Chapters Summaries (En)


The chapter on Organology gives a brief inventory of harp-making today. It provides some useful information before starting on the following chapters, since writing, and even more so, contemporary writing, is closely linked to the physical and acoustic nature of the instrument, the harp often being perceived as a sonorous body, in its entirety.

After a short review of the harp’s evolution over the centuries, there is a general description of the instruments available at the present time as well as recent technological developments.

First, the pedal harp. The various parts are presented: the soundboard, neck, column and base then the number of strings and the tessitura. The pedal-working and modulation mechanism are described in detail, as are the chromatic possibilities and the way of notating the pedals on the score. The traditional way of playing the harp is described, as well as the less classical positions developed today.

The lever harp is then described: the way it is made, the strings, levers and modulation mechanism. These descriptions enable the reader to appreciate the resources specific to this instrument and the way in which its nature differs from the pedal harp.

The following part of the chapter deals with electric harps and explains the meaning of the different appellations: electroacoustic harp, electric harp and electric-acoustic harp. These new harps have become more and more widespread over the past few years and a whole repertoire is being developed.

Lastly, two recent twentyfirst-century innovations are described: the MIDI harp and the automatic harp.



Before studying the specific details of harp notation in the following chapter, « Playing Techniques » – the very heart of the book – the aim of the chapter on Writing and Language is to place the harp repertoire within a global musical context. In giving a broad selection of scores this chapter offers a general survey of writings and languages developed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This panorama shows the important place that works for harp occupy in the history of music, particularly in that of contemporary music. By highlighting the remarkable expansion of the harp over the last hundred years, this chapter illustrates the harp’s presence in all styles of writing, and the way in which it has flourished in all the principal recent aesthetic movements.

All the notations developed in harp scores over the last decades can be seen: measured notation, still prevalent today, as well as unmeasured and proportionate notation; other scores present aleatory music and open music works. Some composers combine several types of notation, superimpose different tempi, write on several staves, or on staves other than the traditional 5-line staff. A considerable number of graphic scores can be seen too.

Furthermore, the harp has a valuable role in musical theater and instrumental theater, both of which have flourished since the nineteen sixties. The harpist may be required to develop a scenic performance, to use his or her voice, either spoken or sung. The instrumental gesture and the theatrical dimension are integrated into the score by the composer.

Finally, numerous mixed music works have been written for harp since the beginning of electroacoustic music, then throughout the evolution of technologies enabling electronic processing to be carried out in real time during a live performance. Thus works for harp and extensions may take various forms: harp with tape, harp with electroacoustic device, harp with electronic processing live… In this way interactivity between interpreter and machines (computer, effects pedals….) enabling the acoustic and expressive possibilities to be multiplied can be developed.



Musical inventiveness in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is characterized by the exploration of sound properties other than pitch, intensity or rhythm, in particular as regards sound-timbre and colour. This has led composers to invent new signs able to translate the desired attack or effect, since traditional notation is no longer adequate. The first repertoire of signs was suggested by Carlos Salzedo in 1918. More and more new notations appeared from the nineteen-fifties onward, among others Mauricio Kagel, Sylvano Bussotti and Luciano Berio offered a considerable range of signs symbolizing a whole set of attacks, hits, pedal-playing, etc….

Over the years, composers have invented different notations for the same effect, according to their graphic universe. This chapter selects the most visually pertinent ones. The sound result of each effect is described precisely, as well as the way to produce it on the harp.

Certain playing techniques may be found in more than one category; the playing techniques index at the end of the book allows the reader to find the appropriate one.

All the playing techniques listed are various vocabularies which only take on meaning when seen in the musical context of a work; the examples quoted are therefore always illustrated with extracts from scores. A broad selection of composers is explored in order to illustrate the diversity of the writings.

The classification of playing techniques falls into eight categories:

Timbres. This category includes sounds « near the soundboard », « low in the strings », « near the tuning pegs », harmonic sounds, sounds with the nail, Koto sound, vibrating sound, plucked sound, portando, xylo sound, pizzicato, Bartok pizzicato, bisbigliando and sound-colour-melody.

Glissandi, chords and clusters. Glissandi and chords are typical harp techniques and have various forms: single glissando, multiple glissando, pitchless glissandi, flat, broken or arpeggiated chords. There are also all the forms of sound composites (aggregated) more obviously assimilated to clusters: clusser glissando, rasgueado, cluster glissando with thunder effect, cluster, muffled glissando, cluster tremolo, eolian cluster and rubbing.

Resonances, muffles and silences. As the harp is a resonant instrument, muffles are the very core of harpistic playing. Different ways to muffle vibrations and to play with resonances have been developed

Hits on the harp. The different types of hits on the harp and the places where they can be carried out are presented; some composers who have developed a specific notation for hits are mentioned.

Wire strings. The metallic texture of wire strings enables the harpist to obtain specific sounds: whistling sound, wired sound, scrape with the nail, buzz, thunder effect, sustained thunder effect.

Pedals and levers. Pedals no longer serve merely to change accidentals; the effects obtained by using the pedals give them a role of their own: pedal glissando and pedal trill, rhythmic effect, moving the pedals with noise, buzz, resonant noise and thunder effect. Some of these effects can be obtained with levers.

The use of objects. A considerable number of objects or accessories can be used as an extension of traditional playing, to explore new tones. The most common one is the metal rod (or metal tuning key) enabling the harpist to produce suoni fluidi, rocket-like sound, tremolo between two strings, glissando or vibration along metal strings, etc… Other sounds are specific to the tuning fork and bottleneck. A good many scores require different sticks, percussion instruments, the bow, plectrum or many other objects. The prepared harp is a vast field of sound exploration, in which all kinds of material can be inserted between the strings,

Scordatura. A harp may be tuned differently to perform a work: in micro-intervals, as well as in any other type of tuning. The harpist can also cause a string to be out of tune while playing. The lever harp, too, is able to tune each octave differently. Some pieces use two harps played by one interpreter alone, thus making chromatisms, sonority techniques and gestural elements possible.