Britten’s harpist dies, 92

Britten’s harpist dies, 92


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2021

The harpist and scholar Osian Gwynn Ellis has died at the age of 92.

He was principal harpist of the London Symphony Orchestra, a member of the Melos Ensemble and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. He was first performer of Benjamin Britten, with whom he enjoyed a close partnership from 1959.


  • The View from America says:

    His recording of the Gliere Harp Concerto, with Bonynge, is a classic.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Very sad news.

    It’s worth tracking down a book called ‘To Speak For Ourselves’ edited by Alan Smythe which was published in the 1970’s and is a series of interviews by members of the London Symphony Orchestra.

    Mr. Ellis’ contribution was especially interesting.

    RIP, Mr. Ellis.

  • RW2013 says:

    How wonderful to have played in all those Britten works in that Golden Age of English music.

  • JussiB says:

    male harpists are as rare as female tuba players.

    • Christopher Clift says:

      Not so rare these days – I played with three in the 70s-90s. Rob Johnston (CBSO) Frank Sternefeld (Opera North) and David Watkins (London orchestras and various freelance orchestras.)

    • Violin Accordion says:

      Clifford Lantaff, principal at BBC Philharmonic for 30+ years, previously LSO and Bamberg
      Recordings of Dohnanyi Concerto Concertino and solo works on Chandos

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “Britten’s harpist”, yes, but Osian was much more…..
    He was a master of his instrument; if he ever made a recording that wasn’t superb, I haven’t heard it.
    His performances of French music were matched, perhaps, only by those of Lily Laskine.
    Rest In Peace, Maestro Ellis. On the other side, show ’em how the harp is REALLY played.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    He played the big harp part in that Heifetz recording of Bruch Scottish Fantasy with almost no notice. RIP

  • pianoguy says:

    He’ll give the heavenly harpists a run for their money. RIP

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    Gorffwys mewn heddwch, Osian. Ni fyddaf byth yn anghofio eich perfformiadau rhyfeddol. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

  • Edgar Self says:

    An extraordinary life, career, and biography, from the obituary. I dearly hope the marvelously-named Osian Gwynn Ellis’s prenom derives from Ossian, the Gaelic bard of legend. Brahms set one of his poems, or at least one ascribed to him by MacPherson, in the four Op. 17 songs for harp, two horns, and female voices, probably written for the women’s choir he directed in Hamburg, who were devoted to him.