transcribing the harp for classical-period music

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    barbara-kraichy–2 on #147634
    The Kraichy and Erickson Duo (myself and my musical partner Ron) have adapted a couple of
    Elizabeth L on #147635

    Wasn’t just the single action harp available at the time.

    barbara-kraichy–2 on #147636

    Yes, but my question was if that was a major reason composers avoided it (I should correct my subject title to: Transcribing classical-period music for the modern harp).

    paul-knoke on #147637

    Hi Barbara

    There’s a huge body of work from the late 18th/early 19th centuries for harp and violin. In fact, many of the pieces are “accompanied sonatas” in which the HARP has the solo part, and the violin plays the accompaniment.

    There are some good sources for these pieces, most notably Mike Parker’s editions:

    (I’ve performed some of these in concert; they’re musically satisfying, fun to play, and audiences love them!)

    and those from Ut Orpheus:

    You can also rummage around in the online catalogues for places like the Sibley Music Library, the British Library, and the Bibliotheque National. They’re usually fairly obliging about selling photocopies of old music in their holdings.

    For a better understanding of the harp of the period and the technique associated with it, you might want to get Mike’s book on the subject, “Child of Pure Harmony”:

    It’s not too long, is easy to read, and brings together a lot of information from source materials.

    Mozart didn’t like writing for the harp because he didn’t like having to keep the pedaling in mind, like so many other composers throughout history!

    I beg of you not to refer to the single-action harp as “limited”. It’s a different instrument to the modern harp, and has different resources: greater clarity and a much wider range of possible tone colors being among the most important. Plus, do we refer to the oboe as “limited” because it can’t play chords, or the violin as “limited” because it can’t play a contra-bass C? All instruments have things they can and can’t do.

    But enough ranting. Take a look at the original repertory, and have fun! There’s some delightful music there that deserves to be played and enjoyed.

    barbara-brundage on #147638

    Hi, Paul.

    I’m very curious about this:

    >Mozart didn’t like writing for the harp because he didn’t like having to keep the pedaling in mind

    I’d love to know the source for that, if you happen to know. I’d heard it was mostly because he didn’t get paid for the flute and harp concerto, but I don’t know an original source for that idea, either. 🙂

    paul-knoke on #147639

    Hi Barbara!

    Mostly I get that from the music itself. There are some passages (especially in the last movement) that are either very awkward or unplayable as written, on the single-action harp. While the single-action harp is certainly capable of chromaticism if it’s well thought-out (see P.J. Meyer Op. 4 sonatas), Mozart clearly wasn’t keeping the requirements of the pedals in mind at times!

    barbara-brundage on #147640

    Oops, I somehow missed seeing your reply. Thanks for clarifying that, Paul. But I think you could say that about probably 90% of composers who don’t play the harp, can’t you? 🙂

    paul-knoke on #147641

    Oh, you sure can! In fact, that’s why I became the librarian for the orchestra I play in: so I could get the harp parts ahead of time in case they needed editing.

    kreig-kitts on #147642

    I’m thinking of hitting our band librarian up for my music ahead of our first fall rehearsal for the same reason.

    Bonnie Shaljean on #147643

    I heartily second Paul’s helpful post, and his endorsement of Mike Parker’s excellent material. You can also find a whole load of free downloads of harp music at

    The link to the harp/violin page(s) is:

    And you can always borrow from the harp/flute selections:

    There’s a lot of other harp music on there too – if you’re coming in through the main entry page ( and want to get to the above, you reach it by typing “harp violin” or “harp flute” (or whatever other instrument you want) in the search box, and restrict the field to “Texts” in the drop-down menu beside it. There’s also a fair bit of music for larger ensembles as well, and a number of harp/pianoforte duets which, with a bit of judicious editing, can be morphed into harp/harp duets.

    If you want to browse through all the harp music, type “harp music” in the search box, again restricting the field to Texts. You can also search by name. It’s mostly older repertoire, many of them standard warhorses, but it’s a fun trawl nonetheless.

    There’s also a gold mine on Morley’s website in England:

    And the Petrucci Music Database

    and, as Paul mentioned, the Sibley Music Library (you’ll have to click around for the free downloads, but they’re there)

    and don’t forget good old Google Books, which has a surprising amount of stuff. Happy hunting!

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #147644

    I have published some articles on these subjects, mostly in String Notes, the Minnesota ASTA publication.
    One of the key problems (aside from keys) in playing Mozart’s music on the harp is the extreme length of his phrases, sections and movements, not to mention the chromaticism. Very few advanced pieces are playable, and are not really suitable. You find more possibilities in Haydn, Benda and other composers. We don’t need to play Mozart, anyway. We have a lot of Dussek, and other classical composers. People who love Mozart want to hear it on piano, not harp.
    Schubert’s music lays too low on the harp, frequently, and is too thickly written. He uses harp patterns in some pieces, particularly song accompaniments. Again, his fantasies and such are too long-winded for the harp.
    Harp music is generally shorter, most solos being 10 minutes or less. Most concert pieces are 6-8 minutes in length. Fatigue is a factor.
    My father commented on how harp music needs to move slower because it takes longer for the notes to register in the ear, there is not the clarity other instruments have. That is perhaps part of why we are pattern dependent in our music.
    There were few professional harpists in the classical era, though many accomplished amateurs, in Paris, anyway. In the time of Berlioz, this was still a major problem.
    Again, our perception of limitations has a lot to with the limitations of what has been available. J.C. Bach wrote quite a bit for harp, as did Dussek, and of course, Spohr.
    Salzedo’s transcriptions of classical music are an excellent guide to how to adapt them, and what is as instructive is what he did not transcribe.
    If you are a sensitive listener, then you will notice when the articulations that are necessary to a piece are not possible on the harp. A good example of this is the opening of Bach’s Italian Concerto. The only way we can separate those notes is by muffling them. And in the second movement, there are two places of chromatic conflict between the bass and melody. Therefore, I would only attempt it as a two-harp piece.

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