The best Celtic harp albums
If tomorrow you had to leave for a desert island and you could bring only three Celtic harp albums with you, which ones would you choose? On this page, I propose for you to present your favourite music and to explain the reasons why.
"If it could only be three, I would choose:"
1 - Ys
2 - Marv Pontkalleg
3 - Ap Huw / Penllyn
4 - Eliz Iza
5 - Gaeltacht (Caitlin Triall / Port Ui Mhuirgheasa / Airde Cuan / Na Reubairean / Mélodie manxoise / Heman Dubh / Valse gaélique / Struan Robertson / The Little Cascade / Braigh Loch Iall / Port an Deorai)
It is impossible for me to start without thinking of this major album which should be in all harp players’ collections. Released between Reflets (1970) and his masterful Concert à l’Olympia (1972), Renaissance de la harpe celtique asserts itself as a synthesis between the Celtic world and Alan Stivell’s poetical and musical universe. More than forty years later, this album remains today an admirable and visionary work, without doubt one of the best of all this Breton musician’s productions.
The tunes capture you and sound familiar right from the start. Not surprising, as many of them have been copied afterwards. This shows the importance and influence of Alan Stivell on the generation of musicians born in the second half of the twentieth century.
The album begins in a quite emblematic way with the legendary city of Ys. Not the evocation of a distant past, the common thread is more of a renaissance. Among Alan Stivell’s other reborn musical and literary references, one should notice: the history of Brittany with the Barzaz Breiz (gwerz Ker-Ys and Marv Pontkalleg), the Welsh manuscripts by Robert Ap Huw and Penllyn as well as the contemporary musicians of the Celtic world (the Irish Sean O’Riada, the Breton sœurs Goadec are mentioned in the performance of Eliz Iza). Renaissance de la harpe celtique is a hyphen of the Celtic world. The intermingling of Scottish, Irish, Manx, Welsh or Breton tunes, so important for Stivell, will be the centre point of works of larger scope such as his Symphonie Celtique a few years later.
- Alan Stivell, official website
1 - Kerzhadenn
2 - An Heol Teuzet
3 - Baz Valan
4 - Diriaou
5 - Kleier
6 - Kernelec
7 - Berceuse
8 - An Teir Deler
If by any chance this album is not in your possession already, it may be a bit difficult to get hold of. Almost impossible to find in music stores, it’s still available sometimes online (I wonder how long the link above will be valid). One of the finest releases of a musical genius and harp player who left us too early. Kristen nevertheless had the time to open for us the doors of an uncompromised music where the Celtic harp shows magnificent colours never before heard.
Kernelec is a gift to the Celtic harp. History will probably remember Baz Valan, Kleier or Berceuse but Noguès’ style can’t be defined only by those tunes. From its creative and fertile universe, voice and instrumental harmonies are released, with subtle rhythms tied together like a pure and furtive wave (Kerzhadenn). An Heol Teuzet literally drowns us into this sound projection deeply rooted in jazz improvisation and contemporary music; a modern style which still today leaves no-one indifferent.
1 - Profiad y Botwm
2 - Gosteg Dafydd Athro
3 - Caniad y Gwyn Bibydd
4 - Caniad Llywelyn Delynior
5 - Profiad yr Eos
6 - Caniad Marwnad Ifan ab y Gof
The interpretation of historical repertoire is always something difficult. In Music from the Robert Ap Huw Manuscript, Paul Dooley shows a personal musical and poetical outlook of the manuscript written in tablature by the Welsh Robert Ap Huw in 1613. Some of the tunes are dated in a period covering 1340 to 1485, or even older for some anonymous pieces; this manuscript is therefore the oldest source of the music played by the bards on the Celtic harp. The album has to be seen in an historical point of view. However, like for Renaissance de la harpe celtique by Stivell, it would be unfortunate to focus only on the re-creative part of the repertoire without underlining the effective musical talent of the performer.
Dooley used the deciphering of the manuscript by the musicologist and harp player Peter Greenhill and performed the music on a small wire strung harp similar to the Trinity College’s harp in Dublin. With only six tracks, this album eludes the norms of modern music: the shortest (Caniad y Gwyn Bibydd which one could try to translate by Cycle of Gwyn Bibydd) lasts just a little more than two minutes, whereas the longest (Caniad Llywelyn Delynior or Cycle of the harp player Llywelyn) – maybe a lullaby? – stretches over more than twenty one minutes. In a simple style, without artefacts, the melodies are developed from variations, not without reminding us of the piobaireachd (or pibroc’h) music played on the pipes.
This album brings up numerous questions on style, arrangement, social and cultural aspects, taking us straight to the modern questions of our time. In that matter, Music from the Robert Ap Huw Manuscript deserves all our consideration.
- Paul Dooley, official website
- Paul Dooley, manuscript page
- Paul Dooley, Rip The Calico
- Paul Dooley, The Harper's Fancy
- Bill Taylor, official website on which you will find other information about the manuscript