A medieval harp (left) and a single-action pedal harp (right)
(Composite chordophone sounded by the bare fingers)
(modern pedal harp)
The harp is a stringed musical instrument which has a number of individual strings running at an angle to its soundboard, which are plucked with the fingers. Harps have been known since antiquity in Asia, Africa, and Europe, dating back at least as early as 3500 BCE. The instrument had great popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where it evolved into a wide variety of variants with new technologies, and was disseminated to Europe's colonies, finding particular popularity in Latin America. While some ancient members of the harp family died out in the Near East and South Asia, descendants of early harps are still played in Burma and in Sub-Saharan Africa, while other defunct variants in Europe and Asia have been revived by musicians in the modern era.
Harps vary globally in many ways. In terms of size, many smaller harps can be played in the lap, while larger harps are quite heavy and rest on the floor. Different harps may use strings of catgut or nylon, or of metal, or some combination. While all harps have a neck, resonator, and strings, "frame harps" have a pillar at their long end to support the strings, while "open harps" such as arch or bow harps, do not. Modern harps also vary in techniques used to extend the range and chromaticity of the strings, such as adjusting a string's note mid-performance with levers or pedals which modify the pitch.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Structure and mechanism
- 3 Development and history
- 4 Modern European and American harps
- 5 Terminology and etymology
- 6 As a symbol
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Additional sources
- 10 External links
The earliest harps and lyres were found in Sumer c, 3500 BCE, and several harps were found in burial pits and royal tombs in Ur. The oldest depictions of harps without a forepillar are from 500 BCE, which was the Persian harp of Persepolis in Iran, and from 400 BCE in Egypt. The chang flourished in Persia in many forms from its introduction, about 3000 BCE, until the 17th century.
Around 1900 BCE arched harps were replaced by angular harps with vertical or horizontal sound boxes. By the start of the Common Era, "robust, vertical, angular harps", which had become predominant in the Hellenistic world, were cherished in the Sasanian court. In the last century of the Sasanian period, angular harps were redesigned to make them as light as possible ("light, vertical, angular harps"); while they became more elegant, they lost their structural rigidity. At the height of the Persian tradition of illustrated book production (1300 to 1600 CE), such light harps were still frequently depicted, although their use as musical instruments was reaching its end.
The works of the Tamil Sangam literature describe the yaaḻ harp and its variants, as early as 200BCE. Variants were described ranging from 14 to 17 strings, and the instrument used by wandering minstrels for accompaniment. Iconographic evidence in of the yaal appears in temple statues dated as early as 500BCE. One of the Sangam works, the Kallaadam recounts how the first yaaḻ harp was inspired by an archer's bow, when he heard the musical sound of its twang.
Another early South Asian harp was the ancient veena; unlike the modern instrument of the same name, the ancient veena was a harp vice the modern lute-type instrument. Some Samudragupta gold coins show of the mid-300s CE show (presumably) the king Samudragupta himself playing the instrument. The ancient veena survives today in Burma, in the form of the saung harp still played there.
Structure and mechanism
Harps are essentially triangular in shape, and are made generally made primarily of wood. Harp strings are generally of gut (often replaced in the modern day by nylon) or metal. The top end of each string is secured on the crossbar or neck of the instrument, where generally each will have a tuning peg or similar device to adjust the pitch of that string.
From the crossbar, the string runs down to the sounding board on the resonating body, where it is secured with a knot; in modern instruments the string's hole is protected with an eyelet to limit wear on the wood. It is the distance between the tuning peg and the soundboard, as well as the tension and weight of the string, which decide the pitch of the string. The body is hollow and when a taut string is plucked, the body resonates, projecting sound.
The longest side of the harp is called the column or pillar, though some earlier harps, such as a "bow harp", lack a pillar entirely. On most harps, the sole purpose of the pillar is to hold up the neck against the great strain of the strings. On harps which have pedals (largely the modern concert harp), the pillar is a hollow column and encloses the rods which adjust the pitch of strings, which are levered by pressing pedals at the base of the instrument.
