Harp of Wild

  • Composer: Allan Bevan 
  • Publisher: formerly classica Music Publishers; contact the composer
  • Canadian Work: Yes
  • Duration: 4:00
  • Sample Track:

Conductor Notes:

The text for this tender, endearing work is Emily Bronte’s beautiful poem “Harp of Wild”. Written for SSAA and Piano accompaniment, Bevan sets the text above an imaginative piano accompaniment that allows the pianist to play well into the keys while at the same time convincingly evoking the sounds of a harp. This type of accompaniment gives the choir a secure and encouraging base from which to sing and yet never gets in the way of the music or the text. The harmonic language is adventurous but not dissonant. Bevan is explicit in his dynamics and precise in tempi. This provides the conductor, pianist and singers with an excellent road map from which to work, thereby allowing them to bring the primary emphasis to the text and its meaning. Excellent compositional craft is at work here with phrases, dynamics, and choices of keys all supporting and highlighting the glorious, poignant lines of Bronte’s text. This piece won the 2004 Association of Canadian Choral Conductors Composition Competition. Once you sing it, you’ll understand why. – DL

Composer / Arranger Notes:

Harp of Wild was composed in May 2003, and was written especially for the 2003-2004 Association of Canadian Choral Conductor’s Composition Competition. It was named as the winning number in the treble-voice category of the competition and was premiered by The National Youth Choir of Canada, Kathryn Laurin, conductor, Tim Shantz, associate conductor at the biennial conference of the ACCC, Podium 2004 in Winnipeg, May 20, 2004.

Harp of Wild sets a text by Emily Bronte (1818-1848) who wrote her poetry in a kind of “white heat”. Perhaps as a result of the speed at which she wrote, the poem exhibits improvisatory and ephemeral qualities that I wanted to somehow capture in my setting. The theme of the text describes how the sound of the poet’s harp is perceived by the writer, both now and in the past. She remembers the “good old days” and the beautiful and happy sounds that the harp used to produce. She contrasts this sharply with how the harp only seems able to elicit disillusionment, and “sounds of sorrow” now.

The piano in my setting is used to suggest the harp and it helps to provide support for the divergent colourings of each of her stanzas. With its insistent repetition of small figures the piano suggests the ‘stubbornness’ of the recurring memories that the writer experiences throughout the poem. The conflict between 3/4 and 6/8 in the choral parts describes the unsettled feeling of the narration and the duality of bittersweet emotion that the poem exhibits. The 6/8 meter and the nature of the opening choral melody with its repetition of the melodic third is another important element in conveying the writer’s intense nostalgia for the untroubled times of the past.


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Poet: Emily Bronte (1818-1848)

Harp of wild and dreamlike strain,
When I touch thy strings,
Why does thou repeat again
Long-forgotten things?

Harp, in other earlier days,
I could sing to thee;
And not one of all my lays
Vexed my memory.

But now, if I awake a note
that gave me joy before,
Sounds of sorrow from thee float,
changing evermore.

Yet still steeped in memory’s dyes,
they come sailing on.
Darkening all my summer skies,
shutting out my sun.