Wednesday, March 18, 2009
So there are things in life that happen to you or that you see that will stick with you and never leave you alone thereafter. One of those moments for me was the first time I heard French harpist and composer Marcel Grandjany's harp solo Rhapsody. This piece is nuts! Wow. Wow. It has ever since been on my list of things I'd like to experience before I die. I'd like to play this piece.
I'm in the midst of learning it now after several attempts here and there over the past 10 years. This time I'm not taking it off my music stand until it's really learned, really memorized, really a part of me. Grandjany wrote it for his teacher, Henriette Renie, roughly 50 years ago. For me, this is his masterpiece.
I've never been hoarse after practicing before, which prompted this blog entry. There must be something even nuttier about this piece than I had bargained for. It's funny- I don't even realize that I'm singing while I'm practicing it... I guess it just sucks it up out of my vocal chords on it's own, which does not surprise me. This piece sucks everything out of you that it can. I feel like I need to stop and eat a power bar by page 5, and I have a lump in my throat pretty much from the get-go. Man.
Can I just tell you how amazing this work is? It spans over the full 47-string range of the instrument, not wasting a single drop of the harp's capability. Grandjany's notation reveals his anal retentiveness, indicating every nuance and subtlety he intentioned. The notes alone, though, without those clues, lends itself so well to what he wanted to express that I find myself saying aloud, "Duh" when I see a crescendo marking, rolled chord indication, or an accelerando. It's like the markings are just ways to keep yourself in check to make sure you're on the the same page (so to speak) with his hoped interpretation. You feel for sure that a harpist must have written the piece (as opposed to composers like Faure, Hindemith, or Debussy) because of the intuitiveness of the way the notes lay on the harp. It plays itself. It feels like you're rolling around naked in kashmir from start to finish.
Which is not to say that this is not an angry piece. It is. If Passion is Switzerland, Anger and Hate are its neighboring countries, along with Love and Sincerity (I'm not sure what that means, but bear with me). You've got it all in Rhapsody. Everything is on the table for eight minutes and it's a vulnerability that I'm a little scared of. It requires a perfect balance of strength and delicateness- the lion's power in one measure and the lamb's gentle spirit in the next. The silence after the last notes die away makes me want to drive home with the radio off and ponder what the heck just happened. Wow. It's really strange to say this, but it's like I can feel very close to Grandjany himself when the piece is over. Like he's in the room. Like he's also in tears and he's also exhausted. It's as if I'm not only producing the music, but I'm also simultaneously experiencing it for the first as a listener. Weird. Hard to explain.
Let's talk about hand span for a minute. Guys have the obvious upper hand, as it were, in terms of reaching giant chords... and there are a few places where it takes every ounce of relaxation, strategic hand position, and power for a girl-sized hand to hit some of those non-rolled chords at full volume. Yikes! But it's like riding on the Matterhorn at Disneyland: once it's over, I want to turn around and do a certain passage again. And again. And again.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Rhapsody is a harpist's crack and I'm proud to be in the club. I hope to humbly play it for you one day.