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Caja de Musica by DAVID BRUCE


Just a few hundred yards from my home in St Albans (England), there is the most extraordinary instrument museum. It’s actually called an ‘organ museum’ but this is a misnomer, as it is full of mechanical musical instruments of all shapes and sizes. Some are huge contraptions, rescued from some derelict Victorian sea-front, with a thousand hammers, saxophones and accordions squeezing and puffing away by themselves; others are smaller scale music boxes, with exquisite tinkling bells. It’s the most fantastic and unexpected treasure-chest of a place, though it is also somehow slightly unnerving.

I have always found something intriguing about the music a music box plays. It is true that, like the organ museum, it can have a slightly macabre quality – the ghostly, soullessness of machine-made music. But it also invariably has a charming, naïve simplicity. And it was this naivety that first came to mind when Bridget Kibbey asked me to write a piece for solo harp. Composers often struggle to write for the harp, not just because of the technical difficulties of the instrument, but also, I think, because everything sounds so beautiful - it can be hard to get variety when even the harshest dissonance sounds so sweet. But my instinct was to embrace this sweetness rather than deny it, to write something that is unashamedly sweet - quite a brave/foolish thing for a contemporary composer to do!

At the same time, however, a somewhat contrasting musical thought came to me. I had not long before come across the wonderful Joropo music from Venezuela, which is usually written for a trio of harp, Cuatro (a guitar-like instrument) and shakers, with the harp taking a central melodic role. I was immediately taken with the use of the harp as a raw, vibrant and above all, rhythmic instrument. I knew straight away that this was another aspect of the harp I would want to try to bring to the piece.

‘‘Caja de música’’ - Spanish for 'music box' - seemed an appropritate title, and the resulting piece, in three movements, is a strange hybrid of these two totally unconnected traditions. There are strong hints of Joropo throughout – including a 3-beats-to-a-bar time signature at the start of all three movements; but there is also something of that music box naivety here too. Though I instruct the performer to let any mechanical motions the music might have to take care of themselves, and to concentrate on making the three dances as human as possible!

It has been my great pleasure to get to know and work with Bridget Kibbey these last couple of years, who is deservedly gaining a reputation as one of the finestharpists of her generation. Her commitment to my new piece from the earliest sketches to the finishing touches has been a model that I only wish other players would follow and it is an infinitely richer piece thanks to her thoughtful contributions and suggestions during the process of our transatlantic collaborations.

David Bruce

20 Feb 2009

Press / Latest Reviews

I care if you listen blog / Feb 2012
Thomas Deneuville

Another colorful piece deeply imbued with folk tradition was David Bruce's Caja de Musica (Music Box, also the title of the concert). Even though Bruce was born in Connecticut and raised in England, his interest in world traditions led him to use elements of Joropo music from Venezuela for this commission. The result is an intense and joyful three-movement work, very tonal and rhythmic, displaying a feigned naivety.

Washington Post / Mar 2011
Joe Banno

More naturally attuned to the harp's evocative qualities were...a pair of sensitively scored contemporary pieces - David Bruce's 'Caja de Musica' and Kati Agocs's 'Every Lover Is a Warrior'


for Solo Harp

1 harp

Duration 15mins
Composed Nov 2008- Feb 2009
First performance Bridget Kibbey, Weill Hall, Carnegie Hall, 28th April 2009
Commissioned by Concert Artists Guild

Past Performances

Related Posts

 • Bridget Kibbey Album release featuring Caja de Musica (10/17/2023)
 • Music Box (12/19/2011)
 • Repeat Performances (3/15/2010)
 • Love letter to Haiti (2/11/2010)
 • Windy City premiere (5/20/2009)
 • Bridget at Carnegie (4/28/2009)
 • St Albans Organ Museum (3/31/2009)
 • My new solo harp piece (3/31/2009)


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