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Hello my composer friends!

About a year ago, I initiated The Harp Legacy Project after years of coping with harp scores that were either just very awkward or impossible to perform.  My mission is to assist composers in turning their harp pieces into viable and accessible works.  Currently on my website is a growing list of ":before and after" pages that illustrate the results of my work and which are also tutorial for those who wish to venture forth into this domain.  Of all the instruments, I believe the harp to be amongst the least understood by composers even after they read manuals.  The fact that composers continue to write nightmarish harp scores is increasingly prompting harpists to resort to rewriting much of their music, compose new manuals, make the subject a major topic at conventions and even write books for harpists instructing them how to edit the scores that they receive.  Below are two responses from other harpists pertaining to this topic:

Elizabeth Volpé-BlighYes! There is a great book on this subject called The Harp In The Orchestra by Beatrice Schroeder Rose. I highly recommend it. It is a great reference book for teaching students to edit poorly-written parts. Conductors are generally aware of this problem and are delighted to have a harpist who is able to play their edited part well than to have someone thrashing through a thicket of impossible jumps, pedal changes, ten-note chords, etc.

My name is Myra Kovary. I am a free-lance harpist based in Ithaca, NY and have been gigging for over 30 years. For several years now, Dana Wilson, a composer and faculty member at Ithaca College, and I have been working on writing a manual for composers about writing for the harp. The text is almost finished and I would still like to add graphics and musical examples. I have run the text by several harpists (including Ruth and Sonja Inglefield and Ruth Papalia) and several composers and am getting very positive feedback about it. Just recently, I googled "composing for the harp" and came across your work. Our manual actually is written in the vein of what is posted on your website but is more extensive. I am at the point where I am thinking about how to get the word out to composers and thinking about where to post our article on the web. I'm pondering how to reach composers and not only harpists. It would be interesting to post it in such a way that composers could ask questions and make comments and that harpists could also engage in the discussion -- but I wouldn't want the harpists to give lousy advice so I'd have to find a way to maintain editorial control somehow. My goal is to develop a valuable resource for composers so we stop getting these horribly written parts!

I am currently editing Progeny of Memory, a 42 minute piece for cello and harp, by Matthew H. Fields.  For those of you who are interested in having your harp scores examined, I am offering free assessments of the issues I find after my examinations.  Just send a pdf, I will comment on your score and assess the fees required for me to work with you.  drshirley472@comcast.net  Thank you for your interest!



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You might enjoy seeing the piece "Dualities (1976) for harp by David Sheinfeld, performed by Marcella DeCray, San Francisco Chamber Music Society, March, 1976"  Though I'm not a harpist, if you know this piece I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.  Unfortunately I do not have a copy of the score.

Can you get me a copy?  I can't really comment unless I see the score which sounds interesting.  Thank you for your response!

B Gray said:

You might enjoy seeing the piece "Dualities (1976) for harp by David Sheinfeld, performed by Marcella DeCray, San Francisco Chamber Music Society, March, 1976"  Though I'm not a harpist, if you know this piece I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.  Unfortunately I do not have a copy of the score.

Unfortunately I don't have a score.   Thought maybe you might know the composer or piece.  I studied with him.

I took a look at your site and the "before and after" examples are very well explained.  Useful work, thank you!

Hello Shirley,

 

Your thread interested me.

 

Let me begin by saying how much I enjoyed your Metaphysical Waltz harp solo.

The sound file has a very present, lively, real quality to it.

I've listened to it at least ten times.

The entire performance is far too short, and leaves me wanting more.

I love the Japanese koto, but your performance evokes something which surpasses virtually all the koto recitals I have heard.  I’ll listen to it many times more.  I haven’t heard anything like it, since I first heard the Stockhausen harp piece which I mention below.

 

You wrote,

 

"Of all the instruments, I believe the harp to be amongst the least understood by composers even after they read manuals.  The fact that composers continue to write nightmarish harp scores is increasingly prompting harpists to resort to rewriting much of their music . . ."

