January 14, 2011

Why I'll play harp music from period if I damned well want to.

When last we met, I lamented the extreme paucity of harp music that survives in written form from period.  There's the Mudarra piece I mentioned for double-harp and, for the wire-strung harpists in the audience (ie - not me), there's the Robert ap Huw MS (recorded after 1600, though not by too terribly much, and certainly including much older songs).

BUT THAT WON'T STOP ME!!!  I have found, in my couple of years as a harping bard, that what I love the most is the sort of musical anthropology that goes along with early music.  Troubadour or early German music is more fun for me than later period stuff because we don't entirely know what it sounded like.  We have to use what little we do know in creative ways, like using the tuning of a lyre to tell us what a German harp c. 800 might have played or lists of who paid what to whom in X's court to figure out what instrumental accompaniment troubadours used.

And in the same vein, I get a kick out of recreating what we lack when it comes to period harp music.  Finding parallels between early harp and lute music and then creating new harp pieces based on that is even more fun than learning a pre-existing piece.  Just because we don't have the music doesn't mean we can't play something awfully close to what period harpers would have played.

And I find that to be terribly exciting.  ^_^

January 05, 2011

Why I can't play harp music from period.

Single-row harp c.1520
We all know what a harp looks like here.  It involves a single row of strings.  Modern concert harps have pedals that change the length of the strings, producing sharps and flats.  Modern folk harps have levers that do the same thing but require a hand to leave the strings to engage.  Harps in period had none of these - you played how your harp was tuned, or if you were really good you could fret a string to produce a sharp (this is impossible on modern folk harps given the string tension).

Lookit!  Two rows of strings!
Toward the end of period you also find harps with 2 or 3 rows of strings.  These harps had the same range as their single-row counterparts, but double or triple the strings meant strings for sharps and flats!  I have absolutely no interest in playing a double or triple harp.  The technique is wonky, the repretoire is overwhelmingly baroque (post-period and not really what I'm most into anyway) and my harp-making husband isn't a fan of their tone (I haven't really played around on one enough to hear for myself, but I tend to trust his judgment in these matters).

Now.  I've told you before that I'm arranging some lute music (Dowland right now) for harp to fill the gaping void that is period harp music.  There is exactly ONE piece designated for harp that survives from before 1600.  One.  And I have it on my computer.

This is the piece.  I promise this is music.

AND IT'S FOR EFFING DOUBLE HARP!!!!!  EFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!  I SO want to learn this piece.  It's our ONLY genuine piece of period harp music, and there are no transcriptions or recordings of it out there.  But I am NOT going to acquire and learn to play a double harp just so I can play ONE freaking piece!  I'm not!

Eff.  Effity eff-eff-eff!  I will transcribe it, though.  I'll transcribe it and see if it'll work on a pedal harp.  And if it will, I'll try to get a decent recording using one of my parents' pedal harps.  It won't be period, but at least it'll be OUT there!

And I'll keep going on Dowland and other lute music.  That's going really well, actually.  I'll post some of those pieces soon.

Raggin-fraggin double harp...