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Was old Irish/Scottish/Welsh harp music monophonic or polyphonic?

Home Forums Coffee Break Was old Irish/Scottish/Welsh harp music monophonic or polyphonic?

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  • #104381
    clh-h
    Participant

    Did the famous Celtic harpers of old play monophonic (just a melody, one note at a time) or polyphonic (a melody and a harmony/accompaniment, more than one note at a time)?

    Does anyone know? I’ve been wondering. When people play folk music on the harp today they seem to mostly do it polyphonic. I wondered whether that’s how it always was.

    #104382
    tony-morosco
    Member

    How old are you asking about? I don’t think anyone knows how they played in Druid times, but if you want to know about O’Carolan and his contemporaries, or the few centuries prior, then they clearly played polyphonic.

    I would be very, very surprised if that hasn’t always been the case. After all, isn’t that the whole reason for having a harp over, say, a lyre? If you aren’t playing polyphonic music you just don’t need all those strings.

    #104383
    clh-h
    Participant

    O’Carolan would have been post Renaissance. I didn’t think about that. I had more in mind pre-Renaissance, before polyphony got common. But I guess that’s too early to know or whatever.

    #104384
    katerina
    Participant

    O’Carolan (1670 – 25 March 1738) is pretty late baroque. His music is quite well influenced by Italian style.

    #104385
    katerina
    Participant

    Irish tradition still has improvised bass. In that sense we can call it polyphonic.

    There are too many strings on survived historical harps to be only a monophonic instrument. To be honest, on average clairseachs had the same or bigger number of strings than average European harps at a time, and the same or lower ranges.

    I don’t think that the conception of using the instrument was a lot different from the rest of Europe or from how it is now.

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