Judith Weir: King Harald’s Saga, Act I

Written by Harold Meltzer


In category: Song of the Day

Published July 21, 2016

I was twenty-three and living in Cambridge, England. My new soprano friend Amanda Dean introduced me to the music of Judith Weir through a wonderful performance of her 1979 monodrama King Harald’s Saga. “Harald” is described as a grand opera in three acts with an overall duration of slightly under ten minutes. And it’s a monodrama in the purest sense, in that the solo soprano is unaccompanied by instruments.  Weir’s incisive blend of wit and drama recreates the foolhardy expedition of a Norwegian king to conquer England. (He has his head handed to him, at the battle of Stamford Bridge, in 1066, a matter of weeks before the Normans defeated the Saxons at the battle of Hastings.) Eight roles are caricatured by the same singer, much as in the Ealing film Kind Hearts and Coronets the marvelous Alec Guinness plays eight heirs to a fortune, of both sexes and a variety of ages.  Here is Act I of the Weir, with Susan Bickley singing.

Judith Weir, King Harald’s Saga, Act I

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Award-winning composer Harold Meltzer “seems to write pieces of scrupulous craft and exceptional freshness, which makes each seem like an important contribution” (Fanfare Magazine).  A longtime friend of NYFOS, his music has been performed in several NYFOS programs and he was featured as a NYFOS Next curator in 2014. Harold is looking forward to the world premiere of his latest work, Variations on a Summer Day, on Sunday, July 24, as part of the Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music.


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