Earth, Wind, Fire
Concertino for Two Harps
and Orchestra


2 harp soli; 2 flute, 2d fl doubles piccolo; oboe, English horn; 2 clarinets, 2d double bass clarinet; 2 bassoons; 2 horns; 2 trumpets; percussion; strings

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2003, rev. 2010

Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, Donald Spieth, director,
Andrea and Samantha Wittchen, harps, 2003

Lehigh Choral Arts, Steven Sametz, director,
Andrea and Samantha Wittchen, harps, 2010 (revised and expanded version)

Jointly commissioned by Andrea Wittchen and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, Donald Spieth, director

Lehigh Choral Arts
Steven Sametz, director
Andrea and Samantha Wittchen, harps

ESC No. 6929-30

Program Notes

When harpist Andrea Wittchen first approached me with the idea of writing a concerto for harp – possibly for two harps– we sat down and discussed what kind of piece she had in mind. We talked about some of the harp parts I’d written for her in the past in larger orchestral pieces, and she pointed out some of the colors and textures she’s found particularly resonant. Three musical “feelings” came out of this conversation: Andrea wanted something that would be serene, something that featured “atmospheric” or unusual textures from the contemporary harp literature; and lastly, she told me a story about when she was a young harpist her father had shown her a cartoon where a frenzied harpist had just completed a work and the strings were coming undone and the harp was in flames. And she said: “I want to finish like that….” The conception moved from single harp and orchestra to two harps and orchestra to be written for Andrea and her daughter, Samantha. The resulting piece is Earth, Wind, Fire. The opening movement, Earth, is a gradually unfolding crescendo evocative of a time-lapse photo of the earth’s rotation as seen from space; it is also an invocation to the beauty of nature. The second movement, Wind, is a study in textural writing for harp and orchestra with the rustling and rushing of winds. The harpists use tuning forks to create a tremolo in the high register while shifting pedals to alter the harmonic frequency of the sounding board. Behind this, orchestral coloration from harmonic glissandi in the strings and later in the French horn creates a slightly ominous sense of Wind, as the storms build and move without break to the final movement, Fire. Motives from the first and second movements are transformed in virtuosic writing for the two harps, culminating in a fughetto on a theme from the opening movement. By the end, whole orchestra is on fire. Writing for one harp is complicated: only seven notes are available at a time with pedals controlling the chromatic pitches. It’s a chess game where you are always thinking a few steps ahead to see if the notes you want will be available. Writing for two harps is like playing two games of chess at the same time and thinking out several sets of moves ahead on each board. In a perfect world art, like chess, appears effortless. When Earth, Wind, Fire was premiered in 2003 by the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Donald Spieth, the first remarks were “it’s too short!” The 2010 version expands and revises the original material, incorporating a new ostinato idea in the middle movement and giving the work an even more fiery conclusion. I am grateful to my friend and long-time colleague, Andrea Wittchen, for her continued interest in seeing this concerto grow and mature.