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Writing for harp

  • Unknown
    Unknown User

    Hello everybody! Well this is my firs time on the site and the forum.

    But unlike moast of you on this forum i don't play harp. I'm (just??? :) trying to understand the way that harp work ,play and then compose for her... i try to compose for the harp several times but not with  much success. Ever time the composition is more like to be played on the piano !  So i call for help and start to search on the internet ... But the only usefull site was www.harpspectrum.com where i read a short theory of harp,composing and notatin for it...

    -Then i go to the harpist for some explanations and try to play harp but wooow that is really hard played instrument... Well i know that the harp is one of the most dificult instrument to play but... maybe for me becouse i used to play harmonijum...
    and i read here on the forum that i just have to take 6 mounths lesssons for harp if i be able to feel the harp and get in the touch... i will like to do that but i don't have time for it...

    Anyway here is my point... I just don't know enough about harp (exsept little theory on harpspectrum) so i am asking if you know anyplace on the internet or have some usefull pdf's html or anything else in electronic form about harp please share with me. Anithing you know will be very helpfull...
    and in some near future i will upload one of my harp pieces so i will like you to judge it ...

    Thank you

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    replies to "Writing for harp"
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Hi Danilo,

      What a terrific post! I'm glad to hear from a composer that wants to write for harp!

      There is a short book for composing for harp by Stanley Chaloupka, called "Harp scoring" and you can get it from Vanderbilt music company http://vanderbiltmusic.com  My husband does arrangments and always found writing for harp difficult and found this book very useful. It's about $6.50 US dollars.

      I look forward to seeing your composition efforts and commend you for asking harpists for their help and advice!

      What country are you in, just out of curiosity? I'm in Australia.

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    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Danilo- Barvo to you for recognizing that what you wrote was in fact for piano and not harp. Most composers never get that.


      There are other threads on this site about the issue of writing for the harp. There are some books out there that try to explain (quite well) how to write for the harp. But I still maintain that taking harp lessons for maybe 6 months will teach you much more about what works and sounds good on the harp than any amount of reading. You don't have to become a virtuoso yourself. You just have to know how to play well enough to think like a harpist and not a pianist. Good luck.

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    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      I agree with Carl that taking some lessons yourself is the best way.

      However, if that isn't possible then I would suggest that you find a harpist to play the things you write during the writing process so that you can hear how it actually sounds and refine or redo parts that don't work.

      I had brunch the other day with a guy who composes for TV and movies and he said that when he was in school one of the students in his composition class was a harpist and she did a demonstration on the harp to show how it differed from piano which he found enlightening. He said he keeps contact information for many different musicians, including a harpist, so that he can call them with questions and to send them things he has written so they can play them for him to be sure they sound the way he wants.

      I think a lot is just a matter of familiarity with how things sound on the harp. I think a good idea would be to listen to recording while looking at the score to the music so you can see how what appears on the page translates to how it sounds on the harp. Also it might be an interesting exercise to take some harp scores and play them on piano so see how harp music sounds on piano.

      I don't have a lot of education in music theory and arranging. Some, but not a lot. Most of what I learned was a combination of books and trying things. I started to understand the differences when I tried to take some piano arrangements and play them on the harp. You can do it, and it can even sound alright, but you will not be taking advantage of those qualities of the harp that make it a unique  instrument.

      Of course there is also the simple aspect that what you write simply needs to be playable, and you would be surprised at how often a composer writes unplayable parts for harp.

      The composer I was speaking to said that he had seen that too and he never understood since, after all, a composer's main wish is that his music be played so you would think he or she would take a little effort to make sure that what they were writing was actually playable.

      Good luck and I would love to see what you come up with.

       

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    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Tony- That's great advice. I think, maybe in addition to taking some lessons, having a harpist play what you've written and tell you why it's either unplayable or ineffective or both is a great education in how to write for the harp. I was just relieved that Danilo was aware that she had in fact written a piano part instead of a harp part. That's what most composers do, without realizing it of course.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Well, I'll play (Tasmanian) devils advocate here and say that I'm not so sure about the necessity of playing harp to write for it...I think in only 6 months or so you would only grasp the fundamentals and that may help but it also may limit your perception of what the instrument capable of...

      Mahler did not play harp, neither did Ravel...and they wrote wonderful inspired music for the instrument. And there are plenty of harpists that write plodding trash! They are two different skills.

