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O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.

RobbieWilson 10 Jan 06 - 07:12 PM
harpmolly 11 Jan 06 - 12:34 AM
JohnInKansas 11 Jan 06 - 12:34 AM
JohnInKansas 11 Jan 06 - 12:43 AM
GUEST,Biglappy 11 Jan 06 - 01:23 AM
Barry Finn 11 Jan 06 - 01:43 AM
GLoux 11 Jan 06 - 09:28 AM
GUEST,leeneia 11 Jan 06 - 10:07 AM
GUEST,mick 11 Jan 06 - 12:19 PM
GUEST,jojofolkagogo 11 Jan 06 - 02:33 PM
GUEST,mick 12 Jan 06 - 07:48 AM
JohnInKansas 12 Jan 06 - 05:10 PM
Hawker 12 Jan 06 - 05:42 PM
GUEST,julia 12 Jan 06 - 09:03 PM
harpmolly 13 Jan 06 - 01:54 AM
RobbieWilson 13 Jan 06 - 04:11 PM
concertina ceol 13 Jan 06 - 05:42 PM
JohnInKansas 13 Jan 06 - 09:02 PM
GUEST,Julia 13 Jan 06 - 10:19 PM
GUEST,Julia 13 Jan 06 - 10:22 PM
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Subject: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: RobbieWilson
Date: 10 Jan 06 - 07:12 PM

I have been learning O'Carolan tunes to play on my mandolin and wondered what they would have sounded like in their original context.

A number of questions occurred to me:

Did he play the old Celtic harp or the newer neo-Celtic, git strung version which apparrently came in around his time?

Is it a Chromatic instrument? Is it more suited to some keys than others? What was its range?

Did he always play alone, was his music arranged, did he play in some form of session at all?

Did he improvise performances or parts of pieces?
These musings are purely from interest and not for anything more purposeful but I would appreciate any info you wonderfully sage and knowledgeable people would care to share.

Thanks and Happy New Year
love
Robbie


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: harpmolly
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 12:34 AM

Robbie,

Yes, those O'Carolan tunes are fun to play. :) There's a great website called Harp Spectrum that has tons of information about this. Specifically, the page dealing with O'Carolan is at this site (sorry, can't get the hang of the blue clicky):

http://www.harpspectrum.org/folk/yeats_long.shtml

It's a wonderful article by Grainne Yeats, who is a well-respected harp historian. Check it out! And happy harping (or mando pickin' as the case may be). My friend and co-worker Melanie and I often spend a spare moment in the shop jamming O'Carolan and other Irish tunes--her on mandolin, myself on hammered dulcimer. I really enjoy the slightly baroque feel to his music...

Molly


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 12:34 AM

From notes to a music book (Published, but nobody ever bought it, hence rare):

[quote]
Almost any recent collection of "Irish" music will contain compositions by Turlough Ó Carolan, who lived from 1670 to 1738. ... these compositions may well be the most ancient to be accurately(?) recorded...

Carolan was blinded due to a smallpox infection at about the age of 18, and was trained by a local harper after that. Based on that training, it may be assumed that he learned what was then traditional music. Being "the last of the wandering minstrels" and relying on his ability to play whatever the benefactor of the moment might desire, Carolan was criticised by some of his contemporaries as being "too modern," i.e. incorporating too much Italian (classical) influence. Survival of his music possibly is due in part to the assistant provided by the same benefactor who paid for his training and his harp. It is reported that he composed his tunes – to honor the expected patron—in advance of his arrival, and apparently many of his tunes were written out at or near the time of their original performance.

June Skinner Sawyer attributes our present day knowledge of Carolan, and the popularity of his tunes, almost exclusively to Derek Bell, harpist with The Chieftans, who has performed a number of Carolan compositions on recordings and in public performance (Celtic Music: A Complete Guide, page 34 – 36).

Few modern publications of Carolan tunes consist of more than a melody line, except where someone has obviously attempted to make piano pieces of them; so we (I) don't really know if he played chords, counterpoint, or only melody lines. It is reported that most Carolan compositions were songs, i.e. included words to go with the melody; but lyrics are seldom published.

... The collection of traditional tunes, from notable local singers and players, might perhaps be traced to Edward Bunting's General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music in 1796. Bunting was reportedly hired to notate the music played at the "Festival of Harpers" at Belfast in July 1792. It is reported by various sources (see especially Krassen ...) that his notations were "in the florid harping tradition," but it is also noted that he recorded many of the tunes in impossible keys and with accidentals (sharps and flats) that did not exist on harps of the time period. ... These earliest published transcriptions consisted almost entirely of songs and airs.

[endqoute]

A couple of sources that it seems I didn't record have asserted that Carolan's harp would (almost) certainly have used brass strings, based on contemporary instruments that have survived and/or that were described in some detail in historical records. No one seems to claim to have information specifically about his instrument, but others from his time were - "they" say - nearly always strung with brass.

The complaint about the notations by Bunting, 30 years after Carolan's death, would strongly suggest that Carolan could not have had a "chromatic" harp - and in fact even concert harps today are "changeable" from one key to another, but playing music that doesn't "stay in one key" is an advanced(?) technique.

