John Marson: A Day in the Life of…, Chamber Music with Harp John Marson: A Day in the Life of…, Chamber Music with Harp


  • Artist(s): Alicia Steanson, Andrew Morley, Anna Astesano, Anna Cameli, Ben Mason, Cara Dawson, Chloe Kousmer-Kerr, Clara Gatti Comini, Clara Sophie Krüger, Daniel Pukach, Gabriella Dall’Olio, Gloria Rappo, Greta Papa, Helen Daniels, Imogen Emmett, Iona Duncan, Kelljia Moncaka, Laura Crobu, Laura Marquino, Laura Marquino Falguera, Lucia Foti, Maria McNamee, Olivia Bell, Olivia Fraser, Xinyi Wu
  • Composer(s): John Marson
  • EAN Code: 7.46160914848
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 2 Cds
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Clarinet, Harp, Soprano, Violin
  • Period: Contemporary
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00649 Category:

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This set of two CDs of John’s music coming out on the 15th anniversary of his death, celebrates the harp and British music, and the life of a person who has deeply loved and lived for music and for the harp!

John Marson was a dear friend to many. I myself have fond memories of shared concerts, playing together, and after he retired playing his music while he was in the audience; long talks with cups of tea (he drank it black) and cakes. John liked cakes! Quirky and totally obsessed by the harp, John’s fast-working brain brought him to write a book to codify all possible glissandi and pedal combinations well before the modern computer existed, and to undertake research in libraries and beyond about harps, composers, hidden publications, and manuscripts before the field even had a name.

A real musician of his time and in all senses, he learnt much about what he knew on the road and guided by his own curiosity. While he did have harp lessons from Marie Goossens at the Royal College of Music, he soon left to embark on tours around the world with opera companies and symphony orchestras, working in recording studios, and playing with the good and mighty of the time, including playing music by, and under the baton of, Igor Stravinsky, and recording the music of Charlie Chaplin with the actor and composer present. I learnt many life and music lessons from John since my arrival in London in 1995 as we were neighbours, and on Planet London vicinity certainly guarantees more friendly relations.

Since his death in 2007, and in honour of the legacy he left to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where I have been teaching since 1999, it felt natural to honour him with a harp prize in his name, and to encourage appreciation of his music among students, professionals, and audiences alike. His writing is not always idiomatic – sometimes the harmonies shift so suddenly and so far from home that it seems there are more pedal movements than notes – but always sensitive and beautiful. Though not contemporary in the classical sense – John liked tonality and playing with it – it has clear influences from the wealth of music he performed and listened to, and from the musicians and composers he worked with, from Bach to the Beatles (we can catch a glimpse of him in the music video of ‘A Day in the Life’ from Sergeant Pepper back in 1967), film music, and musical theatre alongside the more classical repertoire. John was principal harpist in the London Symphony Orchestra and later in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In autumn 2020, after the first COVID-19 lockdown, Trinity Laban resumed in-person lessons, classes, and chamber music coaching. I had the idea to prepare some of his works as for a proper CD recording in a conservatoire setting. Earlier this year then came the natural step to actually produce the CDs. All of John’s music is interesting and has merit; it deserves to be listened to and performed, and I hope that many will enjoy listening to this recording, or will want to perform some of the compositions themselves. I have coached all musicians and assisted with the recording process, as well as having also been a performer amongst all other performers. We all enjoyed the journey and I hope you will all enjoy listening!

Gabriella Dall’Olio © July 2022

Many of the works are dedicated to John’s colleagues and friends, and are incidental works. Some others are more structured and long. As John worked with some famous wonderful (mostly but not only) British musicians, all would have premiered his works and kept plying them during their lifetime in solo and chamber music concerts, and he would often go and listen to them.

El Picaflor (The Hummingbird) was written around 1995. The cheerful work of South American inspiration in D major revolves around the theme of the hummingbird going from flower to flower and his adventures. There is a central section that invites to romance or a dream, before the reprise, and final coda. John gave me a copy of the original score before it was printed and told me how he imagined it to sound.

XL, This was written for Gabriella Dall’Olio on her 40th Birthday, as a birthday present. The original bears the handwriting ‘for she who excels in many things’….a pun and an elegant game of words, since XL is also 40 in Roman numbers, and Gabriella is of Italian origins. The short miniature uses a theme from one of John’s string quartets.

Two Miniatures for Oboe and Harp bear only the titles “And From A Turret I’ll Behold My Love “To Leave Her So, And Not Once Say Farewell” and sound like an aria or lament, andante sostenuto, followed by a quick dance, allegro di bravura.

