Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    Carlos Salzedo’s New Harpism: Principles of Idiomatic Harp Composition, Performance and Design
    van Leeuwen, Melina Claire ( 2020)
    Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961) fundamentally altered the teaching and playing of the harp in the twentieth century. A virtuoso performer, composer, conductor and teacher, he spent most of his life in the United States, having emigrated from France in 1909. However, his contribution to the harp was not limited to his performance activities, pedagogical work and compositions. This study combines traditional musicological research (entailing critical analysis, close reading and archival research) and performance-led research to reveal that behind his work there is an overarching ideological grounding. The thesis is organised into five chapters, with the addition of an introduction and conclusion. Chapter 1 provides a biographical overview of Salzedo’s life, as well as a brief commentary on the historical context of the double-action pedal harp. Chapter 2 presents a literature review and explains the methodological approach of the thesis. Chapter 3 examines the concepts written about by Salzedo in relation to his “new harpism” ideology, particularly the foundation principle of “essential resonance.” Chapter 4 explores the influence of fellow French composers Edgard Varese (1883-1965) and Dane Rudhyar (1895-1985). Chapter 5 considers Salzedo’s “esthetic laws” of harp composition: this entails identifying the idiomatic principles that Salzedo began to use in 1917 and providing a performer-oriented analysis of how these esthetic laws manifest in selected compositions, including unpublished works. The investigation of the esthetic laws and essential resonance reveals compelling insights into Salzedo’s body of work as a whole, unified by these concepts of new harpism. Salzedo’s status in the harp community is such that his method of playing continues to be prevalent to this day, and his compositions are highly popular worldwide. For harpists who follow his technique, this thesis offers an insight into the rationale behind their daily practices. Perhaps of greater significance, however, is the opportunity provided to composers, performers, conductors, musicologists, and harpists of any technical background, to understand the detailed reasoning behind one of the most idiomatic approaches to harp composition, performance and design that has ever been achieved. The thesis is complemented by a recorded performance component featuring Salzedo compositions, many of which are unpublished and have not been performed for over half a century. These two aspects of analysis and performance interact to produce a thorough understanding of his multi-faceted oeuvre.