On harps of earlier design, a given string can play only a single note without retuning the string. In many cases this means that such a harp can only play in one key at a time, and must be manually retuned to play in another key. Various remedies to this limitation evolved: the addition of extra strings to cover chromatic notes (sometimes in separate or angled rows distinct from the main row of notes), the addition of small levers on the crossbar which when actuated raise the pitch of a string by a set interval (usually a semitone), or the use of pedals at the base of the instrument which change the pitch of a string when pressed with the foot. These solutions increase the flexibility of a harp, at the cost of adding complexity, weight, and expense.
Development and history
Angle harps and bow harps continue to be used to the present day. In Europe, however, there was further development. By the addition of a third structural member, the pillar, to support the far ends of the arch and sound box. The Triangular Frame harp is depicted in sculpture from the 8th-century Pictish stones in Scotland and in manuscripts (i.e. the Utrecht Psalter) from the early 9th-century France. The curve of the harp's neck is a result of the proportional shortening of the basic triangular form to keep the strings equidistant. If the strings were proportionately distanced, the strings would be farther apart.
European harps in medieval and Renaissance times usually had a bray pin fitted to make a buzzing sound when a string was plucked. By the baroque period, in Italy and Spain, more strings were added to allow for chromatic notes; these were usually in a second line of strings. At the same time single-row diatonic harps continued to be played.
The first primitive form of pedal harps was developed in the Tyrol region of Austria. Hochbrucker was the next to design an improved pedal mechanism, followed in succession by Krumpholtz, Nadermann, and the Erard company, who came up with the double mechanism. In Germany in the second half of the 17th century, diatonic single-row harps were fitted with manually turned hooks which fretted individual strings to raise their pitch by a half step. In the 18th century, a link mechanism was developed connecting these hooks with pedals, leading to the invention of the single-action pedal harp. Later, a second row of hooks was installed along the neck to allow for the double-action pedal harp, capable of raising the pitch of a string by either one or two half steps. The idea was even extended to triple-action harps, but these were never common. The double-action pedal harp remains the normal form of the instrument in the Western classical orchestra.
In Latin America, harps are widely but sparsely distributed, except in certain regions where the harp traditions are very strong. Such important centres include Mexico, the Andean region, Venezuela and Paraguay. They are derived from the Baroque harps that were brought from Spain during the colonial period. Detailed features vary from place to place.
In Paraguay, the harp is a national instrument, and has gained a worldwide reputation, with international influences alongside folk traditions. Paraguayan harps have around 36 strings, played with the fingernails, and with a narrowing spacing and lower tension than modern Western harps, and have a wide and deep soundbox which tapers to the top. Like Baroque harps, but unlike modern Western harps, they do not stand upright when unattended. T
The harp is also found in Argentina. though in Uruguay it was largely displaced in religious music by the organ by the end of the 18th century. The harp is historically found in Brazil, but mostly in the south of the country.
Mexican "jarocha" harp music of Veracruz has also gained some international recognition, evident in the popularity of "la bamba". In southern Mexico (Chiapas), there is a very different indigenous style of harp music. Travel between the ports of Veracruz and Venezuela afforded an opportunity for transmission of harp traditions between these areas.
In Venezuela, there are two distinct traditions, the arpa llanera and the arpa central (or arpa mirandina). The modern Venezuelan arpa llanera has 32 strings of nylon (originally, gut). The arpa central is strung with wire in the higher register. In Perú harp is used commonly in the Andean music genre of huayno.
There are many different kinds of harps in Africa. They do not have forepillars and are either bow harps or angle harps. As well as true harps such as Mauritania's ardin. There are a number of instruments that are difficult to classify, often being labelled harp-lutes. Another term for them is spike harps. The West African kora is the most complicated and best known of these instruments. It doesn't fit into any one category, but several, and must be awkwardly classified as a "double-bridge-harp-lute." The strings run in two divided ranks making it a double harp, they do not end in a soundboard but are held in notches on a bridge making it a bridge harp, they originate from a string arm or neck and cross a bridge directly supported by a resonating chamber making it a lute too. Another type is simply known as an African harp.
