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Elven harps

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The Elves were the first to build harps in Middle Earth – harp making and harping have been an important part of Elven culture even from the oldest days. Many of the Great among the Eldar were skilled harpers – among them were Luthien, and the Lady Galadriel.

Elven harps are light and elegant – they were large enough to accommodate a range of strings that matched the compass of their voices, but still small enough to be held in a player’s lap, rather than standing on the ground. Different types of wood were used, but among the most common were the wood of the mallorn tree, and the light but extremely strong and flexible grey-hued wood that was also used in boat building. The latter in particular could be carved out to a very thin layer without causing the soundboard to break or tear up, giving the instrument a beautiful resonance despite the relatively small sounding body.

Elven harps are often decorated with metal or wood inlay, and some have beautifully carved heads or necks. Rather than breaking up the smooth elegant curve of the soundboard with soundholes, Elven harps are open at the base, to provide an outlet for the sound. Strings were usually made of hithlain (the same material that is also used in rope making), but where that material was not available, the Elves would resort to other materials, such as silk, or sometimes their own hair.

The sound of the Elven harps is rich and colourful – with a somewhat nasal quality, not unsimilar to some of the instruments used by Southron men, but much sweeter, and not at all unpleasant to the ear. Skilful players could make a harp sound almost like a singing voice – it is said that when Luthien or the Lady Galadriel played, an attentive listener could understand the words of the song even though there was no singer to pronounce them.

Listen to music played on an Elven harp

Rosetta
from cd Rent a Nightingale
an elaborate harp piece from the First Age that is believed to have been composed by Luthien Tinúviel herself
Amoroso
from cd 700 years of pop
a lovely melody from Lorien - a favorite of the Lady Galadriel
Miss Noble
from cd 700 years of pop
a melody that was often heard in Rivendell
Suite from "Musicalische Rüstkammer"
from cd 700 years of pop
this piece is originally a hobbit melody - the Lady Arwen often played it in memory of her hobbit friends

Find out more about "Elven" harps


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last updated: 18 March, 2004