June 28, 2021
Curious harpists: if you’re on the look-out for a new repertoire challenge, why not explore Robert Groslot’s compositions? Robert, father of harpist Eline Groslot, has written extensively for our instrument. There are solo works, many interesting chamber pieces (including for the Ravel septet ensemble of string quartet, flute, clarinet and harp) – and a harp concerto. The concerto was recorded not so long ago by Eline and the Brussels Philharmonic, and released on Naxos; Eline has also recorded the Three Night pieces for flute and harp, and Hoquetus, Battaglia and Madrigal for clarinet and harp, all available to hear on Spotify.
A well-known concert pianist as well as a composer, Robert Groslot enjoys the interplay between the individual soloist and the orchestra in a concerto. The harp concerto cleverly exploits the harp’s full range, both holistically and in the orchestration: from conversations with the upper woodwind in the treble register, to rhythmic pages with the basses, and percussive effects. “Composers can be afraid that the harp won’t be loud enough”, says Eline, “and then they minimalise the orchestration. Here, he stretches it, so that the harp becomes part of a big sound tapestry without being overwhelmed by it. There is also a version with smaller ensemble, but this is to make performances more practical rather than to lighten the orchestral texture.”
“It goes without saying”, Robert writes, “that you can’t create an enormous soundscape when you’re writing a solo or chamber harp piece. I love the solo harp sound, and integrating it into small ensembles. But I’ve just realised now that I’ve used the harp in ALL my orchestral pieces, over 40 of them…I think the harp’s timbre is fantastic for all sorts of orchestral contexts. It comes very naturally to my ear. Maybe composers’ anxiety about volume can be compared with anxiety about the absence of a full chromatic scale on the harp. Well, I started my harp concerto with a full dodecaphonic scale. Much more is possible than you would believe at first sight. Debussy wrote his Danses for chromatic harp, and they’re always played on a double-action one now…”
Eline, harpist with the Brussels Philharmonic, continues: “When Robert said he was writing a concerto, I knew it was going to be a good challenge. He never makes any concessions, he just tells me to practise more. And then I do and he sees it’s working and he writes something even harder – but it’s good he doesn’t give in easily, or we wouldn’t have the same score. He loves Stravinsky and Bartók and you can feel that influence.”
Eline has also recorded Robert’s “Poème secret”, for Ravel septet ensemble (2018 on TYXArt). More recordings are in the planning!
You can explore Robert’s harp compositions on the Camac webshop, and also contact Eline directly if you have questions about them. Eline has also started a great blog (including versions in English), with many thoughtful reflections about the harp, and its repertoire. Highly recommended!