Guide to the Contemporary Harp

Guide to the Contemporary Harp

Mathilde Aubat-Andrieu, Laurence Bancaud, Aurélie Barbé and Hélène Breschand
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/11/2019
Format: Hardback 321 b&w illus., 2 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-03937-8
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Harps and harp music have enjoyed a renaissance over the past century and today can be heard in a broad array of musical contexts. Guide to the Contemporary Harp is a comprehensive resource that examines the vibrant present-day landscape of the harp. The authors explore the instrument from all angles, beginning with organology; moving through composition, notation, and playing techniques; and concluding with the contemporary repertoire for the harp. The rapid diversification in these areas of harp performance is the result of both technological innovations in harp making, which have produced the electric harp and MIDI harp, and innovative composers and players. These new instruments and techniques have broadened the concept of what is possible and what constitutes harp music for today. Guide to the Contemporary Harp is an essential guide for any harpist looking to push the instrument and its music to new heights.

Author Bio

Mathilde Aubat-Andrieu is a harpist and cofounder of the association Les Signes de l'arc (The Signs of the Arch). She was awarded a gold medal and first prize in proficiency at the Music Conservatory in Troyes (France) and gives regular performances at reading-concerts, with chamber music ensembles and orchestra.

Laurence Bancaud is a harpist and cofounder of the association Les Signes de l'arc. She was awarded first prize at the CNSMD (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse) and has a master's degree in musicology and specializes in contemporary music. She is author of Tôn-Thât Tiêt: Dialogue Avec la Nature.

Aurélie Barbé is a harpist, composer, and cofounder of the association Les Signes de l'arc. She was awarded a gold medal at the Music Conservatory in Caen (France) and a higher studies diploma in musicology. She is a teacher and performer, specializing in modal, minimalist and improvised music for both classical and electric harp.

Hélène Breschand is a harpist, composer, and cofounder of the association Les Signes de l'arc. She was awarded a gold medal and first prize in proficiency at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Regional in Paris. She pursues her career as a soloist in the contemporary repertoire and in new creations, improvisation, and musical theatre.

Lilian Rossi has pursued an academic career and is the author of Doctors and Nurses. Jean Rossi is an administrative officer. Working as a team, they have translated numerous academic and literary works from French and German.

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Table of Contents





1. Organology

I. Historical Reminders

II. The Pedal Harp

General Characteristics

The Parts of the Harp

The Strings

The Pedals and the Modulation Mechanism

"Using the Pedals"

Pedal Notation

Playing the Harp

III. The Lever Harp

General Characteristics

The Strings

Levers and the Modulation Mechanism

Playing the Lever Harp

IV. Electric Harps

The Electroacoustic Harp

The Electric Harp

The Electric-Acoustic Harp

V. Some 21st Century Creations

The MIDI Harp

The Automatic Harp


2. Writing and Language

I. Notations

Measured Notation

Unmeasured Notation

Proportional Notation

Introduction of the Aleatory Element (Indeterminacy)

Open Works

Combination of Several Notations

Superposition of Different Tempi

Writing on Several Staves

Writing with Another System than the Five-Line Stave

Graphic Scores

II. Dramatized Writings

Micro-Choreography, Theatrical Gestures

Dramaturgic Use of the Voice

Use of the Sung Voice, with No Theatrical Indication

Use of the Spoken and/or the Sung Voice with No Text

III. Mixed Forms of Music

Some Works for Harp and Extensions


3. Playing Techniques

I. Timbre

"Près de la table" (Near the Soundboard)

"Bas dans les cordes" (Low in the Strings)

"Près des chevilles" (Near the Tuning Pins)

Harmonic Sound

Sound Using the Fingernail

Koto Sound

Plucked Sound

Vibrated Sound

Portando From One Pitch to Another

Xylo Sound

Pizzicato (Pizz.)

Bartók Pizzicato

Normal Position


Tone-Color Melody (Klangfarbenmelodie)

II. Glissandi, Chords and Clusters

Single Glissando

Fast Glissando

Multiple Glissando

Pitchless Glissandi

Flat, Broken, Arpeggiated/Rolled Chords

Cluster Glissando


Cluster Glissando with Thunder Effect


Muffled Cluster

Tremolo Cluster

Aeolian Cluster

Various Forms of Rubbing

III. Resonances, muffles and silences


Let Vibrate


IV. Hits on the harp

Different Types of Hits

Which Part of the Harp to Hit?

Composers Who Have Elaborated a Detailed Notation for Hits

V. Wire strings

Whistling Sound (with the Palm of the Hand)

Wired Sound (Grabbing a Wire String with the fingers)

Scrape with a Nail or a Plectrum


Thunder Effect

Sustained Thunder Effect

VI. Pedals and Levers

Pedal Glissando

Pedal Trill

Rhythmic Effect with Pedals

Pedal Movement Ad Libitum with Sound Effect

Pedal Buzz

Resonant Pedal Sound


Thunder Effect

VII. Using Objects

Metal Rod


Use of Percussion Instruments by the Harpist


Electronic Bow


Other Objects

Prepared Harp

Inserting Materials Between the Strings (Foam, Paper, Cardboard, Textile, Rubber, Elastic Band, etc.)

VIII. Scordatura

Pedal Harp

Lever Harp

Two Harps


Significant Landmarks

List of Notations


The History of Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Contemporary Notation

Musical Instruments, The Orchestra

The Harp

Internet Sites

Repertoire of Works for Harp

Solo Harp

Harp and Extensions

Lever Harp

Lever Harp and Extensions

Duets and Harp Ensembles




Quartets and More

Ensembles and Extensions

Index of Composers Quoted

Index of Playing Techniques