Happy Birthday, Salzedo!

Carlos Salzedo: harpist, composer, teacher, innovator, born April 6. 1885. I never met him, but my teacher was his student, and I have had many opportunities to talk with others of his students.  I love the stories, much like I love hearing family stories about relatives I never knew. But in the true tradition of music, my deepest connection to Salzedo comes through his recordings and his compositions, the living legacy of any great musician.

Salzedo’s vision of the harp was groundbreaking, rewriting the future of the harp in ways no one would have expected. He created a total picture of a new instrument for the brand-new twentieth century, an instrument that was capable of adhering to tradition while exploring the possibilities of the new musical aesthetic. He extended the techniques and, in that way, the tonal language of the instrument. His music may appeal to you or not, but Salzedo opened the harp to the twentieth century, and the world to the harp.

Every great performer has a unique and identifiable personality. Just as you can immediately identify James Galway’s flute or a song sung by Sinatra, you can distinguish a Salzedo performance immediately. His rich sound, flawless and brilliant, is compelling in itself. But beyond that there is his total artistry, the variety in his tone color, his total mastery of the craft of music through the medium of the harp. Others may prefer a different musical or harpistic sensibility, but to me, Salzedo’s harp playing is the ideal, my impossible dream.

And playing his music is fun. It is challenging in every way; technically, musically, and artistically. Even the short student works are little compositional gems. “Night Breeze,” for one.  And the concert pieces (among my favorites: Ballade, Sonata for Harp and Piano) are exhilarating.

My favorite? Scintillation. The angularity of the opening section, the tonal richness of the rhythmic Aeolian chords, the sparkling “scintillating” section represent to me the complexity and fullness of his compositional personality. To hear a recording of him playing the piece feels like looking at a self-portrait. To play the piece feels a little like a conversation with him, getting to know him and paying my small tribute.

Happy birthday, Maître, and thank you!

Additional Resources (these are sponsored links):
Pentacle: The Story of Carlos Salzedo and the Harp
Salzedo’s Harp


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