Obituary: Phia Berghout

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The Independent Online
Sophia Rosa Berghout, harpist: born Rotterdam 14 December 1909; died Doorn, the Netherlands 22 March 1993.

PHIA BERGHOUT was arguably the most influential harpist this century.

She was born in Rotterdam into a musical family; her father, Johannes Cornelis Berghout, was an all-round musician, who taught, directed choirs and chamber orchestras and wrote church music.

Phia Berghout started her musical life as a string player, taking up the harp at 15. Her teacher Rosa Spier was a second harp of the Dutch Harp School. From 1933 to 1945 Berghout was second harp of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and in 1945 followed in her teacher's footsteps to become principal harp until 1960. Shortly after the war she had also taken over Spier's harp class at the Amsterdam Conservatoire.

Berghout felt strongly that young musicians did not have enough opportunity to reflect upon their future career and broaden their experience of the arts. With this in mind she started the Eduard van Beinum Foundation in memory of the conductor with whom she had worked closely and whom she had so much admired. The foundation is based at an old manor house, Queekhoven, in the countryside near Amsterdam.

From 1954 she had also organised annual gatherings of Dutch harpists. From 1960 onwards, this event became international and the 'International Harp Week' was born. The number of participants grew steadily in the Sixties and Seventies, reaching record levels of nearly 300 by the early Eighties. By this time she felt she could no longer cope with the organisation single-handed, and an international board was formed to continue her work.

During an outstanding solo career Phia Berghout commissioned and - more often - inspired works from composers like Henk Badings, Hans Henkemans, Lex van Delden and Jurriaan Andriessen. She recorded all the main works in the harp repertoire; the time is surely ripe to reissue these performances, distinguished for their clarity and depth of tone. She had a long-standing duo with the Dutch flautist Hubert Barwahser and was a member of many ensembles.

From 1974 onwards she concentrated her teaching activities in the Maastricht Conservatoire. Her harp class had come to comprise a growing number of foreign students, including myself. As a teacher she was both demanding and inspiring. She insisted on musicianship and intelligence in playing and she instilled in her pupils a great commitment to the instrument. Her Harp Weeks brought together colleagues who hitherto had had no opportunity to meet harpists from other parts of the world. With growing contact and awareness international standards of harp playing have improved dramatically in the last 25 years. She will be remembered for her warmth and great energy.

(Photograph omitted)