Early music is enthusiastically explored in this album of Celtic tunes which are relevant to folk and classical music. Featuring Siobhán Armstrong on early Irish Harp.
This album is licensed for download from Alpha records.
The early Irish harp was at the pinnacle of Gaelic musical culture for almost 1000 years, in Ireland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It is the national emblem of Ireland itself: the instrument depicted is the only late medieval harp still surviving in Ireland, preserved in Trinity College in Dublin. This is the kind of harp played by immensely skilled, high status musicians in the medieval courts - from sometime before 1000 - and later in the great houses of the 17th and 18th century. It accompanied the performance of Gaelic bardic poetry in the Middle Ages and undoubtedly played the three kinds of music mentioned in early sources: the music instrument was used as a vehicle for the song and instrumental compositions of the aristocratic harper-composers of those centuries. This repertoire survives in 17th and 18th century MSS and printed sources.
The ultimate destruction of the medieval culture, which had fostered the instrument, began with the reconquest of Ireland by the Elizabethan English in the 16th century and so, deprived of its patrons and audience, the early Irish harp withered and finally died out in the early 19th century. It was replaced by the neo-Irish harp - also known as the Celtic harp - strung with gut or nylon strings, which was invented in Dublin by a pedal harp builder in the 1820s. This more modern instrument has little in common with the medieval Irish harp and uses a different playing technique.
Thanks to a resonating chamber usually carved from a single log-traditionally willow-and its metal strings of brass, silver or perhaps even gold, whose long resonance was selectively damped, the extraordinary sweetness of the early Irish harp was described in glowing terms by writers from the Middle Ages until its demise in the 19th century.