      Some basic understanding is good, but the best way is (as Tony has already said)  to get someone that is an experienced harpist to work with you on your composition. There is also a good book by Bea Rose, The harp in the orchestra that has examples of unplayable and then edited parts...a good starting point.

      Cheers.

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    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      I think the biggest reason to take lessons for a few months is to change the thinking of the composer and get him/her to understand that it's not the same as piano. I don't think one has to be a virtuoso to understand some basic concepts about the harp. Ravel was a terrible pianist, but he wrote dazzling music for the piano. I think that the harp had a place of prominence in French music of Debussy's and Ravel's day and so they were quite aware of what the instrument could do. Both of them must have known Hasselmans and many of his extraordinary students, and that gave them a huge advantage. The problem today is that many composers don't play any instrument. I suspect that many other instrumentalists(oboists, 'cellists, etc.) have the same complaints about contemporary music as we do.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      First of all i am sorry for the delay.... and now

      Thank you all!!! You really write a lot of facts and usefull informatons...
      So let me say something about me so that you get a idea ...

      As you can know my name is Danilo and that is a male name:))) becouse i read a sentance like this above
      "that Danilo was aware that she had in fact written...." it is a he not a she:)

      Well am from Serbia, a country in eastern Europe. Now i am 20 years old. A young

      composer  .I hope I didn���t dissapoint you at this point allready. I get interested in music when i was very young. But unfortanatly I didn���t  have possibility to play any instrument. or to go and improve my skills in some music school. The only thing I learn to play is harmonium as I mention before , and I just learn a few bach organ compositions��� But fortenetly for me the new age of computers alowed me to compose on much ���easier��� way. And now if you compose something on computer you can hear it how it will sound on computer��� Yes I know all that is just a computer play and it does not sound realistic but it is enough that I see and hear(approximate) how it will sound on the real instrument and get a feel of what have I done.

       I will also like your opinion on this type of composing becouse this is my way��� Midi ,computer and keyboard��� or am I composing in the same way just like the other new composers.

      But when I finish the song I just write the score, print them and give some muscian to play. I have a friend that plays harp and she give me some advices and try to play some of my works. Usually the comments will be when she see the scores ���I suppose it will not be so hard��� and after trying to play  ���this is pretty hard to play��� or  ���it will take time to learn to play this ��� ���.  Then I get it that just looking at the scores is not enough to see if the piece is hard or easy probably becouse of the pedal work��� Everything must be precise an on the right place and not too knotted. Ok I can be more complicated but it must be all by the rules��� Well I am still learning to write so I suppose I got a lot of job.

       Now about taking lessons. Yes I think it is a good idea to get a feel of the instrument but when you learn to play to some level you get(unconsciously) limited by yourself. Yes you can compose but only as far as your skill of playing go. When I composed for piano I just ask myself ���will this be playable��� probably becouse I don���t know to play piano very well ��� But when I hear and see the proffesonal pianist playing so fast and nearly impossible parts of songs then I realize that is myself that is limiting. Anyway it is better if you get an idea you compose it like you think It will be best and after thet if something is not right you can easily correct���
      Ok thanks again and soon i will upload my song soon so you can judge it ...

      D. Vojnov


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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      The ??? are mistakes while posting the reply.. .I don't know why ...  

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Hi Danilo,

      Serbia! Where I went to school about one quarter of the school were from Serbia! I went to school in a very multicultural city, Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. I bet you have relatives there somewhere!

      You need to get hold of a harpist in your part of the world, to work with you - play your music to you and you can see them play it and talk with you about different options...that would be the best solution.

      But it will also be terrific to see your work online, and I'm sure we are all looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

      Best Wishes,

      Rosemary.

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    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Danilo- There are many great composers who could not play the music they wrote for piano. Schubert and Ravel were both horrible pianists, but they understood how the hands worked on the piano and wrote gorgeous, and playable music for that instrument. I think that if you took some harp lessons, it would give you a concept of how the hands work on the instrument and also how the instrument resonates. You would then have to force yourself to forget(consciously) the physical aspects of playing the harp and just write what you hear in your head. The difference now is that you would be much more likely to hear in your head how the harp really resonates, and not just write piano music.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      ...or listen to lots of great harp music, and find a harpist pal to play for you. I personally do not think it necessary for a composer to be able to play each instrument he writes for. But think it depends on the composer himself and if he actually wants to learn harp or not. As if that is not their inclination, I'm not sure it would be as useful as one may imagine.