Sonatina for violin and harp. This work was originally written for mouth harmonica and harp, and specifically written for Tommy Reilly and Skaila Kanga in 1981/82, who played it for the BBC and recorded it. When Tommy stopped performing on the harmonica, John decided to transcribe the work for Violin, in a way acknowledging that ‘had world events not prevented him from completing his studies of that instrument. His playing was ways inspired by violinists, and that is why this reworking of the piece now appears as a logical development’.

Prelude, Song and Dance for six harps. This work was composed around 1978 and premiered In Holland in 1979; it  should be described as a concerto for solo harp with five ripieno harps accompanying, allowing the soloist freedom with the textural and harmonic interest a harp ensemble can produce. The interval of a semitone is important: the prelude opens with bitonal chords D major and C# major, and the clash is always present. The Prelude resolve the dissonances with a comfortable resolution. The Song also starts with a semitone and becomes a lyrical melody, utilising F major and Gb minor as chromatic tension. “The Dance is nothing of the sort: I could not think of a better title”. The semitone is now a grace note. “A 3/8 motif sounds as though it must become a fugue. It never does[….] The work ends in D major, with just a hint of C# piquancy”.

The Enzyme Song.

The night the enzymes had their ball with fun and food and drink for all, aperitifs and nibbl’d bites did wonders for their appetites. Hours D’oeuvres, salmon smok’d and svelte slipp’d quickly underneath the belt, with melon and a Melba toast a fitting prelude to the roast. Appropriate windows, like tidal vases, slurp’d around the little braves who dealt impartially with beans,  courgettes and peas and aubergines. All smothered by sauce bordelaise there seem’d enough for days and days. With each new dish a fitting wine would circulate right down the line; amd Fred, a connoisseur who knew, identified each premier cru and chateau by its fine bouquet. It was, he said, a splendid day. Desserts, flambéed with loving care, and cheeses – Fred adores Gruyère- came floating down as if from heaven from eight to quarter past eleven. Event’ally one could detect the infrastructure, not erect, was groaning by the rubbish bin: Oh God!, I’ve really done it in! But, careless of the pin and noise, old Fred, and the Enzyme boys continues to break down the slime into components parts. In time, Fred contemplated with a shiver, ten arteries would fur, and liver, give up the unequal task. But what more could an Enzyme ask, than such rich plenty? What a roast, what splendid food! Let’s raise a toast, together, let us all repeat: you are, what your enzymes eat!

Song for Kate, Was written for the birth of Kate, the daughter of two of John’s dearest life friends: Jenny Ward-Clarke and Michael Foss. The manuscript bears the writing: To Kate (born 19th September 1974) from John (born 19th September 1932). The words and music are from John.

Share a Birthday with a friend and that friendship never will end. Nice to know that someone will always remember. when you are lonely sing out loud; tell yourself you are one of a crowd, celebrating the nineteenth of September. If ev’ry one born on our day could join us, how exciting! We could make a birthday cake that would teach to the sky, and cover it with icing! I’ve had many years to wait, for my little birthday friend, Kate. Now you’re here, I am glad to be able to say ‘How’d you do!’ And where ever we may be, just think for a moment of me, ‘cos I’ll be saying ‘many happy returns to you’.

The Lady Harpist. This is a funny poem well-known to harpists, and a few drawings and satiric paintings have been circulating for decades. It is attributed to Lawrence McKinnon

If there is one lady in the bunch, | To find her takes no special hunch, | Or sight particularly sharp, | She is the girl, the girl who hugs the harp.

The very longest tuner upper, | She has to have an early supper, | And seated on a lonesome chair, | Proceeds to wind up the affair.

Then she will sit and sit and wait | Dispassionate and desolate | Til the conductor nod or frown | Sets her to stroking up and down | And after these chromatic bits | She simply sits and sits and sits…

If there is one lady in the bunch, | To find her takes no special hunch, | Or sight particularly sharp, | She is the girl, the girl who hugs the harp.

A harpist must have lots of plucks; | A black silk costume; | And a truck!

Arcadian Sketches. Dedicated to Fiona Cross and Hugh Webb, two wonderful virtuosos of their instruments and friends of John, and as the title says depicts two moments of an imaginary bucolic landscape…..but in the 20th Century rural Britain, rather than Greece!

Waltzes and Promenades is dedicated to Isobel Frailing-Cork and David Dunn and alternates dances and arias, with some jazzy harmonies and rhythms towards its resolution. Both parts are soloistic or accompanying the other in turns and relate to each other like a real couple dancing and chatting while walking.

