Monday, 19 March 2012

Ina Boyle: The Magic Harp: Rhapsody for Orchestra

I recently reviewed the new Dutton Epoch CD (CDLX 7276 ) of Dan Godfrey Encores. One of the treats on this disc was Ina Boyle’s ‘The Magic Harp’: Rhapsody for Orchestra.  The work was given its first performance on 16 December 1920 with Sir Dan Godfrey conducting.  It was played a number of times in succeeding years.
Ina Boyle (1889-1967) was a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams and this is reflected in this stunningly beautiful work. The Rhapsody received a Carnegie Award in 1919 and then taken up by Dan Godfrey in the following year. It proudly stands alongside Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies and Hamilton Harty’s With the Wild Geese, for evoking the mood of the Emerald Isle. This magical piece achieves its success by eschewing the sentimentality of the Moore’s Irish Melodies but manages to create a mood that evokes history, myth and landscape. It is a masterpiece.

The other day, I found a programme note for the work in the Bournemouth Library: it is worth posting here.
‘The Rhapsody is based on the following note by Eva Gore-Booth [1] to her poem ‘The Harper’s Song of the Seasons.’  The Durd Alba (the wind among the apple trees) was the magical harp of the ancient gods of Ireland. It had three strings – the iron string of sleep, the bronze string of laughter, and the silver string, the sound of which made all men weep. These three strings were supposed to evoke the three seasons into which the year was then divided.’
After a short introduction, consisting of the ‘Magic Harp’ motif, followed by fragments of themes to be used later, comes the first of the three chief sections of the work, ‘molto lento e sostenuto’[2], descriptive of the frozen sleep of the earth in winter. The theme is given by the lower strings. – later brief phrases of flute and oboe suggest a gleam of wintry light, which quickly fades away. This is followed by an episode, ‘pui mosso’[3], leading to the second section, allegro leggiero e animato [4], illustrative of the gradual awakening of earth, the bursting forth of bud and blossom, and the light winds of summer. After a central portion, ‘meno mosso tranquillo’[5], the solo woodwind against a background of harp and sustained strings, the allegro is resumed working to a climax. This is interrupted when at its height by the ‘Magic Harp’ motif, the allegro is broken off, and the music dies down, leading, after a pause to the third section, ‘adagio ma non troppo’, and a lament for the fragile and fleeting loveliness of spring. A repetition of the ‘Harp’ motif brings the rhapsody to an end’.
Ina Boyle’s The Magic Harp: Rhapsody for Orchestra can be heard on YouTube

I have given the English terms for the musical directions. I had an email from somebody telling me that I must not assume everyone understands the terminology!
[1] Eva Selina Laura Gore-Booth (1870-1926) was an Irish poet and dramatist, and a committed suffragist, social worker and labour activist. (Wikipedia)
[2] Very slow and smoothly
[3] Faster
[4] Fast, lightly and lively
[5] Slower and calmly
[6] Slow but not too slowly!

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