The Eternal Dreamer
David Watkins performs Tournier, Prokofiev, Glinka, Liszt, Parish Alvars, Zabel, Mathias, Debussy, Ruiz-Pipo and Watkins! The CD includes the first recording of his Passacaglia In Memoriam Tsunami, published by Adlais in 2005.
Available on line from Creightons
Marcel Tournier 1879-1951
A distinguished composer and harpist who won the coveted‘Prix de Rome’ (a prize that eluded Maurice Ravel) and whose teaching at the Paris Conservatoire inspired a whole generation of harpists.
Etude de Concert - Au Matin (In The Morning) is a concert study, playful, sparkling and brilliant and performed by all harp players.
L’Éternel Rêveur (The Eternal Dreamer) The cello-like melodic line of this Nocturne breathes poetry into this sensitive and rather introverted composition.
Vers la Source dans le Bois (Toward the Waterfall in the Forest) This is an outstanding example of the one of enharmonics (two adjacent strings tuned to the same note) in a composition which depicts the cascading of water.
Lolita la Danseuse (Lolita, the Dancer) seems to be the typical North African dancer, subtle, sensual and exciting who perhaps, in the end, throws off all her beads!
Sergei Prokofiev 1891-1953
Prokofiev’s astringent and personal style is shown in these three pieces which make an effective little suite’.
Pièce for Eleonora was written for the harpist Eleonora Damskaya and found in her music after her death. Both she and Prokofiev were student friends. It is rather a sinister slow march with a middle section of filagree arpeggios in an obsessive and repetitive harmonic idea.
Pittoresco (Visions Fugutives No.7) This piece was brought to my attention by the conductor Jack Lanchbery when I was playing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He orchestrated it for a ballet and suggested that I should play it as a harp solo. Subsequently I found that Marcel Grandjany performed it in a concert at the Salle Erard, Paris in 1927. The piece has a strange logic and is rather haunting. The original for piano is subtitled ‘Arpa’.
Prelude in C (Opus 12 No.7) was written at the beginning of the 20th century for piano or harp. Exquisite arpeggios of breathtaking lightness and speed frame a middle section of earthy bass notes under cut-glass stacatti.
The Dawn of Romanticism
Mikhail Glinka 1804-1857 Nocturne
Frederick Chopin 1810-1849 Nocturne
Franz Liszt 1811-1886 Nocturne, (Consolations No.3)
Elias Parish Alvars 1808-1849 Four Romances M-W14, M-W18, M-W100, M-W81
Albert Zabel 1835-1910 Sad Marguerite at the Spinning Wheel, The Fountain
John Field (1782-1837) was the real founder of the Romantic Movement in music. Irish pianist and composer, his one movement nocturnes inspired the compositions of Glinka, Chopin. Liszt, Parish Alvars and many others. He travelled to St. Petersburg and became Glinka's teacher. The beautiful Nocturne in E flat written by Glinka especially for the harp in 1828, is very much in Field’s mould.
Following this tradition. Chopin wrote his fascinating Nocturne in C# minor (played here in C minor) before he left Poland He dedicated it to his elder sister Louise "for practice before she starts playing my concerto.” The Nocturne is filled with fragments from his Concerto in F minor but moulded together in a cohesive whole that gives this masterpiece a powerful emotional impact
Franz Liszt was a great lover of the harp and even encouraged harpists to play transcriptions of his piano music in their concerts. His Nocturne (Consolations No. 3) is still very much in the tradition of Field and contains modulations that must have been quite astonishing for musicians at that time. Elias Parish Alvars, born in Teignmouth in Devon, was the most famous harp virtuoso of the first half of the nineteenth century. Berlioz called him the“Liszt of the harp”.
Some of his Nocturnes (or Romances as Parish Alvars called them) are still in manuscript form in the famous Morley Harp Library There are over one hundred of then and I have given them Morley-Watkins numbers and published those that I liked the best.
Albert Zabel was a German harpist who went to St. Petersburg, becoming a musician in the Imperial Ballet where his playing inspired Tchaikovsky.
Many of his compositions were dedicated to his titled students and Sad Marguerite and The Fountain are characteristic of his late romantic style.
William Mathias 1934-1992
William Mathias is the most famous of Welsh composers with strong ties to his Welsh roots. Bill and his lovely wife Yvonne, were my closest friends when we were all students at the Royal Academy of Music. The Improvisations were written for me at this time. A doting Great Aunt gave me £5 at my 21st birthday party which I passed under the table to ‘pay’ for this fine composition.
Since then, Bill wrote several harp solos including a Concerto, but the Improvisations remain my favourite work.
Three Improvisations. The first movement is a ‘toccata’ - rather in the eighteenth century tradition, the second a Nocturne, which is a subtle interplay between the treble and the bass of the instrument. The third is remarkable far the rhythmic vitality that is created in a piece of such brevity.
Charles Debussy 1862-1918
La Fille au Cheveux de Lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) is taken from his Piano Préludes written in 1910. His impressionistic approach a already very evident, with colour, sonority and dynamic contrast suspended between heaven and earth. Birds singing outside the church during the recording enhance the feelings of nature!
Première Arabesque (First Arabesque) is a piano piece written in 1888. It is a rather romantic piece, but with glimpses of Debussy’s later style. However I have to admit that it is one of those rare keyboard pieces which sounds better on the harp!
Antonio Ruiz-Pipo 1934-1997
Cançion y Danza. I have such a debt of gratitude to Antonio whose musical influence I feel to this day When I was studying in Paris, he introduced me to so much Spanish music, both ancient and modern. I shall never forget his playing of early keyboard sonatas and I stole some of them for the harp. The Cançion y Danza was stolen from the guitar as I was completely seduced by the music. So Antonio and I transcribed it for the harp and I have been playing it ever since. Both movements hark back to the Renaissance - Cançion with a beautiful long melodic line and Danza with hypnotic rhythms.
In Memoriam (Tsunami) The ‘In Memoriam’ was written for the talented young harpist Verity Thirkettle.
I was horrified when we went to war in Iraq and wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury and received a kind personal letter from him. Then the Asian Tsunami happened and I wrote the ‘In Memoriam’ remembering so much human suffering.
The Passacaglia is based on the repetitive pattern of four bass notes - Eb, Ab, Db, Bb and back to Eb. It is brutally broken by a discordant E as the wave engulfs everything in its path. Time goes on and peace and hope return.
The first movement (Prelude) is a sparkling barcarolle welcoming Spring. From a boat one sees the swallows skimming over the water with their joyful cries and there is a feeling of happiness and regeneration.
The Nocturne is more somber. A thunderstorm seems about to break, but instead, the clouds open and a black velvety sky is hung with stars.
The Fire Dance was inspired by the music from Paraguay. Rhythmically compelling it is a 'hot little number'!
Recorded in St. Mary's Parish Church,
Chipping Norton, March 2007
©2007 David Watkins