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History of the harp

The story of the theories, characters and events that led to the development of the modern harp

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

On 11 June 1905, the celebrated French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) wrote to the music critic Jean Marnold:

‘I was terribly busy during the few days which preceded my departure, because of a piece for the harp commissioned by the Érard Company. A week of frantic work and three sleepless nights enabled me to finish it for better or worse.’

The composer was referring to his recent composition Introduction and Allegro for harp, accompanied by string quartet, flute and clarinet. It was commissioned by the Érard harp manufacturers to demonstrate the latest developments in harp technology.

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend a live performance of this piece at the Killaloe Music Festival earlier in 2022, led by Geraldine O’Doherty, principal harpist with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Indicating nothing of the hurry in which it was written, the piece perfectly showcases the exquisite sound that emerges from this unique blend of instruments.

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