 

Jokingly, I ask:

 

Are you trying to make composers who employ the harp feel bad?

 

:  )

 

"the least understood"?

 

"nightmarish harp scores"?

 

 

I read your message very carefully, and I believe I understand where your concern.

 

As this is posted under "techniques in orchestration," I have several questions.

 

Many composers want to know this:  What is the best way for us to use the harp in contemporary music?   How can the harp best participate in the orchestral ensemble, when it serves as more than a mere ornament and less than a featured instrument?

I love the harp, but it is very easy for composers to misuse it, or to neglect it when it can be used to great effect.

Some contemporary composers have completely eschewed the harp, which they associate with a bygone age. 

 

I am glad Karlheinz Stockhausen composed one of his last works for two harps and singers, just prior to his death -- I think that was a major achievement for harp literature, one which will make people reconsider the use of the instrument for future compositions.

 

Anyone who is interested can listen to the work here:

 

Stockhausen - Freude (Joy) - for two harps

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es6n8J1QvM8

 

(My apologies for the fact that whoever put this on youtube accidentally cut off the first few notes. You can hear the beginning on Stockhausen's own official web page).

 

 

I don't know how many on this forum write, as Stockhausen did, full scale pieces for the harp.

But I believe many of us do use, and want to continue to use the harp.

So when we do, we wonder what harpists think.

I will post a link here to piece of my own, which has the title:

 

“Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra.”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidnK2w--fw

 

The harp is used sparingly in this work, so perhaps the title is a bit misleading.

A great deal of what could have been done in the work by a harp is done instead by the piano, a harpsichord, pizzicato strings, or even bells and a variety of percussion instruments.   But these instruments tend to function through many passages under the guise of the harp.  I know that may sound odd, and perhaps it makes no sense at all to a person who plays the harp.    The harpsichord and piano, in specific passages, are supposed to be played in the manner of a harp, insofar as that is possible, with a certain delicacy and broad vibration—but not without vigor.   When violins, violas and celli are playing pizzicato, the strings should be plucked so they might sound, as much as possible, like the harp.

 

I do want those different timbres and textures, but my preference is for the emotional resonance of the harp, whenever possible, in this work.  Some of these effects may be impossible in real life.  The harpsichord (far more than the harp) suffers incredible disdain in the modern ensemble, so it is often dispensed with, for practical reasons, even when its sound is desirable.

 

 I would invite you and other harpists (if you would like) to listen to this piece and to make any observations about the use of the harp.

 

Perhaps there are places where I use bells, or string instruments, or even woodwinds, where I should use the harp instead.

 

I note below places in the time index where the harp has the most prominent role.

 

The piece begins with woodwinds.

 

0:42  The harp is first heard.

 

1:00  The harp first performs crucial primary thematic material.

 

1:55  Harp and harpsichord together.

 

3:21  Harp participates in the development of secondary theme.

 

5:28  Harp plays part of the darker theme.

 

6:01 – 7:15  This is the dramatic center of the piece, and the harp is deliberately absent.  What I would call “harp-like effects” are acted out via the piano, bells and chimes.  This is to prepare for:

 

7:25  The statement by the harp of the final version of the theme which concludes the work.

 

So my questions for those interested in the “problem of harp” in the context of contemporary orchestral technique are these:

 

Do we give the harp its proper due as an instrument (rather than as an ornament) in our orchestral arrangements?

 

Do we stereotype the harp, giving it the obligatory and occasional arpeggios, because that is what tradition has demanded for so long?

 

Do we demand of the instrument too much or too little?

 

If these questions cannot be addressed, and our own attempts to write for the harp, as one instrument among many in the orchestral ensemble, are not considered on their own terms, I can only draw one conclusion:

 

(and I am joking, of course)

 

You have come to this forum to rap us on the knuckles with your ruler, for being bad little boys and girls, because we have not written out the parts for the harps properly, in accordance with specific procedures.

 

:  )

 

I doubt you came to this forum just to do that.