In Asia, there are very few harps today, though the instrument was popular in ancient times; in that continent, zithers like China's guzheng and guqin and Japan's koto predominate. However, a few harps exist, the most notable being Burma's saung-gauk, which is considered the national instrument in that country. Turkey had a nine-string harp called the çeng that has also become extinct. There was an ancient Chinese harp called konghou; the name is also now used for a modern Chinese instrument which is being revived. This double bridge harp has the unusual ability to pitch bend the notes while playing. The paired strings are joined at opposite ends of freely moving short levers so that while playing, manually tensioning one of the strings raises the pitch of its linked pair.
In the Middle East there are several forms of Harps that predate modern harps and some that are still in existence and use today. An example of this is in the Nuristan providence of Afghanistan where the Kafir Harp has been part of the musical traditional for many years.
Modern European and American harps
The pedal or concert harp is a technologically advanced instrument, particularly distinguished by its use of "pedals", foot-controlled devices which can alter the pitch of given strings, making the instrument fully chromatic and thus able to play a wide body of classical repertoire. Pedals were first introduced in 1697 by Jakob Hochbrucker of Bavaria. In 1807 these were upgraded to the "double action" pedal system patented by Charles Groll.
The addition of pedals broadened the harp's abilities, allowing its gradual entry into the classical orchestra, largely beginning in the 1800s. Though the harp played little or no role in early classical music (being used only a handful of times by such as Mozart or Beethoven), and its usage by Cesar Franck in his Symphony of 1888 was described as "revolutionary" despite some body of prior classical usage.). Entering the 20th century, the pedal harp found use outside of classical music, entering jazz with Casper Reardon, the Beatles 1967 "She's Leaving Home", and several works by Bjork which featured harpist Zeena Parkins.
Folk, lever, and Celtic instruments
The folk harp or Celtic harp is small to medium-sized and usually designed for traditional music; it can be played solo or with small groups. It is prominent in Welsh, Breton, Irish, Scottish and other Celtic cultures within traditional or folk music and as a social and political symbol. Often the folk harp is played by beginners who wish to move on to the pedal harp at a later stage, or by musicians who simply prefer the smaller size or different sounds. Alan Stivell, with his father Jord Cochevelou (who recreated the Breton Celtic harp), were at the origin of the revival of the Celtic harp (in the 1970s).
The folk or lever harp ranges in size from two octaves to six octaves, and may use levers or blades to change pitch. The most common size has 34 strings: Two octaves below middle C and two and a half above (ending on A), although folk or lever harps can usually be found with anywhere from 19 to 40 strings. The strings are generally made of nylon, gut, carbon fibre or fluorocarbon, or wrapped metal, and are plucked with the fingers using a similar technique to the pedal harp.
Folk harps with levers installed have a lever close to the top of each string; when it is engaged, it shortens the string so its pitch is raised a semitone, resulting in a sharped note if the string was a natural, or a natural note if the string was a flat. Many smaller folk harps are tuned in C or F, and may have no levers, or levers on the F and C strings only, allowing a narrower range of keys. Blades and hooks perform almost the same function as levers, but use a different mechanism. The most common type of lever is either the Camac or Truitt lever although Loveland levers are still used by some makers.
Alan Stivell is a well-known crossover and Celtic harpist. He first recorded an EP record, Musique Gaélique, in 1959, then an LP in 1964 called Telenn Geltiek. Following these, he has released 21 other albums including his harps, from 1970 until 2006. He also recorded some albums especially dedicated to the harp: the famous Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (1972), Harpes du Nouvel Age (1985), and Beyond Words (2002). Stivell helped to promote developments in electro-acoustic and electric harps.
Wire-strung instruments ("clàrsach")
The Gaelic triangular, wire-strung harp has always been known by the feminine term cruit but by 1204 was certainly known by the masculine term 'clàr' (board) and, by the 14th century, by the feminine form of 'clàr', i.e., 'clàirseach/clàrsach'. (Gd.)
