858-1914
  • Première Etude de Concert, op. 17, Alfred Kastner (1870-1948)
  • Ballade Op. 20 in three Episodes, after a poem by A. Schulz, Albert Zabel (1834-1910),
  1. Die Erwartung am See – 2. Die Begegnung – 3. Der Abschied
  • Prelude op. 68 No. 2 for Chromatic Harp, tr. D. Piana, Emanuel Moór (1863-1931)
  • Ballade de la Fée, Apparition, Félix Godefroid (1818-1897)
  • La Chrysalide (Chrysalis), Dominique Piana


The Romantic Spirit: program notes by Dominique Piana

“The harp that once through Tara’s halls,

The soul of music shed…”

So intones Thomas Moore in the famous song, pointing out the harp’s secret connection to our collective unconscious. Memories of a paradise lost, legends of a proud bardic past or King David’s healing ministrations upon the harp conjure visions of a mythical instrument …that harpists must wrest from its lofty, almost unreachable perch and bring down to earth with its magic still intact.

Schubert’s Lied Meeresstille was composed in 1815, and published in 1821 as the second of four Goethe settings, op.3. In 1838, Diabelli published a first set of 12 Schubert Lieder transcribed for solo piano by Franz Liszt. This new genre proved highly successful and is enjoying renewed popularity in our own time.  Here the deceptively simple song turns into a dramatic scene, portraying man alone, surrounded by daunting nothingness. Is this “still point” a beginning or the end? Hear the harmonies groan, building tension to sustain this aching representation of the infinite.

Deep silence reigns upon the waters,

The sea is at rest without the slightest motion,

And with a worried mind the boatman

Sees a smooth surface all about him.

No breeze from any quarter!

A fearful, deathlike silence!

In the enormous expanse

No wave is stirring. (Goethe)

The English harpist Elias Parish Alvars, who was hailed as the “Liszt of the harp” by Berlioz, blazed the trail for all future innovators with his fiendishly difficult opera fantasies, but shows himself at his most personal in his Romances. The first three were published in 1839 by Artaria as  “Scenes of my Youth /or/The pleasures and sorrows of an Artist/ expressed /in a Series of Caracteristical /Romances/ for the Harp/ dedicated/ to the Lady of his Heart/ by Parish Alvars/ First harp at the Imp. & Royal Opera at Vienna.” The dedicatee was very certainly Melanie Lewy, his future wife. These Romances hover between the romantic extremes of despair and ecstasy. Up to then, such emotional ups and downs belonged to the realm of literature, but here they are unleashed upon the harp without holding back…

John Thomas, harpist to Queen Victoria of England, imbued his Rêverie with the wistful longing of traditional Welsh song. He started his career as a champion of the triple harp, a folk harp with three rows of strings still in use in Wales. This piece reveals another side of him: his predilection for suspended chords, woven into a continuous strand of arpeggios, from which the cantilena sings out through a device known as the “three-handed technique”.

Harpist, pianist and conductor Hans Trneček tirelessly promoted a Czech national style of music, especially in the realm of opera, and championed Smetana’s works. His early Schubert-Fantasie brings back Schubert’s most beloved themes of his era. You will recognize whiffs of Der Lindenbaum, Lob der Tränen, Ständchen and Wohin? ingeniously woven into a sweeping emotive tapestry. Schubert’s spirit must be “smiling through the tears”…

The romantic German Ballade bloomed in art songs by Schubert and Loewe and is characterized by its epic or historical subject matter. Chopin and Brahms went on to compose Ballades for piano solo, as a dramatic sub-genre of the ubiquitous 19th century character piece. Albert Zabel, still attaches his three-part work to a poetic scenario, in effect producing a “Ballade without words”. You can hear the waves of the lake rippling, the lovers running toward one another with great passion, and then, alas, the tragedy of the parting. Through Zabel, the Berlin school of harp survived in Russia, where he was influential as the solo harpist with the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg, and later as the teacher at the Conservatory newly founded by the Rubinsteins.

With Alfred Kastner survives a particular style of “turn of the century” Viennese nostalgia. A student of Zamara and close friend of the violinist Fritz Kreisler, he traveled from one orchestral post to the next: Dresden, Warshaw, Budapest, Zurich, Philadelphia, London, New York and finally Los Angeles. In the “schleppend” style of Mahler, the Etude de Concert uses undulating arpeggios to create powerful surges of sentiment that end in sublimation. Renowned jazz harpist Stella Castellucci, who was Kastner’s last pupil in Los Angeles, played this piece in her youth; this performance is affectionately dedicated to her.

The son of a Jewish cantor, Hungarian-born Emanuel Moór made his mark as a genial inventor of musical instruments (such as the “Duplex Coupler Grand Piano”) and prolific composer. While building his career as a pianist and conductor, he moved for a time to the United States, then settled near London and finally in Switzerland. Many of the great performers of the turn of the century, from Ysaÿe to Casals, championed his rhapsodic works. It is not surprising that he would show interest in the newly invented chromatic “Pleyel” harp! The present Prelude, which dates from between 1906 and 1908, immediately reveals a strikingly original and, dare one say, far-seeing musical voice.

The Belgian-French harpist Félix Godefroid, continued in the footsteps of his brother Jules, who was at the forefront of the development of an idiomatic technique for the double-action pedal harp. Both went on extended tours throughout Europe with like-minded instrumental virtuosos of the early romantic era such as violinist Bériot and cellist Servais. Later Félix struck out successfully on his own as a soloist, composing numerous pieces for his own performances. His trademark effects heard in Ballade de la Fée, cross-fingering and enharmonic pedal settings, always serve his higher purpose to enchant and touch the heart.

La Chrysalide, the performer’s maiden effort at composing, portrays the inner journey of the caterpillar on the way to becoming a butterfly. In a free flowing, incantatory mood, it is propelled by yearning and striving to attain a higher state of being.