Magazine article American Harp Journal

The 2016 Historical Harp Society Conference

Magazine article American Harp Journal

The 2016 Historical Harp Society Conference

Article excerpt

HARP students in music schools and conservatories are inundated in music history and music literature classes with information about the past. But so much information is crowded into the school year that it can all become overwhelming. And the harp gets the short end of the stick, not considered important enough to compete with, say, the piano, organ, or violin for pride of place.

This gap is covered by such organizations as the Historical Harp Society, whose yearly conferences furnish the opportunity not only to learn about the history of our instrument and its literature, but but just as importantly, to actually hear the early harp repertory, played on modern reproductions of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque harps.

The 2016 Conference was held in conjunction with the Amherst Early Music Festival at Connecticut College in New London, July 22-24. The emphasis was on early music in Germany.

Paumann as Harpist

A case in point: From your music history class you learned that Conrad Paumann (c. 1410-1473) was an important composer and organist, but it's not likely that you learned that he was also a harpist. In fact, his tombstone prominently features the representation of a gothic style harp.

We learned all this at the conference from Judy Kadar, a New Yorker now resident in Germany, and an important performer and researcher in the Berlin early music scene. She introduced us to Paumann's Fundamentum Organisandi, in which the "organization" consists, in the first example, of using an ascending and descending scale as the slower moving cantus firmus in the left hand, with the right playing an ornamented countermelody.

In the next example, the left hand proceeds by thirds--c-e, d-f, e-g, etc.--the next proceeding by fourths, c-f, d-g, e-a, etc., then by fifths and sixths. It sounds rather mathematical, even gimmicky, but the musical result is interesting and attractive.

Harps in Castles and Museums

Other conference presentations didn't really concern Germany in particular, but were interesting nevertheless. Nancy Hurrell has rather made it a long-term project to search out and photograph every interesting old harp in Europe. Her contagious enthusiasm plus her position with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts gives her leverage in getting into foreign museum storage areas, which would otherwise be unavailable. It is our good fortune that she is happy to share the images with us. We also learned what she looks for, that is, what makes an old harp significant--age, rarity, condition, decoration, innovative mechanism, provenance and cultural importance.

Single Action Panorama

Paul Knoke, who knows more than anyone else about the single action pedal harp, gave us a general history of that instrument from its beginnings when Jakob Hochbrucher (c. …

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