Excursions for flute (or violin) and harp was written for and dedicated to for Alison Myles and Catherine White, and established and busy flute and harp duo. After a calm preludes and landscapes, an aria follows, ending with a bicycle ride: this is of course again a sort of game of words, implying a fast pace in the mouvement, but also many pedal passages, left and right, making the harpist….pedalling like on a pushbike!

Three Romances for flute or violin and harp, written for Gillian Findlay and Karen Vaughan, is a short collection of three airs of melancholic past memories, places and people.

Suite for Flute and Harp is dedicated to Linda Coffin. The work is very long and substantial and the titles are quite telling.


Alicia Steanson is a professional flautist currently residing in London, having recently graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire, where she studied under the tuition of Susan Milan and Fiona Kelly. At the age of 12, Alicia was awarded a scholarship as a specialist musician at Wells Cathedral School, where she achieved her Performance Diploma and performed internationally as part of an outstanding Wind Quintet. Notable achievements include winning the Trinity Laban Flute Cup and the Two Moors Young Musicians' Platform. She was recently appointed as visiting flute teacher at Radlett Preparatory School in London and continues to perform across the UK.

Andrew Morley - Conductor
In a career spanning two decades, Andrew has worked with distinguished soloists and has given the premiere of a new work for ‘DJ’ and ensemble by Gabriel Prokofiev; prepared orchestras for renowned film composer Debbie Wiseman and conductors Barry Wordsworth and Ed Gardner. He assisted Sir Simon Rattle, Duncan Ward and Matthias Pintscher at the London Symphony Orchestra, performing alongside celebrities such as Jonathan Ross, Henry Kelly and the late Sir Terry Wogan, and broadcasting live on BBC Radio 3. In February 2004 Andrew was awarded first prize at the Allianz-Cornhill Musical Insurance Conducting Competition, with unanimous votes from both jury and orchestra. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Anna Astesano
After her Bachelor and Master studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et Danse in Lyon, Anna Astesano joined the harp class at Trinity and Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in the Postgraduate Advanced Diploma course in London. Between 2014 and 2015 she has been harpist at “Teatro alla Scala” Academy in Milan. In June 2015 she won the audition as first harp at “Luigi Cherubini” Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti. In 2018 she was the harpist of the Future Foyle First Programme, promoted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2017 she has been awarded scholarships offered by the Turin CRT Foundation, “De Sono” Association and Turin "Lions Club". In 2018 she was awarded the "John Marson Prize for best performer" and the “Featured Young Performer” Award by the London Ear Festival, playing as a soloist and in chamber music concerts with the Uroboros Ensemble. She has collaborated with: the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale (RAI) in Turin, the "Teatro alla Scala'' Orchestra, the "Maggio Musicale Fiorentino'' Orchestra, the Kobolov Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow, the London Southbank Sinfonia, under the baton of conductors such as Muti, Mehta, Pappano, Jurovskij, Krivine, Gatti, Luisi, Russell-Davies, Coleman. She has performed as a soloist and alongside chamber music ensembles in prestigious London concert halls such as the Purcell Room, the Queen Elisabeth Hall, St. Martin's In-the-Fields, Wigmore Hall and the British Museum. She is a Concordia Foundation and Park Lane Group Artist. Anna Astesano is the harp teacher at the "A. Scontrino" Conservatoire in Trapani.

Ben Mason is a clarinettist and bass clarinettist specialising in contemporary music and improvisation. He writes and records his own music for clarinet and electronics and works frequently in multidisciplinary collaborations. He is also a member of the Hermstedt Trio and Artemis, an art improvisation ensemble.

Cara Dawson, harp, graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance with Distinction on 2021. She has performed in some of Europe’s major concert halls including Royal Festival Hall and the Berlin Philharmonie. As a passionate performer of new music, Cara regularly works with composers, and this year took a program of new commissions to the Dutch Harp Festival.

Chloe Chousmer-Kerr, harp, graduated at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music and Dance in 2021. Her performance experience is wide and varied, ranging from performing at prestigious venues such as the Segrada Familia in Barcelona with a choir, to playing popular festivals both as a solo and with a band. She has also been lucky enough to perform as a soloist, on the Heaven stage, at Glastonbury festival.

Clara Gatti Comini is a scholar under the guidance of Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly for the triple harp. She completed her Bachelor’s degree with a First Class Honours.
Clara is a winner of the John Marson Harp Prize for Outstanding Musicianship 2020, the Cherubim Music Trust Harp Prize 2020, etc. She performed Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto at Wigmore Hall and is Co-Principal harpist of the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra.

