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Benjamin Britten

Suite for Harp

Britten was enthusiastic about composing instrumental pieces for friends and close colleagues, one of whom was the celebrated harpist Osian Ellis, who had appeared with great success at Aldeburgh. The Suite for Harp was composed during the spring of 1969 in response to Ellis' request for a solo piece, and Ellis gave the world première during the 1969 Aldeburgh Festival. Britten said of this suite, "I feel it is rather 18th century harp writing, but somehow it came out that way."

The Suite is a well-realized display piece, designed to show off the soloist's and the instrument's virtuosity. Britten has made splendid use of the harp's traditional resources – glissandos, arpeggios, etc., in a taxing work which nevertheless manages to display, particularly in the inward-looking Nocturne and the shadowy, reflective coda in which the Suite fades out, that the harp is not all glitter and cascades of notes. In the succinct program note Britten supplied for the first performance he described the Suite for Harp, which he inscribed "For Osian," as follows:

  1. A classical 'Overture,' with dotted rhythms and trumpet chords.
  2. 'Toccata', a rondo busy with quavers and semiquavers, with much crossing of parts.
  3. 'Nocturne,' a clear tune with increasing ornamentation over a low, chordal ground.
  4. 'Fugue,' a brief scherzo, in three voices.
  5. 'Hymn' (St. Denio), a Welsh tune, a compliment to the dedicatee, with five variants.

Copyright © 1996 by Jane Erb, All Rights Reserved.