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Program note: Where Once Narcissus Died... for harp solo (1998)

  • Dominik Karski
  • Source: The Song Company Modern Arts Series 16,17 June 2001

Where Once Narcissus Died... for harp solo (1998) Dominik Karski (b. 1972)
"The concept for "'Where Once Narcissus Died..." emerged from a song by Debussy called "La Grotte"
(The Grotto) which he composed to the words by Tristan Lhermite. The title for the harp piece was taken
directly from the poem, this choice was made before any notes were put to paper, so that the concept of
what was to be written could be somehow defined. In the end, it turned out that most of the material was
derived from one simple fingering pattern on the harp. During the piece, the pattern is shifted across the
harp and combined with changing pedal settings (which occur at an extremely slow rate to produce a sense
of harmonic stillness), different rhythmic patterns, and playing techniques (such as harmonics).
The pattern consists of four notes arranged symmetrically through the intervals of fourth, second, and
fourth (any form of the two intervals is acceptable, depending on the positions of the pedals). The
symmetry of the four-note pattern resembles the theme of the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his
own image reflected in the water. The suffering caused by his inability to part with it - and thus to leave
the grotto led to his transformation into a flower. The only witness to the scene was the nymph Echo, who
could only repeat his words - just like the harmonics in the piece follow the main line, but are falling
behind more and more, thus forming an independent counterpoint after just a few bars.
The level of intricacy on the small-scale was intended to serve the large-scale effect, of which aim was to
create a sense of depth in terms of texture, colour, and emotion (surprisingly?). Those elements of the piece
carry a natural expressive "charge" that is the synthesis of the influences of Debussy's song, the myth, and
the very distinctive timbre of the harp." Dominik Karski