|Classification||String instrument (plucked)|
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The pedal harp (also known as the concert harp) is a large and technically modern harp, designed primarily for classical music and played either solo, as part of chamber ensembles, as soloist with or as a section or member in an orchestra. The pedal harp is a descendant of ancient harps.
The concert harp is large and technically modern, designed for classical music and played solo, as part of chamber ensembles, and in symphony orchestras as well as in popular commercial music. It typically has six and a half octaves (47 strings), weighs about 80 pounds (36 kg; 5.7 st), is approximately 1.85 metres (6 ft 1 in) high, has a depth of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in), and is 55 centimetres (22 in) wide at the bass end of the soundboard. The notes range from three octaves below middle C♭ to three and a half octaves above, usually ending on G♯. Using octave designations, the range is C♭1 to G♯7. At least one manufacturer gives the harp a 48th string, a high A♭ (A♭7) giving the instrument a range of C♭1 to A♯7. The two lowest strings, C♭1 and D♭1, are not affected by the pedal mechanism (i.e. their tuning is not affected by the position of, respectively, the C and D pedals). They must be tuned manually. Their pitch (respectively C♭, C♮ or C♯, and D♭, D♮ or D♯) must be adjusted in advance for the whole piece (or section of a piece). It can't be changed while playing.
Parts of the concert harp
Body and strings
A pedal harp typically has six and a half octaves (46 or 47 strings), weighs about 80 lb (36 kg), is approximately 6 ft (1.8 m) high, has a depth of 4 ft (1.2 m), and is 21.5 in (55 cm) wide at the bass end of the soundboard. The notes range from three octaves below middle C (or the D above that) to three and a half octaves above, usually ending on G. The tension of the strings on the sound board is roughly equal to a ton (10 kilonewtons). The lowest strings are made of copper or steel-wound nylon, the middle-lower strings of gut, and the middle to highest of nylon, or more or all gut.
The pedal harp is identifiable as a large instrument with a straight pillar for support sometimes adorned with a crown at the top, a soundboard, which is pear-shaped with an extended width at the bottom in most harps, while some mostly older pedal harps have soundboards that are straight-sided though widening toward the bottom, a mechanical action made up of over 1,400 parts attached to a harmonically curved neck, a base with seven pedals that are arranged in the following: D C B (left) and E F G A (right). The D B E G A strings are normally colored white while the C strings are colored red and the F strings are colored either black or blue. The strings are initially (before any pedals are activated) tuned to all flat pitches: that is, to the scale of C-flat major.
The concert harp is a pedal harp. Pedal harps use the mechanical action of pedals to change the pitches of the strings. There are seven pedals, each affecting the tuning of all strings of one pitch-class, and each pedal is attached to a rod or cable within the column of the harp, which then connects with a mechanism within the neck. When a pedal is moved with the foot, small discs at the top of the harp rotate. The discs are studded with two pegs that pinch the string as they turn, shortening the vibrating length of the string. The pedal has three positions. In the top position no pegs are in contact with the string and all notes are flat; thus the harp's native tuning is to the scale of C-flat major.
Pedal harps are essentially diatonic instruments which are fitted with the double-action pedal mechanism to allow chromatic alterations and key changes: no matter how the pedals are set, the pedal harp still has only seven strings per octave. Smaller harps, often called folk, lever or Celtic harps, are equally diatonic instruments (also with seven strings per octave) and use a mechanical lever on each string which must be moved manually to obtain chromatic alterations. The only completely chromatic harps are the double (arpa doppia) and triple (Welsh) harps and the cross-strung harp.
The pedal harp uses the mechanical action of pedals to change the pitches of the strings. Pedals were first used in 1697. On the modern harp there are seven pedals. The pedals (in order from left to right) on the left side of the harp are D C B, and E F G A are on the right. Each pedal is attached to a rod or cable within the column of the harp, which then links to a series of moving rods within the neck. When a pedal is moved with the foot, the column rod is moved, which then moves the linkages and turns either or both of two small discs at the top of strings. The discs are studded with two pins that press against the string as they turn, shortening the vibrating length of the string.
Each pedal has three positions. In the top position no pins are in contact with the string and all notes are flat; thus the harp's native tuning is to the scale of C-flat major. In the middle position the top disc presses its pins against the string, resulting in a natural, giving the scale of C major if all pedals are set in the middle position.
In the bottom position the second, lower disc is turned, shortening the string again to create a sharp, giving the scale of C-sharp major if all pedals are set in the bottom position. The order of the pedals is directly influenced by the order of sharps and flats.