Insufficient documentation exists (that I've heard of) to assert even that Carolan used a "modern" scale. He may have preferred some modal tuning that isn't clearly indicated in the notations made by his assistant, since the notation could look the same if the harp was "correctly out of tune."

Derek Bell has commented some on his knowledge/research on ancient tunes, so you might learn something by including searches on him.

Someone who actually knows something should be along soon to demolish the above...

John


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 12:43 AM

Had we not cross posted, I wouldn't have argued a bit with the information from harpmolly's O'Carolan link.

Apparently sources used by the incompetent I quoted were incomplete.

John


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,Biglappy
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 01:23 AM

Didn't I see a harp reputed to be Carolan's in the National Museum of Ireland. I seem to remember some such from a trip to Ireland in 1978. Fly over and take a look.


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: Barry Finn
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 01:43 AM

Another O'Carolan scholar would be Seamus Connelly. Some consider him to be the foremost interpreter of O'Carlan's music alive today. Opps, he's a fiddler though, maybe that's why June Skinner Sawyer. Not to take away from Derek Bell but if she skipped over Seamus then she didn't complete her homework. Seamus has recoded a bit but I don't know if he's done anything that's exclusive to O'Carolan. Good luck.
Barry


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GLoux
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 09:28 AM

I remember seeing O'Carolan's harp in the library at Trinity College, in Dublin, where the Book of Kells is also displayed, back in 1984.

-Greg


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 10:07 AM

I wonder how many of these editors hang out with harpists. (I know a harper who has five harps.)

Nothing says that O'Carolan had only one harp. He could have had a gut-strung and a brass-strung. He could have had one and changed the strings from time to time. As for tunings, he could have tuned the same one different ways at different times. To play music "that doesn't stay in one key" you can simply select the crucial string and push on it with your finger until it's sharp.

Not all harps are as big a refrigerators. It wouldn't have been much of a problem to transport two (or more) small-to-mediums in the pony trap he is said to have had.

Carolan was a musical man, and he played for years and years. He was blind, and he didn't have much to do expect play his instrument. With someone like that, it isn't logical to wonder if he improvised, if he added harmony, if he tuned different ways. That's like wondering if a cat meowed. The trick would have been to STOP him from doing all the above.

However, anybody who's waiting for written documentation of all the above will probably have to wait forever. So don't wait for permission to play his things and enjoy them. Just be your musical self and do it.


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,mick
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 12:19 PM

I read somwhere that O'carolan was no great shakes as a harpist and that , if he had been as good as some of his contemporaries, his music would never have been remembered.
Most Irish harpists at the time started at a very early age ;Carolan only took up playing after he went blind at the age of fourteen . To make up for his lack of skill he started composing. His compositions were written down and it was for them that he became famous.


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,jojofolkagogo
Date: 11 Jan 06 - 02:33 PM

Hello All

I have the "Life and Times of CAROLAN"

It has his WHOLE life story in it, so please note his name was

                   " Turlough Carolan "

This book has every tune he ever wrote (213) with all the music and words.

If anybody wants any copies of any particular tune I can accommodate !

He wrote all the tunes himself, extremely raw, usually whilst walking to somebody's house to give them the tune they had "commissioned" that's how he made his living.

He played in pubs, just like us lot do, and played (according to experts) quite badly - nothing new there then !!!

All the tunes are one-liners - no fussy stuff with bass (left hand)all extremely basic. He was not particularly clever. Just an ordinary guy.

Sorry to sound a bit like a "know it all" - dont mean to, I'm just spouting off whats in the book.

If anyone wants to know anything I can photocopy pages and send them - or try and scan onto e-mail . . . I'm a bit of a dummy though when it comes to such things !!!

Good topic for conversation though !!!

Regards to all

Jo-Jo          (jojofolkagogo@yahoo.com)


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,mick
Date: 12 Jan 06 - 07:48 AM

To correct my post of yesterday : O'Caolan actually went blind at age 18 according to Grainne Yeats in her intro to the Ossian Publications complete works .
He played the wire strung old Irish harp.


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 12 Jan 06 - 05:10 PM

The link given by harpmolly (11 Jan 06 - 12:34 AM), that I "clickfied" in the 2d post later (12:43), has a picture of "Carolan's harp," although it doesn't give any information about it. It looks like it was pretty simple, but the image doesn't blow up enough to tell whether it may have had some simple ornamental carving. By the time it's enlarged enough to bring up any detail it all looks like duct tape. It doesn't look to be kept in tune...

The text describes the "typical harp" as gut strung, but that Carolan played the "new Irish harp" with metal strings.

Note that Carolan wrote and played "Songs" and not "Tunes." Some session players now insist that there should be different handling for Songs, and cite a tradition that they should have no - or minimal - accompaniment (and making up chords is forbidden). Mostly, they then proceed to play them all alike, since we/they don't really know how to do songs in any traditional style - and besides everyone wants to play all the time, all the pieces (at my area sessions).