The origins of the Gaelic triangular harp go back at least to the first millennium. There are several stone carvings of triangular harps from the 10th century, many of which have simple triangular shapes, generally with straight pillars, straight string arms or necks, and soundboxes. There is stone carving evidence that the lyre or non-triangular harp were present in Ireland during the first millennium. Evidence for the triangular harp in Pictish Scotland dates from the 9th century.
Scotland, because of her affinity and intercourse [with Ireland], tries to imitate Ireland in music and strives in emulation. Ireland uses and delights in two instruments only, the harp namely, and the tympanum. Scotland uses three, the harp, the tympanum and the crowd. In the opinion, however, of many, Scotland has by now not only caught up on Ireland, her instructor, but already far outdistances her and excels her in musical skill. Therefore, [Irish] people now look to that country as the fountain of the art.
The clàrsach played by the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland between the 11th and 19th centuries was certainly wire-strung. The Irish Maedoc book shrine dates from the 11th century, and clearly shows a harper with a triangular framed harp including a "T-Section" in the pillar. The Irish word lamhchrann or Scottish Gaelic làmh-chrann came into use at an unknown date to indicate this pillar which would have supplied the bracing to withstand the tension of a wire-strung harp.
The Irish and Highland Harps by Robert Bruce Armstrong describes these ancient harps. There is historical evidence that the types of wire used in these harps are iron, brass, silver, and gold. Three pre-16th-century examples survive today; the Brian Boru Harp in Trinity College, Dublin, and the Queen Mary and Lamont Harps, both in Scotland.
One of the largest and most complete collections of 17th-century harp music is the work of Turlough O'Carolan, a blind, itinerant Irish harper and composer. At least 220 of his compositions survive to this day.
Since the 1970s, the tradition has been revived. Alan Stivell's Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique (perhaps the best-seller harp album in the world), using mainly the bronze strung harp, and his tours, have brought the instrument into the ears and the love of many people. Ann Heymann has revived the ancient tradition and technique by playing the instrument as well as studying Bunting's original manuscripts in the library of Queens University, Belfast. Katie Targett-Adams (KT-A) is currently leading the modern day crossover movement for the clarsach, performing to mainstream audiences across the globe, notably China. Other high profile players include Patrick Ball, Cynthia Cathcart, Alison Kinnaird, Bill Taylor, Siobhán Armstrong and others.
As performers have become interested in the instrument, harp makers ("luthiers") such as Jay Witcher, David Kortier, Ardival Harps, Joël Herrou and others have begun building wire-strung harps. The traditional wire materials are used, however iron has been replaced by steel and the modern phosphor bronze has been added to the list. The phosphor bronze and brass are most commonly used. Steel tends to be very abrasive to the nails. Silver and gold are used to get high density materials into the bass courses of high quality clàrsachs to greatly improve their tone quality. In the period, no sharping devices were used. Harpers had to re-tune strings to change keys. This practice is reflected by most of the modern luthiers, yet some allow provisions for either levers or blades.
A multi-course harp is a harp with more than one row of strings, as opposed to the more common "single course" harp. On a double-harp, the two rows generally run parallel to each other, one on either side of the neck, and are usually both diatonic (sometimes with levers), but with identical notes holds the chromatic strings, allowing the harpist to reach past the outer row and pluck an inner string if a chromatic note is needed.
The triple harp originated in Italy in the 16th century, and arrived in Wales in the late 17th century where is established itself in the local tradition as the Welsh harp (telyn deires, "three-row harp").
Some harps, rather than using pedal or lever devices, achieve chromaticity by simply adding additional strings to cover the notes outside their diatonic home scale. The Welsh triple harp is one such instrument, and two other instruments employing this technique are the cross-strung harp and the inline chromatic harp.
The cross-strung harp has one row of diatonic strings, and a separate row of chromatic notes, angled in an "X" shape so that the row which can be played by the right hand at the top may be played by the left hand at the botom, and vice versa. This variant was first attested as the arpa de dos órdenes ("two-row harp") in Spain and Portugal, in the 17th century.
