Concerto for Harp and Orchestra

Concerto for Harp and Orchestra
I. Dialogues (“Heralding and Joyous”)
II. Variants (“Still and Gently Moving”)
III. Contrasts (“Very Quick and Vibrant”)
Dan Locklair (b. 1949)

The creation of my Concerto for Harp and Orchestra spanned the spring and summer of 2004. A consortium commission from a group of American orchestras, the force behind the project was the outstanding American harpist, Jacquelyn Bartlett (the performer of the majority of the initial performances of the piece). Ms. Bartlett’s mother, Mary J. Bartlett (former harpist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra), provided the original financial impetus for the commission and it is to this energetic and remarkable woman that this concerto is warmly dedicated.

In three movements, the approximately nineteen-minute concerto is scored for pairs of woodwinds, horns, trumpets, one timpani, two percussion players and strings. The slow and lyrical second movement, Variants, is the heart and soul of the concerto as its harmonic materials form the basis for the entire composition.

I. Dialogues (“Heralding and Joyous”) – Structurally influenced by sonata form, this movement is based on the Mixolydian mode (G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G, though transposed throughout). The distinctive flat-seven scale degree progression of the Mixolydian mode (G to A) is immediately heard in the first measure. This idea, as well as the relationship reflected by it, plays an important role in the movement. The harp immediately enters with heralding chords and is quickly answered by the orchestra as it develops the harmonic and open-fifth melodic idea first heard in the opening measure. Rhythmically cast in shifting asymmetric meters, this beginning section alternates and develops these initial ideas as the harmony constantly shifts throughout. Continuing this harmonic shift (though now metrically less irregular), a slower and expressive second section soon appears where the harp and orchestra develop in lyrical dialogue an expansive melody rooted in the first section. As the opening section is analogous to the “exposition” of sonata form, the next section (the middle section) is analogous to the “development” section. Yet, there is a twist. The traditional “exposition” section is usually relatively stable harmonically, yet the “development” section quite unstable. Here, though, these qualities are reversed, with the middle section being rooted in only one tonality : G Mixolydian. It is gently dancelike in quality and, with its five sections, has characteristics of rondo form (thereby foreshadowing the concerto’s final movement). Analogous to the traditional “recapitulation” in sonata form, a variant of the opening “Heralding and Joyous” section returns to vibrantly close the movement.

II. Variants (“Still and Gently Moving”) – The harmonic basis for this movement and the entire concerto is a group of harmonies built on all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale : G, E, F, D, E-flat, C, A, F-sharp, B-flat, D-flat, C-flat, A-flat. Largely unrelated to each other in traditional harmony, this harmonic series develops its own logic throughout the movement and also provides melodic material for this and the other two movements of the piece. The movement opens with the orchestra stating a serene chordal statement of the harmonic series, which is soon followed by the rhapsodic entrance of the harp that begins to develop the original harmonic series. The remainder of the movement systematically develops this harmonic (chaconne-like) idea through harmonic shifts, omission of chords and overall serialization of the harmonic series. The Lydian (F,G,A,B,C,D,E,F – untransposed) and Dorian (D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D – untransposed) modes both play harmonic roles in this movement.

III. Contrasts (“Very Quick and Vibrant”) – This movement is inspired by the traditional five-part rondo form. The Lydian mode is central to the harmony of the opening, energetic section as the open fifth idea of the first movement is further developed here. A contrasting second section is typical of the traditional rondo, but here the contrast is enormous as the music shifts to a more lyrical nature, with slower tempo and a harmonic basis on the tonal Pentatonic scale. (This five-note scale is equivalent to the black notes on the piano and, here, is derived from the second movement’s harmonic series). The first section of the movement briefly returns and is followed by a fourth section that further develops the contrasting, lyrical second idea. A rather brief harp cadenza soon emerges, which is then followed by a return and further development of the movement’s opening “Very Quick and Vibrant” first section. Hints of the concerto’s flat-seven idea from the first movement help in bringing the concerto to an energetic and festive conclusion.

Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, North Carolina