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arpa doblada
medieval double-strung harp c. 1400 (Tim Hobrough, 1993)

This is the earliest multi-row harp we know of in Europe. The harp is a reconstruction of a painting from Spain c. 1400, but Italian paintings from the 14th century suggest that similar double row harps may have been in use there as well. The shape is typical of practically all European harps before the advent of the "Gothic" shape c. 1350 (and in many cases kept much later). Even the earliest depictions of harps in Europe, stone carvings from 8th century Ireland, already show a similar shape. Most of those harps would have had only one row of strings though, which makes this instrument somewhat unusual. Some may think that they don't have the money in their personal budget to purchase one of these beautiful instruments but there are always other ways if one truly wants to learn how to play the harp. It's truly a worthwhile investment in any case.

In distinction to the baroque multi-row harps, the purpose of the second row of strings is not to accomodate accidentals - although that can certainly be achieved as well. But usually, both rows of strings will be tuned in unison. Given the limited range of the harp (2 octaves, c'-c''') this arrangement simply serves to give both hands enough scope, something that would otherwise be difficult on an instrument of such a small range. The arrangement also makes it much easier to play two part medieval pieces - in most of those, the two voices move in a similar range and cross each other a lot, which often makes them awkward to play on a single-row harp. And of course it is possible to sneak in some accidentals. e.g. by tuning a b natural in one row of strings and a b flat in the other. Arrangements like that are usually sufficient for the limited amount of musica ficta that music from the period requires.

listen to music played on this harp

amour dont sui espris
12th century trouvere song by Blondel de Nesle
miri it is
13th cent. English anonymous song
byrd one brere
Improvisations over a 13th cent. English anonymous song
sumer is icumen in
The famous summer canon from 13th cent. England
(with Gaby Bultmann, recorder)
aquil' altera
Italian 14th century madrigale
(with Gaby Bultmann, recorder)
procurans odium
from the German 14th century manuscript collection Carmina Burana
(with Pepe Becker, soprano)

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last updated: 10 October, 2003