 

I, for one, want to know what you think of the specific passages I have written for the harp here, in the larger orchestral context.  (It may seem like an inconsequential question to someone who performs with such tremendous dexterity on the instrument, as you demonstrated in the Metaphysical Waltz).

 

I am not going to provide the score, with the specific parts for the harp, if you don’t mind, because I want you to listen, and tell me what you hear.

(Also, I don't have the score handy, and it would take me some time to find it and put it in an acceptable form just now).

 

You said in response to one person’s post on this thread,

 

“I can't really comment unless I see the score which sounds interesting.  Thank you for your response!
”

 

I do not believe you cannot comment unless you see the score.

 

Please try. 

 

The recorded performance, or the sound file, produced by the composer, is as good, or even better than the written score, for understanding what the composer has in mind.  (Quality of the file notwithstanding).

One can simply listen.

 

(How I do treasure those piano rolls of Gustav Mahler playing some of the songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, and excerpts from the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies !)

 

So may we talk about the sound of the harp, and the sound of the music, before we talk about the specific or the general problems associated with writing out the score?

Let us talk about the actual effect of the music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Ondib,

Below are my responses to your very substantial and thoughtful posting on the Composers' Forum. Thank you for this opportunity to address harp issues with you.



Hello Shirley,

Your thread interested me.

Let me begin by saying how much I enjoyed your Metaphysical Waltz harp solo. Thank you.

The sound file has a very present, lively, real quality to it.

I've listened to it at least ten times.

The entire performance is far too short, and leaves me wanting more.

I love the Japanese koto, but your performance evokes something which surpasses virtually all the koto recitals I have heard. I’ll listen to it many times more. I haven’t heard anything like it, since I first heard the Stockhausen harp piece which I mention below. Thank you. I am very flattered by the comparison.

You wrote,

"Of all the instruments, I believe the harp to be amongst the least understood by composers even after they read manuals. The fact that composers continue to write nightmarish harp scores is increasingly prompting harpists to resort to rewriting much of their music . . ."

Jokingly, I ask:

Are you trying to make composers who employ the harp feel bad? Not at all!!!!!!! I highly respect composers and feel honored to be amongst them. My intention is simply to bring issues to their attention so that the quality of their work is enhanced and so that harpists are enabled to play the parts that they receive without having to do a lot of rewriting. I am sending you here two responses to my online posts:

My name is Myra Kovary. I am a free-lance harpist based in Ithaca, NY and have been gigging for over 30 years. For several years now, Dana Wilson, a composer and faculty member at Ithaca College, and I have been working on writing a manual for composers about writing for the harp. The text is almost finished and I would still like to add graphics and musical examples. I have run the text by several harpists (including Ruth and Sonja Inglefield and Ruth Papalia) and several composers and am getting very positive feedback about it. Just recently, I googled "composing for the harp" and came across your work. Our manual actually is written in the vein of what is posted on your website but is more extensive. I am at the point where I am thinking about how to get the word out to composers and thinking about where to post our article on the web. I'm pondering how to reach composers and not only harpists. It would be interesting to post it in such a way that composers could ask questions and make comments and that harpists could also engage in the discussion -- but I wouldn't want the harpists to give lousy advice so I'd have to find a way to maintain editorial control somehow. My goal is to develop a valuable resource for composers so we stop getting these horribly written parts!

Elizabeth Volpé-Bligh • Yes! There is a great book on this subject called The Harp In The Orchestra by Beatrice Schroeder Rose. I highly recommend it. It is a great reference book for teaching students to edit poorly-written parts. Conductors are generally aware of this problem and are delighted to have a harpist who is able to play their edited part well than to have someone thrashing through a thicket of impossible jumps, pedal changes, ten-note chords, etc.

"the least understood"? In comparison to writing for the flute, for example, writing for the harp opens the door for many more possible compositional errors. Essentially the flute is a melodic instrument that almost anyone can compose for given the range of the instrument. (I realize that the prior statement is an over simplification, but I don't think it is necessary to elaborate further here.) Although there are special flute effects such as flutter tonguing, multiphonics, blowing air through the tube etc. as compared to the harp, these are limited. ( I realize that new sounds can be created by electronic expansions but here I'm just speaking about the basic instrument.) There are numerous special effects that can be produced on the harp, 7 pedals that each have 3 positions, interchanging use of the hands, placing and connecting complications.

