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Two Impromptus for harp

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Jean Cras was well acquainted with the instrument thanks to his friendship with several harpists (Marcel Grandjany and Pierre Jamet among others), but he waited until 1925 before devoting a work to it. The Two Impromptus, performed by the Société musicale indépendante on 1 June 1927, were composed in the same period as the Duo for flute and harp, before the masterful Quintet for harp, flute, violin, alto, and cello (1930). Pierre Jamet (1893-1991), the dedicatee and the first to perform the work, appears to have played a significant role in its composition: the sketch of the impromptus, conceived by a pianist, was apparently impossible to perform and its interpreter had to advise the composer in order to make it better suited to the harp. Cras used this instrument in a typically twentieth-century manner: his aim was to create impressions of foreignness.  Exoticism of place, through the constant play on the pentatonic scale (occasionally tinged with whole-tone scales) or the frequent use of repeated short motifs. Exoticism of time, through a harmonic process suggesting the archaism of a make-believe mediaeval era. The two impromptus, connected by an extended glissando, form a lengthy improvisation where each new passage seems to have been spawned by the one before. However, whereas everything seems to suggest to the listener that the performer is merely following the train of his or her thought, the score proves that the composer contrived with great precision the variations of tempos and intensity of this gem of expressivity.



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