Clara Sophie Krüger
The French and German harpist Clara Sophie Krüger graduated in 2021 with a Postgraduate Advanced Diploma degree (with Distinction) following a Master of Arts (Music Performance) in 2020 under the guidance of Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. Besides teaching and playing solo, chamber and orchestral repertoire, Clara is interested in the collaboration of different art forms and works closely with living composers.

Daniel Pukach is an Israeli American violinist. He is a freelance orchestral violinist, chamber musician and a sought-after teacher. He played in top orchestras in the UK and Israel and performed in major venue in the UK, USA Israel, China, Spain, Canada and more. He is also founding member and violinist in the Waldstein Quartet and a teacher at Junior Guildhall. He gained his BMus from the Aaron Copland School of Music and MMus from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he received the Violet Wright scholarship and the Trinity College London scholarship.

Gabriella Dall'Olio, harp, artistic director
Gabriella’s solo recitals captivate audiences around the globe; her critically acclaimed recordings include two solo recitals, concertos, chamber music, and orchestral works. She has also made many live recordings for British, French, German, Italian, and Swiss Radio and television. She toured Europe with the Wiener Virtuosen and was a member of Kontraste (Germany) and then iconic Gruppo Musica Insieme Di Cremona (Italy) for many years, and is a member of Hebrides, Uroboros, and Red Note Ensembles in the UK. Gabriella freelances with some of the most outstanding UK and European orchestras and greatest conductors, but also pop singers such as Tina Turner, Sting, Phil Collins, and Elton John. Gabriella is Head of Harp Studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where she teaches and mentors vibrant and enthusiastic young harpists and musicians, as well as travelling the world to give masterclasses and harp courses (Singapore, Tasmania, Australia, Sweden, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, etc).

Gloria Rappo, harp, is currently attending her 3rd year of Bachelor Harp Degree under the tuition of Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. A multi-instrumentalist that has been studying piano, harp, viola, organ and choir direction. Currently enjoying a varied and extensive experience - both in Italy and in the UK - of collaboration with multiple orchestras (Orch. Filarmonica E. Segattini, Orch. Filarmonica Italiana, London Rehearsal Orchestra, Fulham Opera), chamber and solo performances.

Greta Papa is a London-based violinist of Greek- Albanian descent. She worked full time at the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra as its youngest member ever. Greta has also given acclaimed performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto, Chausson Poème, Brahms Double Concerto, Vivaldi Summer and Sarasate Zigeunerweisen, all of which she played in both the Thessaloniki and Athens Megaron Concert Halls upon personal invitations from the directors of the Thessaloniki and Athens State Orchestras. In 2018, she relocated to the UK she freelances and performs as a soloist.

Helen Daniels is a mezzo-soprano based in Bern, Switzerland. She is a member of the Swiss Opera Studio programme for the 2021-23 seasons where she is studying with Christian Hilz. Helen is generously supported by the Alec Turner Music Scholarship, awarded by the General Charity of the City of Coventry.) In summer 2021 Helen graduated with a distinction her master’s in vocal studies from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Imogen Emmett completed her postgraduate harp studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, having previously studied at Oxford University. Highlights of her ensemble experience include performances at the Royal Albert Hall and Barbican Centre, along with US venues such as Princeton and Brown University.

Iona Duncan, harp, graduated from Trinity Laban Conservertoire with a First-Class Honours in the Summer of 2021 with teacher Gabriella Dall’Olio. Iona enjoys a versatile career with music from Mozart to Metallica! Since going professional, her career highlight was playing the Debussy Danses with the National Youth Orchestra during the Spring of 2022. Iona runs her own teaching practise whilst representing the Bromley Youth Music Service, YAMAHA Music and The Benedetti Foundation.

Kellija Moncaka, violin, recently gained her Postgraduate Advance Diploma at Trinity Laban with Stephanie Gonley at Trinity College London Scholarship playing on a Albani violin. She is a graduate of the Yehudi Menuhin School where she studied with Natasha Boyarsky. She gained her undergraduate degree in Jazepa Vitola Latvian Music Academy. Simultaneously to her studies she also gained a seat in a professional Orchestra in Latvia (Liepaja Symphony orchestra) for 3 years before pursuing her Masters degree at Royal College of Music with Mark Messenger and Gabriella Lester. She has participated in competitions in Latvia, Lithuania and the U.K. as well as formed a chamber group KORDA.