"nightmarish harp scores"? As in the case of “horribly written parts” from the quote above, the word “nightmarish” is a word that a student harpist used when discussing a particular score. I subsequently “borrowed” it. I have also heard from harpists the descriptive adjectives “frightening” and “scary” in reference to harp scores.

I read your message very carefully, and I believe I understand where your concern.

As this is posted under "techniques in orchestration," I have several questions.

Many composers want to know this: What is the best way for us to use the harp in contemporary music? How can the harp best participate in the orchestral ensemble, when it serves as more than a mere ornament and less than a featured instrument? It seems to me that the use of the harp depends upon the style of a particular composer. There are ways in which the harp can be engaged in highly chromatic music without getting the harpist entangled in an overwhelming number of pedal changes. Perhaps one way to proceed is simply to write whatever you desire and then consult a harpist to find out how your material can be honed into an accessible part that essentially maintains your intentions.

I love the harp, but it is very easy for composers to misuse it, or to neglect it when it can be used to great effect.

Some contemporary composers have completely eschewed the harp, which they associate with a bygone age. I seriously doubt that the harp will ever go away since it is entrenched in history and is by itself a beautiful image. Despite its limitations and complications, it is being effectively employed by those composers who care to go into its intricacies. I am currently editing a piece by Matthew H. Fields entitled Progeny of Memory. It is a 48 page score for harp and cello, chuck full of challenges for a harpist. My job is to assist in creating notation that makes it more accessible and therefore more likely to be performed by a number of harpists. It has already been recorded by Sadie Turner.

I am glad Karlheinz Stockhausen composed one of his last works for two harps and singers, just prior to his death -- I think that was a major achievement for harp literature, one which will make people reconsider the use of the instrument for future compositions.

Anyone who is interested can listen to the work here:

Stockhausen - Freude (Joy) - for two harps Using 2 harps is a WISE choice. Often I have encountered parts that were not be accessible for one harp, but would have worked very well with 2.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es6n8J1QvM8

(My apologies for the fact that whoever put this on youtube accidentally cut off the first few notes. You can hear the beginning on Stockhausen's own official web page).

I don't know how many on this forum write, as Stockhausen did, full scale pieces for the harp.

But I believe many of us do use, and want to continue to use the harp.

So when we do, we wonder what harpists think.

I will post a link here to piece of my own, which has the title:

“Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidnK2w--fw

The harp is used sparingly in this work, so perhaps the title is a bit misleading.

A great deal of what could have been done in the work by a harp is done instead by the piano, a harpsichord, pizzicato strings, or even bells and a variety of percussion instruments. But these instruments tend to function through many passages under the guise of the harp. I know that may sound odd, and perhaps it makes no sense at all to a person who plays the harp. The harpsichord and piano, in specific passages, are supposed to be played in the manner of a harp, insofar as that is possible, with a certain delicacy and broad vibration—but not without vigor. When violins, violas and celli are playing pizzicato, the strings should be plucked so they might sound, as much as possible, like the harp.

Interesting!

I do want those different timbres and textures, but my preference is for the emotional resonance of the harp, whenever possible, in this work. Some of these effects may be impossible in real life. The harpsichord (far more than the harp) suffers incredible disdain in the modern ensemble, so it is often dispensed with, for practical reasons, even when its sound is desirable.

I would invite you and other harpists (if you would like) to listen to this piece and to make any observations about the use of the harp.

Perhaps there are places where I use bells, or string instruments, or even woodwinds, where I should use the harp instead.

I note below places in the time index where the harp has the most prominent role.

The piece begins with woodwinds.

0:42 The harp is first heard.

1:00 The harp first performs crucial primary thematic material.

