My exam piece project has reached Grade 6. We’re getting into the higher grades now and the music leaves plenty of room for interpretation and individuality.
I often hear this piece performed very slowly, but if you look at the metronome mark it should actually move along a bit.
First thing’s first, you need to be confident with your harmonics in this piece. Really make them as beautiful as you can. You’re in all flats so they should ring really nicely – Britten knew what he was doing.
The rhythm is tricky but exceedingly important, spend some time looking at the music away from the harp and really work out where each right hand chord should be played. In my opinion the entire first page is a slow build up to the climax of the piece at the top of the second page, so really play as quietly as you dare at the beginning.
There’s a section in which the left hand plays straight chords while the right hand is playing spread chords, I remember this taking a long time to master! It’s an important skill though and well worth the time invested.
The final line is also open to interpretation, some harpists stick to Britten’s exact markings in terms of the right hand glissandi, while others gliss more freely. I think this performance falls somewhere in between, trying to stick to Britten’s markings but also keeping the gliss flowing as much as possible.
If you haven’t heard the rest of the Ceremony of Carols, listen to it immediately (if you can listen to Christmas music in May). It’s atmospheric and very moving.
Do you play or teach this piece? Please leave any tips for students in the comments.
Thanks for reading.