      I also am concerned that if a composer had a limited number of lessons, he/she may get such a limited understanding, that it may in fact stand in the way of you putting the sounds you have in your head down on paper. One could become obsessed with what the harp cannot do rather than what it can.

      And I do not understand the logic of the above comment, to have harp lessons but then force yourself to put aside the physical aspects of playing. It seems contradictory to me. Why learn it at all if you then just have to put it aside...you can learn what a harp resonates like by seeing/hearing harpists perform, listening to good quality CD's etc.

      Anyway, I think it better to find  a harpist pal that will play to you, suggest works, and play your writing to you as you go. As I'm just not sure its practical to expect composers to learn every instrument that they will write for, and harp is no different than any of the others. But I think that is up to Danilo if he wants to do that or has the opportunity to do so, it does not sound like he is able to do that at the moment.

      I'd start with the Introduction and Allegro by Ravel, my favourite work of all time with the most wonderful writing for the harp and the ensemble too. That is a great one for a budding composer to study. Ravel really was the master of orchestration.

      Any of the orchestral works by Ravel, are great. Stravinsky Firebird is wonderful writing. Anyone want to suggest any others for Danilo to have a listen to?  

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Thank you all ...
      Ok here we go this is my 3. try to write for harp... I will post new thread so comments go on the new post....

      The harp piece No.3
      http://www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandID=623096

      on this site there are some very old songs of mine but they are not worth of some big attention...

      PS: If you want to download the song just use this user

      mail : vojnov@freemail.sk  
      pass: visitor07

      Thank you !!!!






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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      correction

      mail : vojnov@freemail.sk
      pass: visitor

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Acctualy i have aunt in the Australia:)  

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    • Saul
      Saul Davis Zlatkovski

      I do not think one can compose seriously "in the new manner." You have to have sounds in your ear, not in the computer's synthesizer playback. It will mislead you. You can use a piano for consulation, but you must think about the acoustics of the harp, how the strings ring and what happens to the overtones. You should study fine harp music to see how it is written. Look at the Glinka Nocturne, the Debussy orchestra parts, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky. What is in your library? Do they have any harp music you can study? I also recommend studying some piano music that is transcribed for harp to see how it needs to be adjusted, preferably Salzedo's transcriptions as he was the master of piano as well as harp. The recent collection published by Carl Fischer with Yolanda Kondonassis would be of great guidance. You can also look at Clair de Lune and how Salzedo made harpistic adjustments.

      If you try to learn the harp and don't learn it well, it will ruin your efforts. You do not need harp lessons, you need lessons in harp music. You might also look at the music of Andrzej Panufnik; and if you can go to Ljubljana, look up Alojz Srebotnjak for some guidance.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Thanks for the good reply. And now! yes that is a new way of composing but it only make me write the notes on the easyer way.Everything else is the same. It is not
      like I randomly writed notes and then without any thinking make the song. First I
      have the sound in my head and then in the computer or on the paper if you prefered.
      But now I see that  you are a really proffesional in the harp music so I will take
      your suggestions seriously.

      But I am not giving up harp or the song I just made . I really think it can sound
      very good on the real harp. But before that I will make some corrections consulting
      with a harpsit. The song was computery played but I only wanted to give you a feel
      of the melody and not all harp techince of playing . I know that real harp sound
      1000 times better. So lets leave that aside.

      ���but you must think about the acoustics of the harp, how the strings ring and what
      happens to the overtones���
      I am familiar with the accustic of the piano but not the harp. I know something
      abot string sustain,harmonics,muffling the sound to stop decay���
      But can you explain this a little deeper so I can get some more conclusions��� And i
      suppose you suggest use the piano to consulte of composing and while doing that
      think as a harpist.. I will try that���

      I get interested in harp recently so I don���t have a lot of music for it. I only
      lisened live  harp 5-6 times and in my library there are some harp songs and
      Mozarts concert for flute and harp. SO I really don���t have a lot of harp music to
      study and so this (was)is my bigest problem , you will say ���how can you compose for harp if you almoast never lisen to it!!���. Yes I know and i am grateful for the list
      of composers(performers) that you write I will try to acquire some of their music.

      Yes I need lessons in harp music. But probably I will never go on one that is why I
      chosed this forum becouse hera are the peoples that really understand harp and give
      me some informations.

      Thanks again!!

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