Chromatic Academy | History


SCGut36aRecords first mention the construction of a harp consisting of two sets of variously crossing strings which allowed the player to perform accidentals and modulated chords as occurring In Spain in the mid-sixteenth century, in the workshops of a luthier named Juan de Rojas de Carrion. The playing of chromatics on the harp had only recently been introduced to Spain by the Italian Arpa doppio player Ludovico playing at the court of Ferdinand the fifth during the golden age of the Spanish high Renaissance.

He had developed a technique for playing the accidentals whereby he placed the thumb of his right hand; or sometimes the left hand, under the string he was playing, this having ten effect of a lever, producing a tone a semitone higher that the original string pitch. A lengthy description of his method is included by Juan Bermudo, (the man who gave us the red and blue strings), in his 1555 treatise on musical instruments.

The original Spanish arpa de dos ordenes, unlike the majority of present-day instruments, was all strung from the one side, with the F sharp string, for example, strung from right to left across the F natural string, but to the back of it. The instruments often were not fully chromatic, some providing the additional strings on the F sharp, B flat, C sharp and E flat, which covered most of the keys in which the Spanish early repertoire seems to be written. In this form the chromatic harp had a sudden and immense rise to popularity, not only in Court music, but particularly in liturgical usage, in the flourishing theatres of Spain and in the dance music of the streets. In the 1560’s the Spanish queen Isabel de Valois, who was the person Phillip the Second married after he had been married to Mary I. of England and then sent the Armada against them, established a centre for chromatic harp by employing for her court the virtuoso player and builder Andres Martinez de Porres as well as the equally celebrated player and composer Juan di Cortejos.

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