What Are the Different Kinds of Music for Harp?

The harp is a small, ancient instrument that was once used to accompany singing and could be held in one hand. In Wales, harp music was featured in folk music and poetry performances, and the harp player was respected in traditional aristocratic circles in Ireland. The harp became more widely used as an orchestral instrument as technical advances in its construction were made. The harp has been developed in a variety of sizes, and it can be found in jazz, blues, modern folk, and other musical genres, either as part of an ensemble or as a vocal accompaniment.

Harp music was featured in some concertos during the Baroque period in Europe, most notably George Frideric Handel’s Harp Concerto in B flat major. During the Classical Period, the instrument was used in orchestras and was featured in Franz Liszt’s music as well as operatic music in Italy. In Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet music, the harp is featured prominently at times. Claude Debussy used the harp in romantic pieces in the twentieth century, and the instrument also appeared in Maurice Ravel’s music, most notably in the Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet.

The harp has been frequently used as an instrument in jazz ensembles, and some well-known jazz harpists have promoted it. A skilled harp player can use the instrument’s melodic and percussive qualities, as well as its wide range, to improvise. The development of instruments such as the electric harp has facilitated the use of harp music in jazz and blues playing, and some classical harp gatherings also host jazz harp gatherings.

In Ireland, the smaller Celtic harp is frequently associated with folk music. Harp players were held in high regard in ancient Ireland, and Irish harp music developed its own set of rules for composition. This harp tradition was more closely associated with the old Gaelic aristocracy than with traditional Irish folk music, and it faded from prominence as the Irish aristocracy declined. In the twentieth century, the tradition was revived, and notable harp players such as Derek Bell of the Chieftains emerged. This revival in the twentieth century resulted in some adaptations of the harp tradition to traditional Irish folk music, which previously relied on other instruments.

The triple harp, which had three rows of strings with separate semitone strings, was used in traditional Welsh music. Poetry was traditionally sung to the accompaniment of harp music, with the singer and harp combining to provide emphasis where the poetry required it. Traditional Welsh folk music was revived in the second half of the twentieth century bands like Ar Log, who performed with a triple harp and knee harp, as well as guitar, flute, fiddle, and bass.