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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 17:09 GMT
Obituary: Sidonie Goossens
Sidonie Goossens playing the harp
Sidonie Goossens: Britain's most enduring harpist

Britain's most acclaimed harpist, Sidonie Goossens, has died at her home in Surrey aged 105. She made her professional debut in 1921 and was at the top of her profession for more than half a century.

Sidonie Goossens was a harpist of world renown for more than half a century. She was the last surviving member of the famous musical family which arrived in Britain from Belgium in the 19th Century.

Her grandfather, Eugene, was a conductor, her father, also Eugene, was a conductor and violinist.

Her brother, another Eugene, was a composer and conductor, another brother, Leon, was an oboist and her sister, Marie, was a fellow harpist.

As a girl in Cheshire, she wanted to be an actress, then an opera singer. But her father decreed that she and her sister should play the harp. "Daddy's choice was the wise one: it gave me a career," she once said.

Sid, as she became known to her family and friends, was sufficiently accomplished to make her professional debut in 1921 at a Prom concert, and took part in the first tour by the London Symphony Orchestra. "I was the only girl in the orchestra in those days. It was such fun."

A young Sidonie playing the harp
Sidonie was the first harpist to broadcast on radio and TV

She was the first harpist to broadcast on radio, in 1923, and the first on television, in 1936.

She was Principal Harpist when the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave its first public concert under its founder, Sir Adrian Boult, in October 1930, and she was still in the post when the Orchestra celebrated its golden jubilee in 1980, the year she officially retired.

Of the many concertos she played, some were written for her. The first, Lyra Angelica, was by William Alwyn which she performed at the Proms in 1956 under Sir Malcolm Sargent.

Farming talent

She gave the first British performance of Germaine Tailleferre's Concertino for Harp at the first night of the proms in 1937.

Benjamin Britten and Pierre Boulez were leading admirers of her musical talent, while her beauty attracted the attention of people from Elgar to the Shah of Persia.

At the same time as she performed for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, she reared pigs and poultry, together with her second husband, Norman Millar, at the 400 year-old family home in Surrey.

Sidonie playing in the BBC Symphony Orchestra
She played in the BBC Symphony Orchestra for half a century
Her colleagues benefited from her farm produce. "I took baskets of eggs and things on the train to Victoria and the harp porter from the orchestra would come and meet me in his car."

Her first husband, the conductor, Hyam "Bumps" Greenbaum, died of an alcohol-related problem after their only son died at birth.

Sidonie Goossens played the harp for the last time in 1991, at the age of 90, at the Last Night of the Proms.

For her 100th birthday, harpists gathered for special concerts at London's Wigmore Hall and Royal Festival Hall to celebrate a life that had made a significant contribution to British culture.




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