Alphonse Hasselmans wrote 54 compositions, all for harp solo. Later on he adapted some of his compo- sitions in a version for chamber music. It is salon music that he composed mainly from a didactic point of view. Above all they had to help to develop a flawless playing technique. Every composition emphasises one playing technique that is typical for the harp. Some compositions were written clearly for beginning harp players. The bundles ‘Trois petites pièces’, ‘Trois petites bluettes’ and ‘Feuilles d’automne’ are obvi- ous examples. Other works such as ‘Valse de Concert’ and ‘Gitana’ have a true ‘concert level’. ‘La Source’ and ‘Follets’ clearly demonstrate an ‘étude character’.
In 1979 Lily Laskine said: “He wrote a quantity of pieces whose style is out of fashion today but which should absolutely not be scorned for teaching. Each one of these pieces, of medium difficulty, very melodic, teaches the student, without discouraging him, the very essence of the instrument and natural fingering.”
Fauré’s Impromptu – opus 86 for harp solo
In those days it was a habit at the Paris Conservatory that all students took an exam at the end of an academic year. That exam consisted of two parts. The first part came from the repertoire. The second part was a newly composed piece, which the student received only one month before the exam. The newly composed pieces were published secretly and the publisher knew that everything had to be ready for sale by the stated date. On that day every student rushed to the music shop to obtain his copy of the ‘imposed piece’.
In 1904 Gabriël Fauré was asked to compose a piece for the harp class, but he was so busy that he could not meet the deadline. It is possible that Fauré went to Hasselmans to tell him that he would not be able to finish the piece in time. Fact is that the piece never reached the publisher, and that the students of that year’s harp class went to Hasselmans’s house to make their own copy of the manuscript. Maybe Fauré only asked Hasselmans to adapt the piece for harp to begin with, but ended up asking him to finish the piece. Once Hasselmans had done that, there was no way back. Fauré was in the running to become director at the Conservatory and wanted to avoid any sort of scandal, so the whole matter was kept quiet. We will probably never know who really wrote the piece, but one can clearly distinguish two parts. In any case Fauré dedicated the piece to Hasselmans. That was the least he could do for his col- league and friend, who started a new era for the harp.
Translation: Joke Van Overstraeten