Many other scales, both diatonic and synthetic, can be obtained by adjusting the pedals differently from each other; also, many chords in traditional harmony can be obtained by adjusting pedals so that some notes are enharmonic equivalents of others, and this is central to pedal harp technique. In each position the pedal can be secured in a notch so that the foot does not have to keep holding it in the correct position, unlike piano pedals.
This mechanism is called the double-action pedal system. Double-action systems were first patented in London by Sebastien Erard in 1801 (patent number 2502) and 1802 (patent number 2595) though these never went into production. In 1807 Charles Groll was the first person to register a patent (patent number 3059) where the harp mechanism was doubled with two lines of fourchettes or forks. There is some evidence to suggest that this patent was bought by Sébastien Érard. Whether this was to stop Groll producing his instrument is unclear though Erard clearly believed it would work. He is believed to have paid between 10,000 and 30,000 red zlotys.
In 1808 Erard registered a further patent (number 3170) but it wasn't until 1810, when he registered what we know of today as the double-action (patent number 3332), that he went into production. Although he never produced the mechanism registered in the 1808 patent he did licence this to other makers such as Schweiso, Grojean and Stumpff amongst others.
It is worth noting that Cousineau is believed to have made two double-action harps sometime earlier than either Groll or Erard's inventions. This harp doubled Cousineau's single-action mechanism and had fourteen rather than seven pedals. Roslyn Rensch in her book "The Harp, its technique and repertoire," notes that this harp found its way into the office of Sebastien Erard.
Lyon & Healy, Inc. became the major manufacturer of pedal harps in America by the end of the 19th century. They improved the construction and resulting sound, in part to withstand the rigors of the American climate. These improvements inspired harpists and composers to seek new sounds and music to express its fuller resonance. This fueled a great growth in music for the harp in the 20th century, and the concert careers of many virtuosi.
Wurlitzer made harps for a few decades but ceased by the 1930s. Their harps remain collector's items. Both companies produced ornately carved and sometimes gilded harps for their clientele. The styles range from gothic to art deco. The Salzedo model harp, named for the renowned harpist Carlos Salzedo, was designed by the artist Witold Gordon to express his art deco aesthetic, and has its design elements grouped in fives: five stripes of silver and five of red on the sounding board, five layers in the columns, five facets to the base, etc.
More recent harp manufacturers include Salvi Harps, Venus Harps, Camac Harps, Aoyama Harps, and some small manufacturers exist around the world.
If a harp had its strings spaced proportionately to their length, the harp would be a very long triangular shape, but by bringing them in to even spacing, the curve of the neck is produced, much the same as the curve of the piano.
The pedal harp was extremely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. While the piano did overtake the harp in common use sometime in the 19th century, the harp continued to grow, and is now widely played in many countries.
The pedal harp is in its own class of instruments along with the other various types of harps. Lyres, lutes, guitars, violins, etc., all belong to the lyre family, in which the strings are parallel to the sounding cavity, whereas on a harp the strings emerge from the sounding cavity. Some instruments are called harps, but belong to the lyre family. Harps have been found in ancient Sumerian ruins, thousands of years BCE. They were common to the Hebrew tribes, the Egyptians, and in Asian cultures as well. The Spanish brought harps to Latin America where they became widespread in use.
Many other scales, both diatonic and synthetic, can be obtained by adjusting the pedals differently from each other; also, many chords in traditional harmony can be obtained by adjusting pedals so that some notes are enharmonic equivalents of others, and this is central to harp technique. In each position the pedal can be secured in a notch so that the foot does not have to keep holding it in the correct position.
Three strings on the pedal harp have no pedal tuning mechanism: the two lowest strings (contrabass C and D) and the highest string (G). These strings are normally tuned to C, D and G natural respectively. However, they can be manually tuned to sharp or flat through scordatura prior to performance. This can be indicated by verbal statements at the beginning of a composition, for example, "Tune Low C to C flat", or "If necessary, tune high G to G sharp".
This mechanism is called the double-action pedal system, probably invented by Sébastien Érard in 1810. Earlier pedal harps had a single-action mechanism that allowed strings to play sharpened notes.
When the pedal is pressed down from middle to lower position, the upper disc remains essentially stationary. (Technically, it is moved by the pedal through two four-bar linkages in cascade, with relative lengths of the linkages designed to create an extremely nonlinear relationship (effectively a break point) between pedal movement and upper disc movement. The fourth "bar" is the frame.) The next paragraph is not technical, though.
