December 17, 2004 by

Sidonie Goossens

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Categories: Musicians

Anne Sidonie Goossens, the principal harpist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for nearly half a century, died in her sleep on Dec. 15. She was 105.
Born in 1899, Goossens was the last surviving member of a musically distinguished family. Her father and her grandfather, both named Eugene, were principal conductors of the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Her sister Marie, who died in 1991, was a harpist with several British orchestras. Her brother Leon, who died in 1988, was a renowned oboe player. Her brother Eugene, who died in 1962, directed symphony orchestras in the United States and later became the chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia. Her brother Adolph, who played the French horn, was killed in World War I.
Although she yearned to be an actress or an opera singer, Goossens’ father decided she should play the harp. She studied at the Royal College of Music for one year then earned a living playing with chamber music groups and theatre bands. Goossens mastered difficult modern and avant garde works on her French Erard harp, and made her orchestral debut in 1921 in the orchestra her brother Eugene formed to play Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” She and Marie played the harp parts while Leon served as the principal oboe.
Goossens became the first solo harpist broadcast on the radio in 1923. In 1936, she was the first to play the harp on television. Goossens also made news that year when the destroyer Gallant rescued her and 49 other Britons from Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War broke out. Goossens was married to conductor, violinist and composer Hyam “Bumps” Greenbaum until his death in 1942. Three years later, she wed Major Norman Millar; he died in 1991.
A founding member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Goossens was its principal harpist from 1939 to 1981, and a professor of the harp at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for 30 years. She was appointed a Member (of the Order of the) British Empire in 1974 and an Officer (of the Order of the) British Empire in 1981. At 91, she became the oldest person to perform at the Last Night of the Proms concert. Televised on the BBC in 1991, the concert featured Goossens performing “The Last Rose of Summer” with singer Dame Gwyneth Jones.

One Response to Sidonie Goossens

  1. Robert Sandlin

    Dearest Sidonie,
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful home with me for nearly 20 years. I think of you everyday and kiss your photographs which keep me company. Woodstock Farm was heaven with you. All my love, Bob.

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