Holý An Evening at Home
Among harpists-composers, Alfred Holý was considered the “last of the romantics”. He continued to write in a late-romantic idiom uniquely his, well into the 20th century. Most of his compositions stand out for their melodic invention and unique “turns of phrase” rather than technical innovations.
Holý was born in Oporto, Portugal where his Czech father was hired as a bandmaster, but grew up mainly in Prague. After studying violin and piano from childhood, he chose the harp as his main instrument for professional training at the Prague Conservatory. Soon he distinguished himself as an orchestral musician, first in Prague, then in Berlin where he joined Poenitz and Posse at the Imperial Opera Court Orchestra. He became known as “Mahler’s favorite harpist” when the composer-conductor pursued him to join the Vienna Court Opera under his directorship. Always eager for new musical adventures, Holý later moved to the United States to play with the Boston Symphony (under Muck) and teach at the New England Conservatory. Upon retiring, Holý and his wife reluctantly moved back to Austria, because their two sons were never able to join them in the New World. While, as a Czech national, he safely escaped the shunning of the German musicians during World War I in America, the Second World War (and its aftermath) was not kind to him and his family, and he spent his last days in Vienna in dire circumstances.
An Evening At Home, Four Easy Pieces, consists of Children’s Thoughts, At the Fireside, Youngsters At Play and A Little Dance. They serve as a good introduction to romantic music for the beginning pedal harpist. While the third piece could be played on non-pedal harp, the last piece ups the ante by weaving arpeggios into a whirlwind that leaves the harpist on her toes and the dancer grasping for air!
The third piece has been used as an exam piece in all the music schools in Flanders (Belgium), and as a competition piece in the Yvonne La Mothe Schwager biennial harp competition in San Francisco.
Following the collection An Evening At Home and the six easy pieces contained in In Toyland, op. 30 (a Lyra Music Company edition – now owned by Vanderbilt Music Company), the Three Sketches go to the next level of difficulty and provide enough food for thought to satisfy the musings of the advanced harpist, while their miniature size makes them accessible to the medium advanced player as well. Each one is a perfectly chiseled little jewel, polished on every side. They make wonderful studies in phrasing, with the second one bringing to mind the subtle language of Fauré.