IT: arpa – FR: harpe – GER: Harfe       


The modern double-action harp has forty-seven strings that are attached at a 45 degree angle to the soundboard. The strings are white except for the red C strings and the purple F strings. The double-action harp  rests on a pedestal that houses seven foot pedals. A column rising from the pedestal sup­ports the neck, which curves downward to the hollow back, or soundboard, and contains the tuning pegs. The strings are stretched  between the neck and the soundboard. The harp part is written on a grand staff, and the instrument is nontransposing.


FIGURE 6.1   Harp range with pedals in the upper position

Pedal Positions

FIGURE 6.2  Harp pedal positions

FIGURE 6.3 Harp tunings: (a) string tuning and (b) pedal positions

Pedal Notations

Figure 6.2 shows the location of the pedals on the harp and the pitches they control. Figure 6.3 shows two methods of indicating to the harpist how the pedals are to be positioned and the strings tuned for each section of the music. All natural pitches are in the middle position; all sharps are in the lowest position. Tunings involving as many flats as possible are the most desirable, with the strings vibrating at their full length. The low CC, and on some harps the DD, are not connected to the pedal and cannot be changed during performance. Two pedals can be moved at once if they are on opposite sides of the instrument, and a sequence of pedal changes can be done relatively rapidly by an experienced performer. It is best to avoid frequent pedal changes for beginning and intermediate players.

Technical Abilities

The fingers are numbered from thumb (1) to annular (4). Stretches between fingers vary according to the size of the performer’s hand. Generally, fingers 1 and 2 reach the interval of a fourth, 1 to 3 reach a fifth or sixth, and 1 to 4 reach an octave. The little finger is not used. Difficulties for the performer increase when parts require the hands to be too close together or too far apart (at opposite ends of the instrument). Chords and arpeggios are the most common figures. The glissando is a very effective device, although it can become a cliché. The following are examples of these harp techniques:

FIGURE 6.4 Harp techniques: (a) block chord, (b) arpeggio (up and down), (c) glissando

The harp does not penetrate a thick orchestral texture, but it has a very sharp staccato in the upper two octaves and good resonance in the lower two. Harmonics are easily sounded on most strings by dividing them in half with light pressure. The harp is used effectively to accent the beginning of a phrase with other instruments, particularly strings. Compositions such as Debussy’s La Mer and Ravel’s Daphne et Chloe utilize the harp effectively-

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