La Harpe Reine
Musique à la Cour de Marie Antoinette
Xavier de Maistre, harp
Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, conductor
Harmonia Mundi, 2016
The purpose of La Harpe Reine is to struggle «against the cliché that reduces the harp to an instrument for aristocratic salons, reserved for young ladies of good family. Having succeeded, […] I wanted to understand the origins of this image that has such deep roots in the popular imagination by going back to the time of Marie-Antoinette. When the young archduchess arrived from Vienna with a harp in her luggage, the instrument was already present at Versailles, since the daughters of Louis XV played it. But it was Marie-Antoinette who was to create an unprecedented vogue. She took a lesson for an hour and a half every morning, and liked to accompany herself when she sang at small concerts of chamber music in her private apartments. One may speak of a genuine golden age from 1760 onwards. […] While every girl in polite society practised the harp, it was essentially men who taught the instrument and played it in concert. The craze for it stimulated the emergence of an abundant and specific repertory that gradually differentiated it from keyboard instruments in concerts. Virtuosos converged on Versailles from all over Europe and dedicated their works to the young Queen. It is this original, unrecorded and highly agreeable repertory that we wished to revive here» (quote from Xavier de Maistre’s introduction to the booklet).
The album La Harpe Reine collects Haydn’s famous Concerto “La Reine”, as it was nicknamed after Marie Antoinette expressed her predilection for it, and two works by two minor composers, the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra no. 5 in B flat major by Jean Baptiste Krumpholt (a pupil of Haydn and the most acclaimed harp virtuoso of the late XVIII century, a prolific composer for the instrument and instrument designer too) and the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra no. 1 in F major by Johann David Hermann (about whom little is known, but he wrote many concerts for harp and keyboard).
The last piece of the recording is a transcription by Xavier de Maistre from Christoph Willibald Gluck from Orphée et Eurydice.
La Harpe Reine is a lively, colourful recording, which gives the listener an hour of pleasure with light, joyful music which is not very much different (except for inspiration, of course) by that of other, more famous composers of this period. It is obvious that I am not referring to Haydn here (we knew and loved him yet), but to Krumpholtz and Hermann. They are not very deep composers, but they have intelligence and taste and their compositions are lovely. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are exquisite and harpist Xavier de Maistre is an excellent performer and plays his instrument with brilliance and elegance. Listen for example to the beautiful O ma endre musette and to the fluidity of the harp, or to the nice Romance of the Symphony La Reine or to the delicate accompaniment of the orchestra in Hermann’s Rondo, just to remember a piece of every composition.