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  Writing for Harp  dunkinwedd at 18:33 on 22 September 2006

I think writing for harp is very challenging. One thing that gives me gyp is remembering the pedal settings.

So I made a little gadget to help me - a visual representation of the pedal settings. It was so great, I made it into a pdf to share with other composers.

If you'd like one, just help yourself from here:

It's a bit Airfix, but it works!

  Re: Writing for Harp  Team Gaughan at 10:47 on 23 September 2006

I found writing for harp a challenge to but was always keen on the instrument due to my early liking of Benjamin Britten. I was lucky that while I was a student I got to know a harpest fairly well. She asked for a piece and I in return asked for a few lessons. While I only gained approx grade 3 it has certainly helped getting to know the instrument!

Most harp players who tackle new works often ignore new composers pedal marks and do their own anyway! (At least in my own experience). In my basic playing I got bored with glissandi, as did my teacher, so I now invent new way of gaining similar results. Check out pieces by Hindemith & Ginestera as well as Birtwistle and of course Britten (esp the Harp Suite, Ceremony of Carols & the Operas).

Harp players only use 4 fingers per hand, no little fingers, tremolos between 2 strings tuned to the same pitch are fun, (ie: one string a-sharp, the next b-flat), harmonics in one hand & glissandi in the other work well & 'tambora' effects.
If you must have glisses try 3 or 4 togeher at once!


  Re: Writing for Harp  piargno at 19:12 on 23 September 2006

AH! The harp is my favorite instrument in the world (next to piano), and YEAH! I got really frustrated one day keeping track of all the pedal changes, and I made something similar to what dunkinwedd made, but instead of having something slide into a window (which was my first plan), I have tabs that fold down or up respectively. So, when nothing is folded in, the setting is natural. Fold the upper tab down, and it's sharp (because the lower tab will be down). Fold the lower tab up, and it's flat. The best part about this is that, no matter what the setting, it will always look like a pedal diagram.

Also, if you really want some juicy harp stuff, I HIGHLY suggest buying the Salzedo. I'm almost positive it's called, "L'etude moderne de la harp." Also, the Stone (20th century Notation) has great harp stuff. And then ANY harp music by Renie, Tournier, and Salzedo are wonderful resources. Coming from BU, which was where Ms. Lawrence (Salzedo's wife) taught, I've definitely gotten a lot of great harp lessons. If I search hard enough online, I may be able to find a copy of Ms. Lawrence playing "Flight" by Salzedo (which is one of the most brutal pieces for harp, and she does it flawlessly...).

But I MUST say that the Thunder Effect is spectacular. If you listen to my sound clip of "Die Freiheit," I have Thunder Effect there. That's the rippling sound - it's not a percussion instrument at all. It's the great harp!


  Re: Writing for Harp  dunkinwedd at 00:28 on 24 September 2006

Yes - Modern Study of the Harp (L'Etude Moderne De La Harpe) is the book.

The special effects (nail glissandos, thunder effect, whistling effect, xylophone effect etc) are - in my humble opinion - effective in inverse proportion to the amount you use them...

In other words, a little goes a long way!

  Re: Writing for Harp  harpnz at 21:47 on 06 January 2010

I am an orchestral harpist who has worked with composers quite often, and I've created a document to help composers get a "feel" for the instrument, from the performers' point of view. If you would like to download the pdf you can visit my website:

  Re: Writing for Harp  jadashi at 06:06 on 16 January 2010

American harpist Jacqueline Pollauf offers an excellent primer for composers on writing for her instrument:

  Re: Writing for Harp  piargno at 22:19 on 16 January 2010

Hey! I've never met you, but I think we have a lot of people in common, including Alex Nguyen, Ramon Castillo, and Matt van Brink? I think Alex and someone are going to play one of your pieces soon ...