Lily Laskine is a monument of twentieth-century French harp playing. She brought numerous neglected works back into the regular repertoire and many new works were written for her, as her extensive discography shows.
Lily Laskine was born into a family of Russian immigrants who loved listening to and playing music. She started learning the harp at the age of six, then entered the Paris conservatoire, where she studied under Alphonse Hasselmans and Georges Marty. She graduated in harp with a distinction at 13.
At the age of 16, she was unanimously approved for the position of harpist in the Paris Opéra orchestra. It was the first time that a woman had been allowed to play in the Opéra orchestra!
She went on to play solo harp in numerous orchestras, including the Orchestre Lamoureux, the Orchestre Koussevitzky and the Orchestre des Concerts Straram, led by such prestigious conductors as Richard Strauss, Philippe Gaubert, Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter.
She was the harp soloist in the Orchestre National de France when it was founded in 1934. She married Roland Charmy, a distinguished violinist and fellow member of the Orchestre Lamoureux.
After the war, Lily Laskine was appointed to the staff of the Paris conservatoire, where she taught from 1948 to 1958.
In the 1950s, she recorded with Erato and became the label's harpist of choice. Her discs were listened to all over the world and the recordings she made with her friend, the flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, were especially popular. With Rampal and the Jean-François Paillard Chamber Orchestra, she cut the famous Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp, conducted by Jean-François Paillard. The Laskine-Rampal duo gave concerts for over 40 years.
After leaving the conservatoire, Lily Laskine worked alone to build her repertoire as a harpist. She revived pieces that had fallen out of use, by Carl Reinecke, François-Joseph Gossec or Camille Saint-Saëns. Contemporary composers such as Pierre Sancan, Georges Migot and Henri Martelli wrote new works for her. Among the best-known of these, an Impromptu by Albert Roussel and a Concerto for Harp by André Jolivet were composed specifically for her.
Lily Laskine was awarded prestigious decorations by her country, including Grand Officier de l’Ordre National du Mérite and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, in addition to the many prizes given to her by a great variety of juries.
Lily Laskine trained a generation of harpists, the best-known of whom include Marielle Nordmann, Annie Challan and Denise Mégevand.
Six landmark dates in the life of Lily Laskine:
1930: took part in the first performance of the concert version of Maurice Ravel's Boléro with the Orchestre Lamoureux conducted by the composer.
1934: played solo harp in the newly-created Orchestre national de France
1948: appointed to teach at the Paris conservatoire
1967: recorded Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp with Jean-Pierre Rampal and the Jean-François Paillard Chamber Orchestra.
1980: awarded the Grand Prix in the category Musical Film for the television programme "La leçon de musique" produced by Mildred Clary
1993: First edition of the Lily Laskine International Harp Competition
Website: association Les amis de Lily Laskine
Bibliography compiled from Radio France musical documentation