Harp - Modern European and American Instruments - Concert Harp - Use in Music

Use in Music

The harp found its early orchestral use in concerti by many baroque and classical composers (Handel, J. C. Bach, Mozart, Albrechtsberger, Schenck, Dussek, Spohr) and in the opera houses of London, Paris and Berlin and most other capitals. It began to be used in symphonic music by Hector Berlioz but he found performances frustrating in such countries as Germany where few harps and sufficiently proficient harpists were to be found. Franz Liszt was seminal in finding uses for the harp in his orchestral music, and Mendelssohn and Schubert used it in theatrical music or oratorios. The French and Russian Romantic composer particularly expanded its symphonic use. In opera, the Italian composers used it regularly, and Puccini was a particular master of its expressive and coloristic use. Debussy can be said to have put the harp on the map in his many works that use one or more harps. Tchaikovsky also was of great influence, followed by Rimsky-Korsakov, Richard Strauss and Wagner. The greatest influence on use of the harp has always been the availability of fine harps and skilled players, and the great increase of them in the U.S. of the 20th century resulted in its spread into popular music.

The first harpist known to play jazz was Casper Reardon, a pioneer in the world of "hot" music. Dorothy Ashby (sampled by hip-hop artists) and Alice Coltrane are other jazz harpists.

Many passages for solo harp can be found in 19th century ballet music, particularly in scores for the ballets staged for the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, where the harpist Albert Zabel played in the orchestra. In ballet, the harp was utilized to a great extent in order to embellish the dancing of the ballerina. Elaborate cadenzas were composed by Tchaikovsky for his ballets The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty; as well as Alexander Glazunov for his score for the ballet Raymonda. In particular, the scores of Riccardo Drigo contained many pieces for harp in such works as Le Talisman (1889), Le Réveil de Flore (1894) and Les Millions d'Arlequin (1900). Cesare Pugni wrote extensively for the harp as well—his ballet Éoline, ou La Dryade included music written for harp to accompany the ballerina's numerous variations and enhance the atmosphere of the ballet's many fantastical scenes. Ludwig Minkus was celebrated for his harp cadenzas, most notably the Variation de la Reine du jour from his ballet La Nuit et le Jour (1881), the elaborate entr'acte composed for Albert Zabel from his ballet Roxana (1878), and numerous passages found in his score for the ballet La Bayadère, which in some passages were used to represent a veena which was used on stage as a prop.

French ballet composers such as Delibes, Gounod, and Massenet made use of the harp in their music.

There is a prominent harp part in "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles in their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the 1970s, a harp was common in popular music, and can be heard in such hits as Cher's "Dark Lady", the intro of "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves", and "Boogie Nights" by Heatwave. Most often this was played by Los Angeles studio harpist Gayle Levant, who has played on hundreds of recordings. Irish band Clannad featured the harp heavily in their music during the 1970s and 1980s. In current pop music, the harp appears relatively rarely. Joanna Newsom, Dee Carstensen, Darian Scatton, Habiba Doorenbos, and Jessa Callen of The Callen Sisters have separately established images as harp-playing singer-songwriters with signature harp and vocal sounds. Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan plays the harp in her 2006 holiday album, Wintersong. In Hong Kong, a notable example of harp in pop music is the song "Tin Shui Walled City" (天水圍城) performed by Hacken Lee with harp played by Korean harpist Jung Kwak (Harpist K).

Harp use has recently expanded in the "alternative" music world of commercial popular music. A pedal harpist, Ricky Rasura, is a member of the "symphonic pop" band, The Polyphonic Spree. Also, Björk sometimes features acoustic and electric harp in her work, often played by Zeena Parkins. Philadelphia based Indie Pop Band Br'er uses a pedal harp as the foundation for their cinematic live sets. Art in America was the first known rock band featuring a pedal harp to appear on a major record label, and released only one record, in 1983. The pedal harp was also present in the Michael Kamen and Metallica concert and album, S&M, as part of the San Francisco Symphony orchestra. R&B singer Maxwell featured harpist Gloria Agostini in 1997 on his cover of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work". On his 7th solo album Finding Forever, Hip- Hop artist Common features harpist Brandee Younger on the introductory track, followed by a Dorothy Ashby sample from her 1969 recording of By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Some Celtic-pop crossover bands and artists such as Clannad and Loreena McKennitt include folk harps, following Alan Stivell's work. Recently Florence Welch has begun to incorporate harps into her songs, notably on "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)". The Webb Sisters from UK use different size harps in almost all their material during live performances. Sierra Casady, of the freak-folk group CocoRosie plays harp on several of their songs.

Aside from its use in music, the harp occasionally appears in the Marx Brothers' movies when Harpo plays it. Sometimes entire scenes focus on his harp-playing.

Read more about this topic:  Harp, Modern European and American Instruments, Concert Harp

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