Album Release

Monday, November 22, 2010

Feuilles d’Automne by Alphonse Hasselmans

Hasselmans. The “Granddaddy of Harp.” 
His stats:
French (well, born in Belgium)
1845-1912
Composer for harp (50+ pieces), Harpist, Harp teacher
 Dad was a harpist (and his first teacher)
Mom dated Gabriel Faure at some point
 Studied under Gottlieb Krüger, Xavier Desargas, and Ange-Conrad Prumier (anyone ever heard of them? I hadn’t.)
Became the Head Harp Coach at the Paris Conservatories in his day.... he had many influential students who continued to shape the French harp world as he did (which is why I call him the granddaddy of harp): Henriette Renie, Marcel Tournier, Carlos Salzedo, Marcel Grandjany, Lily Laskin, and Pierre Jamet.
You can’t help but like the guy. His music sounds nice-sounding to non-harpists, and feels good to the fingertips of a harpist. His pieces are idiomatic and intuitive... writing in a way that totally suits the instrument and displays its capabilities in a friendly way. 
And, yes, as you may have guessed: he’s written on the subject of autumn.
Actually, three “easy improvisations” under the title “Feuilles D’Automne” (Autumne Leaves)...
Sérénade Mélancolique Op. 45 (Melancholy Serenade)
Crépuscule Op. 46 (Sunset)
Calme Op. 47 (Calm) 
They were each written for a different student of his, none of them of who made the earlier mentioned list of influential harpists. 
Gonna focus on only one of the three improvisations here, as it is my favorite: Sérénade Mélancolique. It’s just that: a sad song.
Kinda humorous: the dictionary on my computer defines serenade as “a piece of music sung or played in the open air, typically by a man at night under the window of his lover.” Combine that with dying leaves and inclement weather and you get “Sérénade Melancolique” by Alphonse Hasselmans. 
6/8 time, Adantino, g minor. 
I can visualize a man walking, talking to himself silently, singing, searching, schmoozing, reminiscing, feeling slightly empty. It’s a piece so simple yet so beautiful- first melody, second melody, interruption by a hefty autumn wind, recap of the first melody. Short and so sweet.
So, yes, Autumn can be sad and melancholy after all, according to Mr. Hasselmans. 
I find all three of these “improvisations” to be melancholy- very much the “sad” and reflective side of the autumn coin.

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