1:55 Harp and harpsichord together.

3:21 Harp participates in the development of secondary theme.

5:28 Harp plays part of the darker theme.

6:01 – 7:15 This is the dramatic center of the piece, and the harp is deliberately absent. What I would call “harp-like effects” are acted out via the piano, bells and chimes. This is to prepare for:

7:25 The statement by the harp of the final version of the theme which concludes the work.

So my questions for those interested in the “problem of harp” in the context of contemporary orchestral technique are these:

Do we give the harp its proper due as an instrument (rather than as an ornament) in our orchestral arrangements?

Do we stereotype the harp, giving it the obligatory and occasional arpeggios, because that is what tradition has demanded for so long?

Do we demand of the instrument too much or too little?

If these questions cannot be addressed, and our own attempts to write for the harp, as one instrument among many in the orchestral ensemble, are not considered on their own terms, I can only draw one conclusion:

(and I am joking, of course)

You have come to this forum to rap us on the knuckles with your ruler, for being bad little boys and girls, because we have not written out the parts for the harps properly, in accordance with specific procedures.

: )I doubt you came to this forum just to do that. Absolutely Not! I would hope that I am challenging composers to delve into the complications of writing for this instrument so that they create a body of literature for this and future generations. All of the scores that I edit will be donated to the Sousa Archives where my life and works are being preserved.

I, for one, want to know what you think of the specific passages I have written for the harp here, in the larger orchestral context. (It may seem like an inconsequential question to someone who performs with such tremendous dexterity on the instrument, as you demonstrated in the Metaphysical Waltz).

I am not going to provide the score, with the specific parts for the harp, if you don’t mind, because I want you to listen, and tell me what you hear.

(Also, I don't have the score handy, and it would take me some time to find it and put it in an acceptable form just now).

You said in response to one person’s post on this thread,

“I can't really comment unless I see the score which sounds interesting. Thank you for your response!
”

I do not believe you cannot comment unless you see the score. I can't comment on the NOTATION without seeing the score but I can comment on what I hear.

Please try.

The recorded performance, or the sound file, produced by the composer, is as good, or even better than the written score, for understanding what the composer has in mind. That is true, but it doesn't allow me to assist in developing notation that is viable for the harpist. (Quality of the file notwithstanding).

One can simply listen.

(How I do treasure those piano rolls of Gustav Mahler playing some of the songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, and excerpts from the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies !)

So may we talk about the sound of the harp, and the sound of the music, before we talk about the specific or the general problems associated with writing out the score? We may.

Let us talk about the actual effect of the music.

I used the above link to your piece but it didn't take me directly to Utube. Therefore I went to your listings on Utube but couldn't locate Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra. Would it be possible for you to send me an mp3? drshirley472@comcast.net  I see that you are indeed a noteworthy composer!  (A compliment and a bit of humor combined!)

Thank you, Shirley, for your very thoughtful and carefully considered reply to my post.

You said, "I used the above link to your piece but it didn't take me directly to Utube. Therefore I went to your listings on Utube but couldn't locate Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra. Would it be possible for you to send me an mp3? drshirley472@comcast.net  I see that you are indeed a noteworthy composer!  (A compliment and a bit of humor combined!)"


Thanks for the compliment--and the humor!


Unfortunately, the mp3 is too large to mail.

I have an idea about why the link I gave you might not work.

(I cut off a bit of the code, though that link still works for me)

Try this link, and see if you get to the video.

http://www.youtube.com/user/earlymusicof?ob=0&feature=results_main

If not, try some of the other links below.  I am sure one of them works.

(I'll be horrified if none of them do!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidnK2w--fw&list=PL74367968BA4B2...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidnK2w--fw&context=C4f94741ADvj...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidnK2w--fw&list=PL74367968BA4B2...

Or you can just visit the site, again.  I put "Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra" prominently on the main page, as the featured video.

http://www.youtube.com/user/earlymusicof

Time for a  change, anyway.

I'll get back to you on the comment about the flute.

You are indisputably right, of course, when it comes to the issue of notation.

