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Topic: Orchestration Question: The Harp, Harmonics and You

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  1. #1

    Orchestration Question: The Harp, Harmonics and You

    GPO allows me to do things that I wonder sometimes how easy they are to do. To keep my orchestration powers in check, I beseech your aide!!! I'm guessing this is the appropriate place to ask orchestration questions, so here goes:

    HARP PLAYERS!!!

    How easy is it to play harmonics? I'm sure you can play them faster than say, whole notes at 60bpm, but you can't exactly do a harmonic gliss, can you?

    Does it require two hands to play a harmonic?
    Can you play more than one note at a time? Like from a second out to an octave? Or more?

    How easy is it to play them consistently? Like if I wrote quarter notes at 80bpm, say middle C repeating, how easy is that to get out each note? Would there be any missed notes?

    How easy is it to play a melody in harmonics?

    And lastly, can anyone recommend any recordings or even sheet music where I can see an example of this in repertoire?

    Many thanks!
    Joe

  2. #2

    Re: Orchestration Question: The Harp, Harmonics and You

    How easy is it to play harmonics? I'm sure you can play them faster than say, whole notes at 60bpm, but you can't exactly do a harmonic gliss, can you?

    Each hand must simultaneously a) find the exact midpoint of the string (this changes slightly according to pedal position!) b) press against it with part of the hand, c) pluck it with the thumb of the same hand without disturbing the stopped node. This cannot be done more quickly than about quarter notes at 60 bpm. Gliss? that's not even funny.

    Does it require two hands to play a harmonic?

    Each hand plays its own harmonic.

    Can you play more than one note at a time? Like from a second out to an octave? Or more?

    The left hand can play two or even three notes, not more than a 5th apart. The right hand can only play one note.

    How easy is it to play them consistently? Like if I wrote quarter notes at 80bpm, say middle C repeating, how easy is that to get out each note? Would there be any missed notes?

    The repeated notes would be easier than moving notes; once the middle point is found the hand would stay still, just the thumb plucking.

    How easy is it to play a melody in harmonics?

    Fairly easy to a skilled player, if not too quick. The (written) notes should lie no more than one octave either side of Middle C for best quality.

    And lastly, can anyone recommend any recordings or even sheet music where I can see an example of this in repertoire?

    Vaughan Williams' London Symphony has harp harmonics imitating the chimes of Big Ben, at the beginning and end of the work. Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp septet is a masterpiece of virtuoso harp scoring. The cadenza for solo harp near the end includes a melody in LH harmonics counterpointed by normal running notes in the RH.

    I must add that harmonics had better not be written for anyone other than a professional harpist. I have had amateur and semi-professional players botch the harmonics in my harp parts. The semi-pro tried them the proper way; this produced a dead clunking sound so she gave up and plucked the notes normally, an octave higher. We won't speak of the amateur....

    Terry

  3. #3

    Re: Orchestration Question: The Harp, Harmonics and You

    Many thanks, Terry!

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