Barcarolle (Offenbach) on Lever Harp?

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    Randy Schmidt on #256722

    I am a church music director, not a harpist, and am unclear about how feasible it is for someone to play the barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman (only the harp part, of course) on a lever harp. I’ve arranged small sections of music that include pedal harp but have rarely had the availability of a musician and an instrument. Thus, my experience is pretty light. However, a lady who plays a lever harp appears to be available with her instrument for a church festival this fall which I am directing and I am evaluating writing an arrangement of the barcarolle for a small ensemble that would utilize the original harp part. I just don’t know if it’s manageable on a lever harp, particularly because the lady seems hesitant about her ability to play it. Please advise if the part is really only practical on a pedal harp and not on a lever harp.
    Thank you,

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    balfour-knight on #256724

    Hello Randy,

    Perhaps I can help with your question. I play both the pedal harp and lever harp professionally. It would depend on the skill of the lever harpist and how comfortable she is with changing many levers. Whereas the pedal harpist can have instant pitch changes in all octaves with the mere use of a foot on a pedal, the lever harpist must change the pitch of each note individually, usually only with the left hand. Also, the pedal harp has a double action, which means that flats, naturals, and sharps are possible on all strings. Only the open string and one semitone higher are possible on each string of a lever harp.

    In looking over this harp part, I personally would be able to play it on the lever harp if I simplified it a bit. Keeping the tempo of the piece, there would only be time to change one lever at a time, instead of the several that need to be changed at the same time, so some notes could just be omitted. Using synonyms (enharmonic notes) such as D# in place of E flat, for example, would make it work on a lever harp tuned in the Key of C. A lever harp tuned in E flat would require a lot of levers engaged to just play in the Key of D, as the piece is written in, not counting all the accidentals!

    In general, this is why it is a pedal harp part, and not too practical on a lever harp as it is written. In your arrangement, with you knowing the limitations of the lever harp, maybe some of the difficult parts could be taken by other instruments in your ensemble. I would just present it to your harpist and see what she can come up with. Good luck with the performance this Fall!

    Best wishes,

    Randy Schmidt on #256727

    Hello, Balfour-Knight,

    Thank you for the explanation. I gathered there was more to it than I understood. The harpist is not advanced and is uncomfortable “playing every note” so I’ll work with her to make the part manageable.

    Thanks again,

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