minstrel: Lap Harps

C&HWood linette at epix.net
Tue Jan 16 16:07:13 PST 2001

Greetings from Linette de Gallardon!

My apologies if I don't make any sense in my reply - I'm home sick with a 
cold and fever and mind-numbing medicine to boot!

At 09:17 PM 1/15/01 -0800, you wrote:
>The techniques Joseph describes are similar to those given by Andrew 
>in his book "Der Harpffenschlager" (the only book I know of on early harp
>technique).  They are very different from modern harp technique, and will 
>horrify most harp teachers.  However, Lawrence-King is the preeminent 
>performer of
>early music for the harp, so I'm willing to believe he knows what he's talking

I own a copy of this book, though it's out on loan, and I have to say I 
have some questions.  I know that AL-K is considered a major performer of 
early music, and I certainly have enjoyed listening to his music on various 
CD's.  And I'm certainly not an expert in any real fashion, so my opinion 
is worth just about the paper it's written on :)

IIRC, my problem with his book is that he makes sweeping claims for "how 
harp was played in early music," mentioning early harp training manuals and 
other period evidence, without giving any actual citations.  His 
thumb-under technique is plausible as one period method, but I can find 
tons of illuminations from the medieval period that show people holding 
their hands on the harp in a way that is absolutely *not* consistent with 
his claims.  So I don't know how to take his assertions.  I really wish he 
had backed them up with specific quotes from the period manuals, which 
would enable the reader to judge AL-K's research more accurately, and in 
the time-frame the treatises were written in.

I'm perfectly willing to believe that the thumb-under technique was used in 
early music.  I also agree that it's unlikely that medieval harpers used an 
exaggerated thumb-up technique like Salzedo or other modern 
techniques.  But pictorial evidence would seem to indicate that  at least 
some medieval harpers used a thumb-neutral-or-even-slightly-up technique at 
least some of the time.

All that said, the book is still an interesting read, and worthwhile 
owning.  I think it would be especially pertinent to later-period harpers 
as I suspect most of the treatises AL-K used were probably from then (wish 
I had the book to remind me...).  Readers should just remember that it's OK 
to look at even the supposed expert's books with a critical eye.


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