The Once & Future Harp - Liner Notes

Native Spirit was directly inspired by the abundant beauty and majesty of Alaska. I was finishing up a tour of Southeast Alaska in the town of Haines; on my last day there I felt compelled to sit down with my harp -- and out flowed all the themes for Native Spirit. The opening theme came from a pair of eagles who were circling above the river, calling to each other. The next theme was inspired by the moose, king of the Alaskan forest; and the following section by the spirit of the native people of the region, the Tlingit Indians. Next come water themes, flowing and frozen, from the magnificent rivers, the pristine snow and especially the icy blue glaciers. The flickering of the Northern Lights provide a transition to the stillness of the Alaskan night and the feeling of the awesome vastness, beauty and supremacy of nature. The eagles return with the rising of the morning sun and the beginning of a new cycle.

The Poet:The opening theme for this piece was inspired by the seashore at Asilomar near Monterey, California, where I was performing for Dr. Brugh Joy's annual year-end conference. I was deeply moved by the beauty of the natural environment and also by the poetry of David Whyte, resident poet for the conference, for whom this piece is named.

Arizona was inspired by a night-time drive across the desert towards Phoenix. As I was watching the stars and breathing in the crisp, clear air the tones of an F# phrygian scale kept playing themselves in my imagination. When I awoke the next morning and sat down with my harp, the piece flowed out effortlessly as if from the essence of the desert.

Romanesca is one of the "Italian tenor" chord patterns sometimes associated with particular melodies, which formed the basis for many compositions and improvisations in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. For example, the well-known Greensleeves melody is a Romanesca tune. The arrangement here is based on the chord pattern and melody found in the Tratado de glosas by Diego Ortiz published in Rome in 1553.

Adam's Friend was composed using small fragments from modal melodies by Frauenlob (d.1318) one of the most famous Minnesingers of his day. I used fragments from both D dorian and G mixolydian modes, recombined and rhythmicized them in new ways and added original material. The name comes from a reference, in one of Frauenlob's poems, to wiser friund Adam ("wise friend Adam") ,who is being addressed by the great Feminine Principle represented by both Eve and the Virgin Mary.

Winter Song is an instrumental piece inspired by a poem written by the trobaritz (woman troubadour) Azalais de Porcairages (born c. 1140). The poem (originally written in langue d'oc), for which there is no existing music, starts:

Ar em al freg temps vengut The season of cold weather has now arrived
quel gels el neus e la fainga with frost and snow and mud
el aucellet estan mut, The birds are silent
c'us de chanter non s'afrainga; and none of them wants to sing....

I wrote this piece in Perpignan in southern France while working on a recording project focused on troubadour song and poetry. While there I visited many of the Cathar castles and felt a deep connection with the rich history and spirit of that region.

The Lamento di Tristano and La Rotta is one of fifteen dances found in the manuscript London, British Library Additional 29987. During my first visit to London I went to the British Library and with special permission was allowed to study this manuscript for a few hours. Despite having worked with the facsimile edition for some time there was no comparison to actually holding the original copy and seeing the music. The music in this manuscript is written in Italian trecento notation from which I made my own transcription. The Lamento and its Rotta are in a medieval dance form called estampie. In this form each phrase is played with first an open ending and then a closed ending. In the manuscript, for the second part of the Rotta, only the endings are given, so for that section I have written my own reconstruction.

Virgin Light is based on Cantiga da Santa Maria 380, Sen calar nen tardar. The Cantigas da Santa Maria or Canticles of Holy Mary, were collected and beautifully preserved in four manuscripts by King Alfonso X, El Sabio (The Wise) who ruled medieval Spain from 1252 to 1284. Although the exact authorship of the Cantigas, both the poems and the melodies, is not known, it is very likely that many of them were composed by King Alfonso himself. Cantiga 380 is a Cantiga de loor or Cantiga of praise. Most of the Cantigas tell the stories of the many miracles of Holy Mary, but the Cantigas de loor (every tenth Cantiga in the manuscripts) extol her virtues and encourage everyone to thank and praise her. In the largest of the Cantiga manuscripts, (Codex j.b. 2 of the Escorial Library) there are forty miniatures, one for each Cantiga de loor, depicting musicians from all walks of life playing an incredible variety of instruments. Above the beginning of Cantiga 380 two harpists are shown playing large medieval lap harps. Although this picture in no way indicates any specific performance practice it gave me the inspiration to use this Cantiga melody as a basis for a piece for two harps.

Love & Light is a piece written for me as a Winter Soltice/Christmas gift by my friend and colleague Diana Stork, specifically with triple harp in mind and in it she concieved some very beautiful and idiomatic special effects. The final melody before the return to the opening motive evokes the joyful sounding of Solstice bells heralding and celebrating the return of the Light.

Five different kinds of harps were used for this recording; four types of historical harps and a contemporary folk harp with a Gothic-style design. They are strung primarily with natural gut.

The Triple Harp
Romanesca and Love and Light are performed on an original Welsh triple harp made in 1850 by Bassett Jones of Cardiff, Wales, chief harpmaker to Queen Victoria. The triple harp has three parallel rows of strings. The middle row, containing the chromatic notes, is offset so it can be played by reaching between the outer strings with either hand. This harp stands about six feet tall and encompasses five octaves.

Three Medieval Lap Harps
Adam's Friend is performed on a Cythara Anglica Romanseque style medieval harp by Rainer Thurau of Weisbaden, Germany. The Cythara Anglica is a recreation of a 12th-century harp based on a drawing in a manuscript of the monastery of St. Basien located in the Black Forest of West Germany. It is about 25 inches tall and has 19 strings.

Lamento di Tristano is performed on a Gothic-style harp also built by Rainer Thurau. It is 40 inches tall with 21 strings and is based on the harp pictured in the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights by the 15th century artist Hieronymus Bosch.

Winter Song is performed on a 45-inch tall, 22 string Gothic-style medieval harp built by David Brooks, USA.

Folk Harp
Arizona, The Poet, Native Spirit and Virgin Light are performed on a 4 1/2-foot tall, 31-string contemporary folk harp. On Virgin Light Cheryl and Diana Stork (who play together as the duo Twin Harps) play two identical harps of this type custom-built for them by Robert Bunker, of Loveland, Colorado, USA. Robert Bunker is among the finest of today's contemporary harpmakers and is known for his superb craftsmanship and artistry. His specially-designed sharping levers allow the pitch of each string to be raised a half- step when engaged, without affecting the string's natural tonal quality.

Viola da Gamba
The viola da gamba is played by Roy Whelden, a life-long friend, and colleague in the ensembles Quaternaria and American Baroque., The instrument he plays on The Poet was made by David Rubio of Oxford, England in 1979, and is modeled after an 18th century French bass viola da gamba by Barbey. The viola da gamba, (literally, "leg viola,") is a member of a family of instruments related to, but distinct from, the violin and cello family. Violas da gamba have six or seven gut strings, are partially fretted and are made in treble, tenor and bass sizes.

The psaltery is played on Adam's Friend by Kit Higginson, my friend and colleague with whom I perform in Ensemble Alcatraz. This trapeziodal psaltery made by David Brooks has 19 double-strung courses of metal strings, is diatonic and is played with picks. The psaltery is distinguished from the harp in that the psaltery's strings are arranged parallel to, rather than perpendicular to, the soundboard.

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