Beautiful Music: Britten for Harp

ceremonyJust heard a lovely performance of Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” given in DC by the Washington Bach Chorus. (Good Britten weekend all around, fine performance of his opera of Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Met b’cast Saturday.)

In this anniversary year for him, I haven’t noticed a lot of news about Britten and the harp, but there is a story there–apparently a lot of his magical writing for this instrument was inspired by a harpist named Osian Ellis. (A name to add to the small list of instrumentalists that inspire great composers. We have Mühlfeld to thank for Brahms’ late, and gorgeous, chamber works for clarinet and strings.)

Osian played the harp solo in the first performance of “Ceremony;” it’s the 7th movement, marked “Andante Pastorle,” and draws from chant,  tapping Britten’s feel for ostinado patterns, and being, like the complete piece, both ancient and crystal clear. It is also for me, perhaps because I first encountered it so long ago, the essence of the season, right up there with Bing singing White Christmas. YouTube has a performance of this movement:

And there are many fine full performances of the entire work on YT; it makes for a nice bit of seasonal contemplation.

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