Stories & advises by composers & harpists:

Ernestine Stoop, harpist:

1) When I met Olivier Messiaen (80 years old) in 1984 I asked him why he never composed for the harp (since I like his music a lot): he said: La harpe,….. c’est trop difficile
2) Franco Donatoni: he wrote Refrain II (1986) for the Nieuw Ensemble with a quite difficult cadenza for the harp, which I had have ready to play in about three days. So I was not in a very happy mood.
One year later when we met Donatoni again in Huddersfield he was very surprised: ‘I actually turned out to be able to smile’
Later on that year we went to Milano to have Carnaval with him and Luca Francesconi. Franco had bought an enormous brown dildo in Amsterdam, with which he was swinging around and giving the Italians quite a surprise/shock
3) Why do so many composers think we can make quarter tones with our pedals; putting them in the ‚half-position’
4) I once asked a composer why he wrote such ‘impossible to play’ music; He was not amused and I don’t think we ever had any conversation since
5) Elliott Carter: he just composed Bariolage (1992) for harp solo, which I was going to play during the Holland Festival (June). Carter came over in April and gave a lecture in Rotterdam with the Nieuw Ensemble present. I did not have time enough to practise the piece ready for performance; so they asked me to illustrate with Bariolage, which was not ready to perform and I told them so. No problem: I would only play little excerpts.
But it turned out I was playing the whole piece (not at my best) and Elliott Carter was almost withdrawing the piece (too difficult). I had to convince him it is quite possible, I just had to practice more. And look now:
some harpists are playing it by heart.
6) Louis Andriessen, when meeting in 1987 in a cafe: he almost finished the 2nd part of his new opera De Materie. (part 1&3 were already finished and there was no harp part!) But he managed to write a beautiful harp part at the end of part 2 and involving the harp in the 4th movement!

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Willlem Jeths: A funny anecdote:

Once I composed a piece for harp, the harpist had to premiere the piece very soon, so time was precious, and of course the harpist wanted to give the best possible performance of the piece and needed to work with me on it, because of lack of time the harpist could only rehearse at 8 o’clock in the morning, I protested because of the early time, the harpist said sternly: but bakers have to get up early too! I replied: that’s why I didn’t become a baker!

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Wilbert Bulsink:

In 2003 I was in a workshop with the Nieuw Ensemble where a sketch i made was played. It consisted of descending lines of microtonal intervals. Starting with major 7ths in the first bar the intervals became smaller and smaller every bar, ending with major 2nds in the last bar. I used a hoquet-technique to divide the different pitches over the ensemble. Every first bar was played by strings and winds and every second bar was played by the plucked instruments (mandoline, guitar and harp). When i came to the last bar with major 2nds i decided to give them to the harp alone. It all sounded very complicated and quite boring until we arrived at the last bar: suddenly, after half a minute of dull constructivism the sound of a beautiful fairy tale was heard: a whole tone glissando on harp!

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