Laura Crobu completed her BMus and MMus studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance with Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly. She won the international competition ‘Città di Cagliari’ winning the award for best Sardinian harpist and started her professional career in different genres, from classical to pop. In 2017 she performed for the MTV awards with the artist Eminem. She is currently releasing a new album and videoclip with the artist Liana Cornell.

Laura Marquino, harp, obtained her Master’s degree in harp performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance studying with Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly. Alongside maintaining a full private teaching studio she can be heard performing in a multitude of ensembles throughout Europe alongside a busy schedule of weddings and other events.

Laura Marquino, harp, obtained her Master’s degree in harp performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance studying with Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly. Alongside maintaining a full private teaching studio she can be heard performing in a multitude of ensembles throughout Europe alongside a busy schedule of weddings and other events.

Lucia Foti, harp, graduated from Conservatorio di Como with first class honours. Lucia is a masters scholar at Trinity Laban, studying harp with Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly. She won several competitions (notably, she obtained a first prize in the 2015 Soroptimist Italia Contest) and is a reserve of the Young Musicians’ Symphony Orchestra. She has a successful duo with guitarist Francesco Rocco.

Maria McNamee, harp, recently graduated from Trinity Laban conservatoire with a first class honours degree and the TL strings Silver Medal. She is continuing to study for a Masters degree at Trinity Laban with Gabriella Dall’Olio and Frances Kelly, generously supported by the Ann Driver Scholarship and the Helen Roll Charity/The Joyce Tudge Bursary Scholarship, Help Musicians UK, the Countess of Munster trust, the Craxton memorial trust and the Boise Scholarship.

Olivia Bell, soprano, graduated with a distinction MMus at Trinity Laban, winning the Gold Medal, having read English at Queens’ College, Cambridge. An opera singer with a focus on contemporary repertoire, ensemble performances include at Conway Hall, King’s Place and St John’s Smith Square. She will join the Guildhall School as a librettist in September.

Olivia Fraser is a London-based oboist enjoying a varied career of orchestral, chamber and solo performance. While studying at Trinity Laban she won many awards including the Evelyn Barbirolli Oboe Prize and Director’s Prize for Excellence. Olivia now freelances with many orchestras including the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the Philharmonia.

Xinyi Wu is a London based Chinese harpist. She recently graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire with first class honours despite of only 3 years of virtual lessons prior her professional study in London. She is currently working as a freelance orchestral and solo harpist and also has a passion for teaching. An experienced orchestral and chamber musician, her solo performances include regular appearances at the Old Royal Naval Chapel, St Alfege Church, The Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum, covering repertoire from Bach, Handel, Grandjany to Hindemith.


John Marson was born in 1932 and died in 2007. He studied the harp with Marie Goossens at the Royal College of Music in London, and in 1958, while still a student, began his professional career with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. A week after leaving college he joined the London Symphony Orchestra for two years before embarking on two decades of freelance work, where he played solos, chamber music and concerti, worked with all the London orchestras and spent much time in recording studios. He played in many outstanding feature films including the original 'Star Wars', and with The Beatles, including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and its iconic ‘A Day in the Life’. In 1982 he was appointed Principal Harp of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and subsequently resumed his freelance career while increasingly engaging in composition, both for the harp and for other instruments, and voice. He played for many West End and National Theatre productions including over three years as harpist in Lloyd Webber's 'Aspects of Love'.

The roll call of musicians with whom John has worked include The Beatles, Richard Rodney Bennett, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, John Dankworth, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Liberace, Martha Graham, Hans Werner Henze, Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Zoltan Kodaly, Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, Pierre Monteux, Jessye Norman, Laurence Olivier, Luciano Pavarotti, Gennadi Rozhdestvenski, Frank Sinatra, George Solti, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, George Szell, William Walton, John Williams, Stevie Wonder and countless others.

In 1964 John was one of the two founders of the United Kingdom Harp Association; edited its magazines for many years and became President of the Association in January 2005.

Two years before his death, John Marson wrote the Book of the Harp (2005), a charming ragbag of little known facts, serious scholarship, pleasant anecdotes, and witty, perceptive observation. He also wrote, early in his career, The Complete Guide to Harp Glissandi, which was a study analysing all 2,187 possible pedal settings.

At his death in 2007 his music, manuscripts and personal papers were donated to the International Harp Archives at Brigham Young University, USA. The Marson archive includes musical manuscripts, concert programs, press clippings, and extensive correspondence. In addition to his personal papers, John donated his private collection of scores and sound recordings of harp music totalling more than 1,000 items.