3 cl(I in A.I+II in Bb=bcl) – perc(1): 3 susp.cym/siz.cym/BD/wood chimes/shell chimes/2 pair med marimba mallets with small rattles attached/7 gongs/6 susp.gongs/mar/2 pedal rototoms/timp/marimbula/grand pno – 3 vla.3 vlc(III=rain stick)
This piece takes its title from a painting by Daniel Maclise (1806–1870) in the Manchester City Art Gallery. Its subject is the mock Celtic Legend of a water nymph who falls for a mortal and struggles hopelessly to leave her element and join him on land. The Gods, taking pity on her failure, intervene and turn her into a harp, transforming her weeping into a gentle music of wind through strings. The painting shows her in the moment preceding the metamorphosis, the strands of her hair framed by a triangle of her body, a rock and her arm. In
this piece, too, the harp itself is not featured but suggested, at the start of the fourth and final section, after a flash of divine intervention.
© Thomas Adès
'Adès’ brilliantly accomplished short work, The Origin of the Harp … evokes a painting of a love-lorn water nymph being changed into a harp, but does nothing so obvious as deploy an actual harp. The music is as subtle and elliptical as a Sibelius tone-poem.'
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 11 December 1994
'The instrumentation might suggest something dark and lugubrious, but it is a luminous score, full of colour and melody. Its aquatic imagery mirrors a Celtic myth of a water nymph whom the gods transform into a harp. At first, the phrases lap like gentle waves, then writhe and tumble. It is good to hear a new piece that is so purely enjoyable without being backward-looking.'
The Daily Telegraph (Brian Hunt), 27 June 1995
'There was a more organic transformation in Thomas Adès’ The Origin of the Harp. His sumptuous chromaticism and dense polyphony coalesced into a vibrant shimmer of strummed strings accompanying an impassioned cello melody. Adès himself conducted with pleading intensity.'
The Guardian (Tom Service), 1 February 2000
'The score that really showed where Adès is heading is The Origin of the Harp. The music captures the aura of Celtic mythology in the Daniel Maclise painting that inspired it, but with a broad palette also featuring the mbira (African thumb piano) and a rainstick, this was a mesmerising performance.'
The Times (John Allison), 1 February 2000