Early (scand) wire harp/Biagio

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    randal on #215096

    Greetings Biagio and all, I searched for a “personal message” button, but no avail.

    I noticed on Jay Witcher’s page the “Trondheim” harp http://www.witcherharps.com/index.php/brass-strung-wire-harps/trondheim-harp/

    I am greatly interested in finding any information pertaining to the use of wire harp in early Scandinavia tradition. Do you suppose I need to perhaps look into kantele/zither sources and “work my way back,” as it were, thinking that at the very least what once occurred in the form of wire harping became embedded to some degree in this musical form/expression (?)

    Of course if ANYone can offer any suggestions, greatly appreciated. Thanks! Randal

    Biagio on #215129

    Hi Randal,

    I don’t know much about this other than some speculation on how the harp came to Scandinavia via Viking traders. You might ask Beth Kolle, who plays a great deal of Scandinavian music (though not on wire):


    Best wishes,

    randal on #215131

    Thank you Biagio. I’m compelled by medieval scand, just as gaelic on wire harp.

    Btw, I couldn’t find a “personal message” button, but I have some curiosity about the various examples – such as the different angles between Lamont and Trinity College styles: is there an inherent sound advantage to the lower head on the Lamont style, or is it simply a matter of enabling/accomodating a greater number of strings?

    Many thanks, R

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by randal.
    Biagio on #215142

    Randal, I’m not an expert and can only speculate – although in fact so do all those who have studied these ancient harps. They just have more experience in speculation ha ha. What we do know is that a) there are very few extant harps from the 16th century b) they are low headed and c) by the 17th century high-headed harps begin to appear in Ireland, presumably due to exchanges of ideas with Scotland and the mainland. Make of that what you will; I’d suggest it comes down to fashion at the time. Here are two places to begin further research:




    Getting closer to your question: a number of people have studied the low headed Lamont Trinity and Queen Mary harps closely and determined that those string lengths suggest either a bass C, or if a G the string might have been silver or even gold They are too short to ring nicely with brass or bronze, at least to modern ears. That might also “explain” the evolution to high-heads like the Downhill. Some of he folks who have studied this question most closely besides David are Ann Heymann, Simon Chadwick, Karen Loomis, Siobhan Armstrong, Paul Dooley, David Kortier and Guy Flockhart. Most except David K perhaps have written extensively on this subject.

    There is also some question about how they were tuned: purely diatonically, in C or G with doubled root notes in the mid (“na cawlee”) whether or not with a flatted 3rd, the exact spacing, if the penultimate note was the root and the ultimate a fifth (eg G and D)….

    I realize that is a whole lot of words that do not really answer the question! All I can say for my own (a 26) is that I settled on diatonic tuning in G with 1.1cm spacing, with four silver strings and four red brass, the rest yellow brass or bronze. It can be tuned na cawlee as well; perhaps the ancient harpers did this sort of thing too. Who can say?

    I did design a 30 string na cawlee with root G but decided that was too much work at my skill in playing (mediocre). Besides, cast string shoes would have been about $100 each…nah.



    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    randal on #215144

    Thx Biagio, as always.

    Biagio on #215145

    You are welcome Randal, though I’m not sure if I was very helpful (grin). If you wish to really dig into this stuff (and it IS fascinating) in addition to the resources mentioned earlier I highly recommend two collections from the Folk Harp Journal archives: The Science of Harp Making and The Wire Strung Harp, available here:


    Best wishes,

    randal on #215147

    Thx. Have you heard any scand music on wire harp?

    Biagio on #215148

    Only a few pieces from Rudiger Oppermann and Chris Caswell. I suppose the best way to get into that would be to listen to Nordic harp music by Beth, Erik Ask-Upmark, Harper Tasche and a few others. and think about how you would adapt it to the wire strung?

    To help you get started here is a downloadable selection of 15 tunes:


    Although Beth arranged these for lever harp you will notice that the harmony is very simply, readily adaptable to wire.

    Have fun!


    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    randal on #215151

    Thx for link! Ya I’ll have to check it out.

    *Oh is that notation? I only just play harp, fiddle and all that by ear – I haven’t read since I quit classical guitar 15 years ago. 🙂

    **wrt the musicmakers publications, I didnt see exactly one of the titles you mention – is it the “Wire Harp Collection”?

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by randal.
    randal on #215211

    I’ve got a small 25-str wire harp I’ve thought of teaching my kids to play some small kantele figures to accompany some of my fiddle tunes – I’ve got some cds I’ll have to dig out to find more.

    I’ve not explored this idiom wrt harp – all my wire stuff is gaelic/trad as come down through the Isles. I’m becoming keener to the idea of seeing what I can find as deployed on w. harp.

    Biagio on #215222

    **wrt the musicmakers publications, I didnt see exactly one of the titles you mention – is it the “Wire Harp Collection”?

    Yep, that’s the one.

    Regarding idiom (I assume you mean Beth’s arrangements), her bass harmony is often essentially half note fifths – pretty typical for the wire strung. We don’t typically “do” arpeggios, thirds, glisses, etc, as the wire harp sustain would make the whole thing too muddy.

    BTW, in the Science of Harp Making there is a hilarious classic – Mark Bolles on “The Great Wire Wars” – worth the price of the CD alone!

    randal on #215556

    Thank you Biagio.

    By that I mean – i’ve not explored Scandinavian music as pertains to harp.

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