The full extent of the harp’s expressive range is beautifully showcased in this elegant and refined work. Written in response to a commission by the harp manufacturer Erard, the work aimed to promote the company’s new double- action harp. (It is characteristic of Ravel’s career that this commission came shortly after the Pleyel Instrument Company had similarly asked Claude Debussy to write a work for their new chromatic harp).
While the harp part is thoroughly idiomatic, Ravel at times also explores the harp-like characteristics of the accompanying instruments. But although it has been described as a ‘miniature concerto’, the winds and strings are an essential part of the piece’s richly varied fabric.
The opening melody of the Introduction and Allegro is touched with sadness. It is not long, however, before a sleight of hand transforms the music into something more optimistic and hopeful. This is mirrored on a larger scale in the work as a whole: the slow Introduction soon gives way to an Allegro section filled with intricate shadings of light and dark.