Erfahrungen mit der Chromatischen Harfe

 

 

Harp Philosophy

As early as a thousand years ago, Chinese music theory defined the twelve-tone system by dividing it into female and male whole tone scales, that complement each other like Yin and Yang. This is the kernel of Chinese concept of Tao. The two levels of strings of the whole tone chromatic harp behave like Yin and Yang: They are placed opposite of oneanother, each with the same inner structure. Only by putting them together do I get the complete chromatic scale. It is encouraging to re-discover this ancient wisdom in my Harp.

Three instruments are blended in the chromatic harp. The finesse of a classical guitar lives in the delicate stringing and in the versatility of hand positions. Fingers can create the most subtle nuances of sound, by touching the strings in various ways. Piano is represented by its universal ability to combine each tone with another at any time, without any mechanical interference beforehand, such as moving a lever or pushing a pedal. And, of course, the harp itself contributes to the beauty of a vibrating string, unhampered by any damping.

The Feel of Playing

After a short time, the sight of crossing strings became familiar, as the eye regards the hand, not the strings, while playing. On the contrary, when my hand moved along the (flat) system of stringing, it now has a playing area that has become three dimensional and somehow more "handy".

The angle of the two levels of strings to each other frees the little finger out of its banishment because the lower level of strings meets the hand. This is an enormous advantage, as European music is often marked with five-tone figures. The angle of crossing on my harp is larger than that on the historical Spanish forerunner, so that the hand must not move up or down, because the thumb can play on one level and the other fingers on the other.

I use modern technique (thumb up) just as often as historical (thumb down) and change back and forth between the two quite often. The three-dimensionality of the strings, with changing hand positions, make possible a wider palette of new and unusual fingerings. From new fingerings come new musical ideas which can open new horizons.

I am not alone

For two years, I have been taking my harp and my audiences on journeys through time. Transcriptions of old Spanish "vihuela", late Baroque contrapuntal compositions, romantic Spanish guitar music and intimate sound-paintings of Eric Satie comprise a concert removed from the usual repertoire for harp.

At the first public presentation, I met my first student, who, as a physicist, was immediately enthused at the logic of the arrangement of the strings. Since then, we often have discussions about ideal fingerings and are happy to find that we often have the same ideas independently from one another. He built his instrument in a course "Klangwerkstatt" under the supervision of the instrument builders, Christoph Löcherbach and André Schubert.

The "Klangwerkstatt" in Markt Wald in Allgäu fulfilled my idea of a bohemian harp that can even be built by future players themselves. This is made possible through its simple principle. Despite the new territory, this harp is actually an uncomplicated instrument. The only mechanism is the tuning peg. There is no clinking and rattling, no adjusting levers, wires rods or pedals. Once tuned, it's tuned completely. Fortunately, there are chromatic tuners!

For me, the year 2003 has been completely devoted to the chromatic harp. Another two new students are on the track of this chromatic adventure. For them, and further courageous ones, I want to write aharp school emphasizing chromaticism, that is directly inspired by this new arrangement of strings. New paths for your fingers give room for new sounds.

Translated by Linda Doernbach