Four-bar linkages are a significant topic in kinematics, a branch of mechanical engineering. However, seeing them operate makes their function easy to understand intuitively. Two examples let you see what these linkages are, although not how they are used in harp actions.
Modern excavators (power shovels) with tilting buckets (scoops) support the buckets with four-bar linkages, but their relative lengths are quite different from those in harps. The scoop is one bar, the links are two more, and the fourth is the end of the boom.
Rocking chairs and tilting footstools, those without bottom curved rockers, also contain four-bar linkages inside. The chair seat, and top of the footstool, are the top "bars". Again, relative distances between pivots differ from those in harp actions.
The tension of the strings on the sound board is roughly equal to 10 kN (a ton-force) or 2,000 pounds. The lowest strings are made of copper or silver-over-silk over steel, the lower-middle strings of gut (from sheep or cows) and the upper-middle or highest of either gut or nylon.
The pedal harp is played with the fingertips of the first four fingers (thumb, index, middle and ring fingers of both hands), with force from the hand and arm, and ultimately the upper body. The little fingers are normally not used (see above for the use of the little finger). The fingertips are drawn in to meet the palm of the hand, thus releasing the string from whatever pressure was placed upon it by the fingers. The fingers are naturally curved or rounded as they touch the strings, and the thumb is gently curved as the tip rises to the string as an arc from its base; this is called plucking. There are differing schools of technique for playing the pedal harp. The largest are the various French schools, and there are specific Russian schools, Viennese and other schools from differing regions of Europe. One is called the Attl technique after Kajetan Attl, in which apparently only the uppermost parts of the fingers move and the hand is largely still. There is a St. Petersburg school (more than one) in Russia in which the thumbs are moved in a circular fashion rather than in and out toward the hand.
The first four fingers of each hand are used to pluck the strings; the little fingers are too short and cannot reach the correct position without distorting the position of the other fingers, although on some folk harps with light tension, closely spaced strings, they may occasionally be used. The fifth finger may also have been used on earlier, more lightly strung modern harps: Madame de Genlis, for example, in her Méthode, published in Paris in the early 19th century, promotes the use of all five fingers, while Roslyn Rensch suggests that Mlle de Guînes, the harpist for whom Mozart wrote his Concerto for Flute and Harp, might occasionally have used all five fingers when playing the harp. In more modern music, the fifth finger is used very rarely, for example in simultaneous cluster chords, such as in Daniel Kessner's Sonatina. Plucking with varying degrees of force creates dynamics. Depending on finger position on the string, different tones can be produced: a full sound in the middle of the string, and a nasal, guitar-like sound at the very bottom of the string. Tone is also affected by the skin of the harpist, how much oil and moisture it contains, and the amount of thickening by callus formation and its surface texture.
The differences between the French schools lie in the posture of the arms, the shape of the hand and the musical aesthetics. The traditional French schooling allows for the right arm to be lightly rested against the harp using the wrist to sometimes bring the hand only away from the string. The left arm moves more freely. Finger technique and control are the emphasis of the technical approach, with extensive use of exercises and etudes to develop this. Two very influential 20th-century teachers of this approach were Henriette Renié and Marcel Grandjany, who both studied with Alphonse Hasselmans.
The other major French school is the Salzedo school, developed by Carlos Salzedo, who also studied with Alphonse Hasselmans at the Paris Conservatoire. Salzedo's technique generally calls for the arms to be held horizontally and emphasises the role of aesthetic hand and arm gestures after the string has been plucked: "Each of the thirty-seven tone colors and effects of the harp calls for a gesture corresponding to its sonorous meaning."
Use in music
The harp found its early orchestral use as a solo instrument in concerti by many baroque and classical composers (Handel, Mozart, Boieldieu, Albrechtsberger, Schenk, Dussek, Spohr) and in the opera houses of London, Paris and Berlin and most other capitals. It began to be used in symphonic music by Hector Berlioz but he found performances frustrating in such countries as Germany where few harps and sufficiently proficient harpists were to be found. Franz Liszt was seminal in finding uses for the harp in his orchestral music. The French and Russian Romantic composer particularly expanded its symphonic use. In opera, the Italian composers used it regularly, and Puccini was a particular master of its expressive and coloristic use. Debussy can be said to have put the harp on the map in his many works that use one or more harps. Tchaikovsky also was of great influence, followed by Rimsky-Korsakov, Richard Strauss and Wagner. The greatest influence on use of the harp has always been the availability of fine harps and skilled players, and the great increase of them in the US of the 20th century resulted in its spread into popular music.