The inline chromatic harp is generally a single-course harp with all 12 notes of the chromatic scale appearing in a single row. Single course inline chromatic harps have been produced at least since 1902, when Karl Weigel of Hanover patented a model of inline chromatic harp.
Modern electric harps
Amplified (electro-acoustic) hollow body and solid body electric lever harps are produced by many harpmakers at this time, such as Lyon and Healy Harps out of Chicago, Salvi Harps out of Italy, and Camac Harps out of France. They generally use individual piezo-electric transducers one per string often in combination with small internal microphones to produce a direct output mixed electrical signal. Hollow body instruments can also be played acoustically, while solid body instruments must be amplified. The late-20th century gravikord is a purpose-built electric harp instrument based around the West African kora.
Terminology and etymology
The modern English word harp comes from the Old English hearpe; akin to Old High German harpha.
A number of non-harp-like instruments are colloquially referred to as "harps". Chordophones like the aeolian harp (wind harp) and the autoharp (with the piano and harpsichord) are not harps, but zithers, because their strings are not perpendicular to their soundboard. Similarly, the many varieties of harp guitar and harp lute, while chordophones, belong to the lute family and are not true harps. All forms of the lyre and kithara are also not harps, but belong to the fourth family of ancient instruments under the chordophones, the lyres.
The term "harp" has also been applied to many instruments which are not chordophones. The vibraphone was (and is still) sometimes referred to as the "vibraharp," though it has no strings and its sound is produced by striking metal bars. In blues music, the harmonica is often casually referred to as a "blues harp" or "harp", but it is a free reed wind instrument, not a stringed instrument, and is therefore not a true harp. The Jew's harp is neither Jewish nor a harp; it is a plucked idiophone and likewise not a stringed instrument. The laser harp is not a stringed instrument at all, but is a harp-shaped synthesized electronic instrument that has laser beams where harps have strings.
As a symbol
The harp has been used as a political symbol of Ireland for centuries. Its origin is unknown but from the evidence of the ancient oral and written literature, it has been present in one form or another since at least the 6th century or before. According to tradition, Brian Boru, 'High King' of Ireland (d. at the Battle of Clontarf, 1014 CE) played the harp, as did many of the gentry in the country during the period of the Gaelic Lordship of Ireland (ended c. 1607 CE with the "Flight of the Earls" following the Elizabethan Wars).
In traditional Gaelic society every clan and chief of any consequence would have a resident harp player who would compose eulogies and elegies (later known as "planxties") in honour of the leader and chief men of the clan. The harp was adopted as a symbol of the Kingdom of Ireland on the coinage from 1542, and in the Royal Standard of King James (VI of Scotland / I of England ) in 1603 and continued to feature on all English and United Kingdom Royal Standards ever since, though the styles of the harps depicted differed in some respects. It was also used on the Commonwealth Jack of Oliver Cromwell, issued in 1649 and on the Protectorate Jack issued in 1658 as well as on the Lord Protector's Standard issued on the succession of Richard Cromwell in 1658. The harp is also traditionally used on the flag of Leinster.
Since 1922, the government of Ireland has used a similar left-facing harp, based on the Trinity College Harp in the Library of Trinity College Dublin as its state symbol. It first appeared on the Great Seal of the Irish Free State, which in turn was replaced by the coat of arms, the Irish Presidential Standard and the Presidential Seal in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. The harp emblem is used on official state seals and documents including the Irish passport and has appeared on Irish coinage from the Middle Ages to the current Irish imprints of Euro coins.
The harp is also used extensively as a Ryanair uses a modified harp, and the Irish State Examinations Commission uses it with an educational theme. The harp appears in the logo for League of Ireland football team Finn Harps F.C., Donegal's senior soccer club.
Other organisations in Ireland use the harp, but not always prominently; these include the National University of Ireland and the associated University College Dublin, and the Gaelic Athletic Association. In Northern Ireland the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Queen's University of Belfast use the harp as part of their identity.
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