I also agree with what you said about orchestrating for two harps, as opposed one harp, as Stockhausen did in "Freude."

By the way, are any sound files or any portions of sound files of "Progeny" available online?

I did a search and couldn't find any.  (I typed in Progeny, Progeny of Memory and Sadie Taylor, but could not find anything that corresponded to a link for the piece).

Is any more of your avante-garde harp music available online?  Like the Metaphysical Waltz.  Work for solo harp?  I looked at one of the lists of your papers online, at U of Illinois.  Very impressive.

Hi Ondib

Unfortunately, the mp3 is too large to mail. You might try YouSendIt.  The last time I used this service it was free and you can send very large files this way.

Or you can just visit the site, again.  I put "Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra" prominently on the main page, as the featured video.  I will try this.  It seems that it may have been in such plain sight that I didn't see it!

By the way,are any sound files or any portions of sound files of "Progeny" available online?  You can find it on the website of:  Matthew H. Fields http://www.matthewfields.net/Recordings/

Progeny of Memory and Sadie Taylor Sadie TURNER

 I looked at one of the lists of your papers online, at U of Illinois.  Very impressive. Thank you.


There might be a recording of Les Gestes by Bernard Rands.  And now I will look for your piece on YouTube!  more later...........

Hi Ondib,

Well well!  I have watched and listened to your YouTube piece, Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra, several times now and subsequently sent links to some friends.  Within seconds I could understand why Metaphysical Waltz might fascinate you.  Almost from the start, your sounds suggested to me first textures and then colors.  Your selection of corresponding video material was absolutely perfect, stunning, extraordinary and captivating.  It was one of those types of experiences that leave me both speechless and at the same time filled with words.  Thank You for your work!   I could hear a few harp chirps as part of the texture and thought that you used the unique quality of this instrument effectively. . Of course, you could have used it more predominantly, a comment you can attribute to my mentality as a harpist!

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/beauportclassical5  On this site you can hear excerpts from "The Owl and The Pussycat" for flute and harp by Robert Martin.  I am the harpist on the recording.

Great! I am from Detroit and I graduated from Cass Tech High School where I studied Harp with Patricia Terry-Ross!  I was under the Salzedo method and I loved it!  I know longer play (that was some years ago) but I love composing for harp.  I will definitely keep you in mind when I compose!



Chad Sir Wick Hughes said:

Great! I am from Detroit and I graduated from Cass Tech High School where I studied Harp with Patricia Terry-Ross!  I was under the Salzedo method and I loved it!  I know longer play (that was some years ago) but I love composing for harp.  I will definitely keep you in mind when I compose! 

  Hi Chad!  Good to hear from you and hope that you do write some new harp music!  I also studied the Salzedo method.

I wanted to thank you for your very gracious comment about "Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra."  You are extremely generous.  Yes, I have to admit the "Metaphysical Waltz" is a piece that hits me right in the aesthetic nerve, wherever that might be located.   Thanks for sharing the link for the Owl and the Pussycat.  I have not listened to it yet, but I definitely will.  I will write you again, when I do.   Your artistry is most impressive.  

Yours, 

O.

Shirley Meyer Blankenship said:

Hi Ondib,

Well well!  I have watched and listened to your YouTube piece, Chess for Piano, Harp and Orchestra, several times now and subsequently sent links to some friends.  Within seconds I could understand why Metaphysical Waltz might fascinate you.  Almost from the start, your sounds suggested to me first textures and then colors.  Your selection of corresponding video material was absolutely perfect, stunning, extraordinary and captivating.  It was one of those types of experiences that leave me both speechless and at the same time filled with words.  Thank You for your work!   I could hear a few harp chirps as part of the texture and thought that you used the unique quality of this instrument effectively. . Of course, you could have used it more predominantly, a comment you can attribute to my mentality as a harpist!

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/beauportclassical5  On this site you can hear excerpts from "The Owl and The Pussycat" for flute and harp by Robert Martin.  I am the harpist on the recording.

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