Chromatic Academy | History

Index

However, at some point before 1590, the instrument had undergone something of a Darwinian evolution. It had come to resemble the instrument we play today with the row of pentatonic strings strung from one side and the row of diatonic strings strung from the opposite side, with them intersecting up the middle of the instrument. In that year the writer Luis Zapata describes the strings as “entretegidas”- in between one another. By the 1600’s craftsmen wishing to become members of the Luthiers Guild were required to build both a guitar and a cross strung harp. Spain at this time in history, had an enormous empire, including the South American colonies of Mexico and Argentina, whose music, hastily appropriated by the Spanish, brought great richness and innovation to the development of European music. The Chaconne and the pasacalia are both Mexican dance forms, for example.

The repertoire of the Spanish cross-strung reflects this richness with music from Latin America North Africa, Turkey, Italy and the Gypsies as well as Flamenco all transmuted into passionate Spanish court music. While in its liturgical setting the harp took a solo role, in secular forms it was played as part of an ensemble with a section of guitars, a viola di gamba, maybe a theorbo and most thrillingly, a percussion section armed with everything from Turkish and African style drums, Latin-American maracas and Spanish castanets to kettle drums and snares. The playing style of the Spanish harpists, like the playing style of most early music for the harp, uses only three fingers- the thumb, ( pulgar} the index finger, {indice} and the middle finger {largo}. Because of the alternating rhythmic line of early music, this fingering is able to maintain the strong/weak strong/weak pulse of the music. The right hand took a position close to the neck of the instrument giving a glassy, tenor ring to it, while in contrast, the left hand played in the middle of the strings, providing a richer more lingering tone. There are three major works containing both instruction and repertoire from the Spanish tradition.

The oldest, and by far the best known today, due to the virtuosic recordings of English harpist, scholar and translator, Andrew Lawrence-King is that published in 1677 by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz e Foncea del Santa Maria de Ribaradonda. Now, if you think he has a long name, his book was titled “ Musical Light and Guiding Star Through the Tablatures of the Spanish Guitar and Harp With Playing and Singing In Time In Polyphonic Music As Well As A Short Dissertation on the Easy and Straightforward Principals of the Art, Explained With Clear Rules for Theory and Practice.“ It is commonly called simply Luz e Norte. In 1702 Diego Fernandez de Huete published the first volume of his massive work Compendio Numeroso para Harpa. covering both secular and religious use of the harp, as well as theory. As with Ribayez, de Huete notates in tablature, a method originally designed for the guitar. The third work is that of Pablo Nassarre,published in 1724, and titled Escuala Mussica. Many years in the compilation, this work covers most of what had happened with the harp over the previous half century. Despite the enormous and widespread popularity of the cross strung harp, by the end of the eighteenth century, it had fallen into virtual disuse, and within the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the instrument itself had virtually vanished from the landscape. 


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