Thursday, February 17, 2011

Libertango - Glass Duo

It is a little known fact that the part normally played on flute in Donizetti's opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, was originally composed for the glass harp - so says Beverly Sills. It is not a fact that Piazzolla originally composed Libertango to be played on the glass harp, but today's video demonstrates that he could have.

The glass harp is but one of many members of the family of instruments known as crystallphones. The sound is created by gently rubbing a wet fingertip on the rim of a crystal wine glass - give it a try, preferably in a quiet restaurant. Typically, the set of wine glasses that comprise a glass harp are tuned by filling them with varying levels of water but the musicians in today's video, Anna and Arkadiusz Szafraniec who perform as Glass Duo, play a dry version of the glass harp where the glasses are specifically created to create the desired pitches while unfilled. The dry format was invented in the early 19th century but was popularized by Bruno Hoffmann who is almost singlehandedly responsible for the resurrection of the instrument in modern times and is also responsible for the name "glass harp" (there are many other names for a set of "singing glasses"). The set of glasses that Glass Duo play covers five full octaves and they suggest it is the largest glass harp in the world.

I was drawn to this video by the novelty of the instrument but it is the intense musicality of the performance that retained my interest. These are incredible musicians who have created a sensitive and unique arrangement of Libertango. Listen to the rhythmic complexity, the subtle dynamics, the pure harmonies - and watch the incredible synchronization of the performers. You are watching, I suspect, not just today's best glass harp musicians but quite probably the best the world has seen - ever. There are a number of performances captured on their YouTube channel. One of those is mandatory viewing for all readers of this blog: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. They also have produced two CD's of their music available for purchase on their website.

I hope Glass Duo will branch out beyond the almost trite Libertango and explore more broadly Piazzolla's music. Many of his works would be most interesting played on the glass harp.

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