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Gondorian harp

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When Men first came to Numenor, they began to adopt Elven-style harps, similar to those which the Eldar visiting from Valinor brought with them. But they soon began to alter the design, being eager to make harps that were bigger and, as they thought, better than those of the Eldar. The main innovation of the Numenoreas was to add extra rows of strings, to accommodate more pitches – in keeping with the increasing complexity of their music, which began to depart from the noble simplicity of the songs of their ancestors, and wilfully introduced dissonance and many strange intervals. Later, it was thought that this was an early sign of the influence of Sauron and his lord Melkor – it had been Melkor who had first introduced dissonance into the music of the Ainur, and all music of the people of Arda mirrored that oldest of songs.

In their later days, Numenorean harps usually had three parallel rows of strings, accomodating as many as thirteen different pitches per octave. These instruments were difficult to play, requiring the devotion of a lifetime for their mastery, and thus in Numenor there grew a class of professional harpers that provided music in the houses of the lords and the wealthy. They were held in high esteem, and so were the master carvers that carved the harps, which were usually lavishly decorated with gold plate and many strange figures and ornaments. Indeed, often a harp was more valued for its carvings and decoration than the quality of its sound.

No harps survived the Fall of Numenor, except for one fragment of a richly carved neck and column that was washed ashore in Dol Amroth and is still kept there as a relic of the vanished realm. But there were harp builders among the people that escaped the ruin with Elendil, and they made new harps that were like the old Numenorean harps in design and shape, although they tended to be much simpler and more austere in their decoration.

Harps of this type were widely used both in Gondor, and in Arnor before its fall. Later on, the Dunedain of the North turned again to the smaller harps used by the Men in Eregion, which were more suited to their unsettled lifestyle. A few Anorian harps were kept in Master Elrond’s house until the return of the King, and the Elven harpers of Rivendell began to take a fancy to those fine large instruments, and adopted their own music to them.

In Gondor, the most famed harpists come from Dol Amroth – it is said that musicianship runs in the families that have an ancestor among the Eldar. The Kings of the Third Age, and later the Stewards, employed harpers from Dol Amroth at their court, and kept a fine collection of instruments - a tradition that is continued into our day. Gondorian harps are usually simple and elegant, with a carved neck that imitates the elegance of a seawave, and often a carving of a seabird at the head or the top of the column. The harps are varnished with a hard, shining varnish that protects the wood underneath from dampness and damage, and sometimes the wood is painted underneath. The harp shown in illustration V bears the sign of the White Tree and is painted in black an silver, indicating that it belonged to someone in the service of the Kings of Gondor – it was probably made in the days of King Elessar, and still is in fine shape to be played today, a credit to the skill of the harp builder who made it.

Listen to music played on this harp

Hobbit tunes
from cd 700 years of pop
composed in Gondor in honour of Frodo and his companions
Toccata seconda e ligature per l'arpa
from cd 700 years of pop
a fine example of the courtly style as practised under the last stewards
Chaconne
from cd Love, Lament & Lullaby
a stately tune that was a favorite with King Elessar and the Lady Arwen
Harp Symphony from Saul
from cd Handel: Saul
another song from the days of King Elessar
Menuet from recorder sonata C major
from cd Rent a Nightingale- with Gaby Bultmann, recorder
A dance tune that was popular in Ithilien at the time of Lord Faramir and the Lady Eowyn
Lamento d' Arianna
from cd Love, Lament & Lullaby - with Pepe Becker, soprano
another example of the older courtly music from Gondor, from the time of the Stewards

Find out more about Gondorian harps


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last updated: 18 March, 2004