New YouTube Video: Harp Excerpt Review of Britten's A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Updated: Aug 25


Benjamin Britten is one of my all-time favorite composers and I'm excited to share this review with you all!

Here's a few key points from the video:

  • Carefully orchestrated using both colors and theatrics

  • Comfortably playable with revisions, although not the most idiomatic

  • Tricky pedals work because other elements are limited in complexity

  • Written before Britten's collaboration with harpist Osian Ellis

Orchestration: In general, Britten is careful about the inclusion of the harp in the orchestra and places it in sections with thinner orchestral textures. In addition to Variation I (the harp solo), I really love how Britten utilizes the harp in Variation J (the horn variation). The harp and strings antiphonally alternate the accompaniment to the horns. Even though horns are usually associated with loud, rich themes, this variation is still quite subdued and the harp carries through nicely. The final fugue (Con Slacio) is the one section where the harp is buried. In a live performance, however, the entire orchestra, after being introduced individually, is playing in this climax and it's important for the harp to be included. Voicing: In the video, I mention that the closed voicing in the lower register is less than ideal (in both Variation I and J) because of the "muddy" sound and propensity for buzzing. In general, when writing chords or arpeggios in the low end of the harp (below ~G3, or 5G in harp notation), the pitches are clearer using open voicing with larger intervals. Additionally, the lower strings are more prone to buzzing; larger intervals reduce the risk of buzzes caused by replacing. Start/End notes for glissandos: Notating glissandos may be one of the most frustrating components of engraving a harp score! In the video, I demonstrated that harpists traditionally articulate both the top and bottom notes of the glissandos at letter J in the fugue. Now, other pieces with similar notation are not necessarily played the same way. So, I recommend adding an instructional in your score if you want glissandos played a specific way. Since harp notation is widely inconsistent, the more clarification you provide, the better! Enharmonics: Harpists traditionally use enharmonics at Variation J. In the video, I mentioned that we do this to keep pattern consistency and play the same chord inversion in both hands. But,I neglected to mention that mm. 8-9 after J, we enharmonically respell almost every note in order to continue the pattern. Instead of RH: [Db, Bb, F]/ LH: [F, Db, Bb], we play RH: [C#, A#, F]/LH:[E#, C#, A#]  Collaboration: I've played many of Britten's compositions, including the Ceremony of Carols, Suite for Harp, and Birthday Hansel, and have found them (especially the later ones) to be incredibly idiomatic. This is greatly due to his long-time collaboration with Welsh harpist Osian Ellis. If you're interested in reading more about the collaboration for the solo Suite for Harp, the American Harp Journal published a fascinating article by Barbara Poeschl-Edrich titled "Osian Ellis on Benjamin Britten's Suite for Harp".  Leave a comment below if you have any questions. I would love to hear what projects you are working on and what topics you would like me to address in my next set of Instagram mini-trainings! (If you don't follow me on Instagram, I post almost daily harp tips in my stories and would love for you to join me! @daniellekuntzharp)