John


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: Hawker
Date: 12 Jan 06 - 05:42 PM

Oh Robbie,
I am a novice harper, I started playing lasat June and am still not anywhere near good, but I do attempt to play one Carollan tune.
I love the picture cojured up in my minds eye by your typo..........
There are several gits I would love to use to string my harp!
Thank you for the smile!
Regards,Lucy


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,julia
Date: 12 Jan 06 - 09:03 PM

I am a harper and have played for 16 years...
Most of what you say is true except
There is no existing harp attributed to O'Carolan- the harp in Trinity college is an example of a medieval harp, often called the "Brian Boru" harp (it didn't belong to him either) It was strung with wire, but the gut strung harp did in fact precede the wire harp, and was quite abit larger (drawing wire to the length required was difficult and so the wire harp was smaller) There are only a couple of contemporary paintings of Caroland and his harp, and unfortunately, artists tend to not be very accurate when it comes to harp depictions.
Regarding the music,
At the time of O'Carolan (the Baroque period) extemporaneous improvisation was the fashion, within the context of the piece. Naturally, Carolan was anxious to please his patrons who demanded that the music be up-to-date. If we remember that Handel premiered the Messiah in Dublin and that Geminiani is buried in Ireland, it is no wonder that Carolan's music has a Baroque flavor. (Some say he was the first Irish musician to go baroque- chortle)

The after dinner entertainment in an aristocratic house consisted of members of the household playing tunes together on violin, flute, cello, harp, harpsichord and sometimes guitar. A Scottish contemporary of Carolan was James Oswald and he wrote arrangements of what we now call session tunes for "Talented amateurs" that feature the figured bass, which means the chords had to include the bass note, but could vary. There are some great accounts of extended parties with various musicians sitting in,(and falling out) as well as musical arguments in pubs and the results of too much liquor on the music and musicians.

Incidentally, Carolan played left handed with his fingernails after the ancient tradition. The Welsh still play left-handed. Apparently it was thought that the left hand was feminine and so would have a high voice. You will see in all the old paintings that the harper plays the treble with the left hand and holds the harp on the left shoulder (very sinister). The change to the right hand came in the 19th century and nobody has given me a satisfactory reason why. I personally believe it has to do with the advent of the piano-forte where the treble is played with the right hand. It also may be a result of the harps being retrofit with levers to accomodate the "new" chromatic music

For those interested in harp lore, two great books are

Carolan- the life and times of an Irish Harper by Donal O'Sullivan
and
Tree of Strings by Alison Kinnaird and Keith Sanger

But don't "harp" on it!
*grin*

Julia Lane


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: harpmolly
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 01:54 AM

Julia,

Wow, I didn't know you were a 'Catter! :) We played your "Yuletide Treasure" CD quite a bit this winter at Dusty Strings. Great album, that. *grin*

Thanks for the info! I have "Tree of Strings", though I haven't read through it in a while. I'll have to give it another go.

Cheers,

Molly


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: RobbieWilson
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 04:11 PM

Thank you for all the info so far. When I have had time to follow the links I will come back with some further comment.


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: concertina ceol
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 05:42 PM

Totally recommend this book as others have noted "Carolan- the life and times of an Irish Harper by Donal O'Sullivan"

I don't think it is fair to say that Carolan composed all his own tunes, in the same way that many "classical composers" did not compose their own tunes. Whilst he composed a great number of tunes others must have been adapted from the existing tunes with which he was familiar. He was influenced by baroque music but he was also influenced by existing harp music in ireland. [There are losts of examples of composers adapting folk tunes or Christmas carols or whatever]

In the Guiness store house (the tourist trap tour) in Dublin in the exhibition of marketing and advertising memorabilia is what I would call a clarsach (or a small harp). It is about 3 feet tall. It is reputed to be the Harp used by Denis Hempson who was a slightly later contempory of Carolan and used by him at the Belfast Harp Festival. Carolan is also believed to have played at the festival on a number of occasions.


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:02 PM

GUEST,julia - PM 12 Jan 06 - 09:03 PM, is correct. I've checked my archives of carefully sorted and catalogued random stuff and by some miracle find (the miracle is that I found it) that I have the indentical image posted at the site linked by harpmolly, from another site where it's posted as "Brian Boru's harp." Down to the last bit identical.

John


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,Julia
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:19 PM

I was just going to add that Denis Hempson was a contemporary of OCarolan, and was the oldest player (97)at the Belfast Harp festival of 1792 at which 10 harpers played. He lived to be 112 and so lived in 3 centuries (1695-1807)! At one point he played for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Accordingly, he was a wonderful resource for information about changing harp and music styles- Hempson played with his fingernails. Edward Bunting interviewed him several times and writes about him in chapter 5 of "Ancient Music of Ireland" entitled "Anecdotes of the more distinguished Harpers of the last two centuries" which folks might enjoy. Dover has reprinted this
ISBN 0-486-41376-4
Bunting also describes at length the particular pieces, the style and even the dress of the players


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Subject: RE: O Carolan's Harp, what was it like.
From: GUEST,Julia
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:22 PM

Hullo again - and a "thanks" to harpmolly for her kind words about my album. There is more at www.castlebay.net if anyone cares to listen
cheers- Julia


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