Sharp lines, pure elegance of shapes carved in matter, interlacing and dragon sculptures at the top: Richard van Rhijn's harp seems to come straight from the heart of Celtic legends. And like in legends, a secret surrounds the magical instrument. Eighty centimetres high, the smallest harp played on stage during the recent Rencontres Internationales de Harpe Celtique has a name: Airéelle1. Twenty-five kilos but only nineteen metal strings. One more clue to decipher the undecipherable: the harp is made in stone.
The opportunity to see, and to hear, stone bombardes was given to us in the past. After only a few seconds of playing, a clear message was sent: the stone wouldn’t be mastered so easily. It is not as obedient as wood and the instruments were broken by the extreme vibrations of the musician’s blast. To resist pressure, the absorbent material must be flexible enough, something quite unlikely with stone. Airéelle was made of one Lavoux limestone piece, extracted from the Poitiers area in France, without pasting or assembling. The stone dating reveals an age of one hundred and fifty millions years. The oldest harp in the world?
Even with this secret unveiled, we are still not satisfied and the mystery remains entire. If her name would have had two "r", "Airréelle" ("unreal"), we would have found many explanations all more improbable than the others. But with only one "r", Airéelle is truly real. Her name echoes like the name of a woman who has been given wings to fly. Without a soundboard, on the stage of the Dinan Jacobin theatre, an artefact for amplification is necessary for the strings to be heard. Only an alchemist of sounds is able to ride the wild dragon. Who else rather than Myrdhin is able to capture the right tone of it? A real sound, like a crystal some people would say, aerial, shall we say: the sound of a flying stone in the grip of dragon claws…
"The dragon is symbolic of the four elements, the air, the earth, the water and fire:
Air or the sky: at the top angle of the harp triangle – the aerial part – the three fundamental elements (earth, water and air) are finely engraved in the trefoil like an echo of all the celestial triads. The strings vibrate answering to the internal music, in our celestial dimension.
Earth: firmly engraved in the lower part of the triangle, the wheel of time of our sensitive world keeps turning. It contains four parts which animate our life as the holidays and seasons change, as the stages of life change.
Water: the crystal strings are fixed in the triangle of the harp. They are like the triangular cycle of the water that irrigates, feeds, which is deaf in the centre of the earth but soon will spring in the sun, joyful, crazy or wise, precious and vital.
Fire: in the stone itself, the processed material, the fire gives energy and strength. It animates the heart of the harp maker and the musician, as well as the heart of anybody on their way to the edge of the world, to the limit of themselves…
The completion is humbly symbolised by the spiral engraved on the pebble incrusted at the top of the column, the highest part of the harp."
(Richard van Rhijn)
Richard van Rhijn is a sculptor and stone carver in Brittany, in the legendary place of Paimpont. Visit his website at http://www.sculptaille.fr/. Airéelle can be seen at La Maison des sources of Tréhorenteuc (Brittany) during the harp week, from the 12th to the 18th of August 2013, and during the dragon week in Autumn 2013.
1. Richard Van Rhijn presented his harp in La Maison de la Harpe's magazine: Telenn Din, number 28, 3rd semester 2013.