Many passages for solo harp can be found in 19th-century ballet music, particularly in scores for the ballets staged for the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, where the harpist Albert Zabel played in the orchestra. In ballet, the harp was utilised to a great extent to embellish the dancing of the ballerina. Elaborate cadenzas were composed by Tchaikovsky for his ballets The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty; as well as Alexander Glazunov for his score for the ballet Raymonda. In particular, the scores of Riccardo Drigo contained many pieces for harp in such works as Le Talisman (1889), Le Réveil de Flore (1894) and Les Millions d'Arlequin (1900). Cesare Pugni wrote extensively for the harp as well—his ballet Éoline, ou La Dryade included music written for harp to accompany the ballerina's numerous variations and enhance the atmosphere of the ballet's many fantastical scenes. Ludwig Minkus was celebrated for his harp cadenzas, most notably the Variation de la Reine du jour from his ballet La Nuit et le Jour (1881), the elaborate entr'acte composed for Albert Zabel from his ballet Roxana (1878), and numerous passages found in his score for the ballet La Bayadère, which in some passages were used to represent a veena which was used on stage as a prop.
French ballet composers such as Delibes, Gounod, and Massenet made use of the harp in their music.
There is a prominent harp part in "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles in their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the 1970s, harp parts were common in popular music, and can be heard in such hits as Cher's "Dark Lady", the intro of "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves", and "Boogie Nights" by Heatwave. Most often it was played by Los Angeles studio harpist Gayle Levant, who has played on hundreds of recordings. Irish band Clannad featured the harp heavily in their music during the 1970s and 1980s. In current pop music, the harp appears relatively rarely. Joanna Newsom, Dee Carstensen, Darian Scatton, Habiba Doorenbos, and Jessa Callen of The Callen Sisters have separately established images as harp-playing singer-songwriters with signature harp and vocal sounds. Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan plays the harp in her 2006 holiday album, Wintersong. In Hong Kong, a notable example of harp in pop music is the song "Tian Shui Walled City" (天水圍城) performed by Hacken Lee with harp played by Korean harpist Jung Kwak (Harpist K).
The harp is also used as a central instrument by many alternative popular musicians. A pedal harpist, Ricky Rasura, is a member of the "symphonic pop" band, The Polyphonic Spree. Also, Björk sometimes features acoustic and electric harp in her work, often played by Zeena Parkins. Philadelphia based Indie Pop Band Br'er uses a pedal harp as the foundation for their cinematic live sets. Art in America was the first known rock band featuring a pedal harp to appear on a major record label, released in 1983. The pedal harp was also present in the Michael Kamen and Metallica concert and album, S&M, as part of the San Francisco Symphony orchestra. R&B singer Maxwell featured harpist Gloria Agostini in 1997 on his cover of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work". On his 7th solo album Finding Forever, Hip- Hop artist Common features harpist Brandee Younger on the introductory track, followed by a Dorothy Ashby sample from her 1969 recording of By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Some Celtic-pop crossover bands and artists such as Clannad and Loreena McKennitt include folk harps, following Alan Stivell's work. Additionally Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine uses the harp frequently in both Lungs and Ceremonials, notably on "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)". The Webb Sisters from UK use different size harps in almost all their material during live performances. Sierra Casady, of the freak-folk group CocoRosie plays harp on several of their songs. Another musician from the UK Patrick Wolf has used the Celtic harp throughout his career, often playing it himself while singing.
Lyon and Healy, Camac Harps, Salvi Harps, and other manufacturers also make electroacoustic pedal harps. The electroacoustic pedal harp is a modified concert harp, with piezoelectric pickups at the base of each string and an amplifier. Electroacoustic harps are a blend of electric and acoustic, with the option of using an amplifier or playing the harp just like a normal pedal harp. The electric harp is different from the electroacoustic harp, as it is entirely electric, lacking a soundbox and being nearly mute without an amplifier.
- Vardy, Alison. "Celtic harp history".
- Inglefield and Neill (1985), 3. A few modern harps have a pedal mechanism for the high G string.
- Inglefield and Neill (1985), 'Scordatura', p.49.
- Rensch (2007/1989), 164–165.
- Rensch (2007./1989), 170.
- Inglewood and Neill (1985), 77.
- Lawrence and Salzedo (1929), 6.
- Lawrence and Salzedo (1929), 17.
- Salvi Echo
- Lyon and Healy electroacoustic
- Camac electroacoustic