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ALPHONSE HASSELMANS - HARPIST

The legendary French harpist writes a letter on two pages of a correspondence card, March 6, no place, no date.

Dear Mademoiselle, I am anticipating taking the train that will arrive at Tours at 4:30.  I would appreciate it if you could send someone to the station to take charge in transporting my harp to….  I would also appreciate it if you could tell Mr. Bériot who to my knowledge will be at your house the eve of my arrival, I was counting on him to have a little conversation with my son before dinner.  I thank you in advance dear Mademoiselle and will be seeing you soon…….

Hasselmans (1845-1912) was born in Belgium.  His Father Joseph was a conductor, harpist and Director of the Strasbourg Conservatoire.  He studied with a series of major harpists, Gottlieb Krüger in Stuttgardt, Xavier Desargus in Brussels and Ange-Conrad Prumier in Paris.  He initially was a harpist at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, the major opera house there.  His major break came in 1877 when he performed 7 concerts in Paris showcasing his virtuoso abilities on the instrument and was immediately appointed solo harpist with the Concerts de Conservatoire, the Opera de Paris and the Opera Comique in Paris. In 1884, upon the death of his teacher Prumier, he was appointed Professor of Harp at the Paris Conservatoire.  Hasselmans was imposing, 6’2” in height and a task master according to his pupils.  He did not suffer fools gladly.  That said, he almost single handedly revived interest in the harp.  He designed the modern pedal harp for the piano manufacture Érard, whose studios he used for his private pupils.  His Conservatoire pupils were all of the major harpists of the latter part of the 19th and the 20th Century.  Lily Boulanger, Marcel Grandjany, Pierre Jarnet, Lily Laskine, Henriette Reni, Carlos Salzedo and Marcel Tournier all came to the Conservatoire to study with him.  His compositions are difficult and his concerts which always featured his works were known for his Paganini-like skill.  Major French composers wrote and dedicated works to him including Fauré and his Impromptu for Harp (mostly written by Hasselmans in 1904 for the concours, a Fauré could not finish the work in time), Pierne’s Concertstück pour Harpe et Orchestre, Saint-Saëns Trompette pour Harpe and Widor’s Choral et Variations for Harpe et Orchestre are among the many.  He also often played chamber music, one of his frequent partners was Paul Taffanel, the flautist and fellow Professor at the Conservatoire. He remained at the Conservatoire until his death in 1912.

The Hasselmans story does not end there.  His son Louis, a cellist and mentioned briefly in the letter became a conductor.  He spent 15 seasons conducting at the Metropolitan and Chicago Opera Companies.  His daughter Marguerite was a pianist and the mistress of composer Gabriel Fauré, apparently with her Father’s blessing.  Marguerite was a legendary figure in music circles  who spoke Russian, read philosophy and smoked in public.  That said, it was claimed she was otherwise a private person.  However, her relationship with Fauré apparently destroyed his relationship with Marguerite Long.

Charles Wilfred de Bériot mentioned in the letter was a French pianist.  Son of the virtuoso violinist Charles de Bériot and opera singer Maria Malibran, he was Sigismund Thalberg’s only well known pupil.  He taught for many years at the Paris Conservatoire including, Enrique Granados, Maurice Ravel, Riccardo Vines, Joseph Bonnal, Justin Elie, Paul Loyonnet, Joachium Alats and Albert Lavignac.

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