This is the second part of my Master of music dissertation. In this article, I will present the main issues related to the topic of the contemporary repertoire for the Irish harp.
Before getting into the main substance, it is necessary to define some terms. First of all, what is “contemporary music”? Contemporary music is the music composed in the present time, or more broadly in the 20th century, all aesthetics taken together. This matter will lead us to raise musical parameters such as: the melody, the rhythm, the harmony, the tone, the form or the spatialisation.
If Irish doesn’t mean traditional, what is the so called Irish harp then? Surprisingly, the confusion between musical instruments of varied shape, such as the harp, the lyre and the cithara, is quite common in the 16th century. But some terms used to define instruments are still not clear today: the Celtic harp, the Irish or neo-Irish harp, the cláirseach (the Irish gaelic word for harp) or cruit a word once designating an old string instrument related more to the lyre rather than the harp?
After these few definitions, we will define the three main musical repertoires for the Irish harp: the historical repertoire, the traditional repertoire and then the repertoire composed exclusively for the instrument. The mix of musical genres remains as true today as it was during O’Carolan’s time. Some examples of modern music for pedal harp repertoire will put the compositions for the Irish harp into a more general context.
Who are the actors involved on the modern music for the Irish harp? Of course, first come the composers themselves. The presence of the Irish harp in the public life enforces their interest to compose for the instrument. This fact leads us to the second actors: the harp players. Their contact, often direct, is an essential element in the composition of new music. Last but not least, other actors with a strong impact are harp makers and publishers, particularly the Contemporary Music Centre of Dublin, whose financial support helps modern composition.
At the end of the 19th century, some voices stood out for an Irish cultural revival. A few years later, just before the 1916 mass upsurge, the statement is still strong: “There is nothing distinctly Irish in the whole system”. What is the present situation regarding this assertion? Instead of seeing the Irish harp as an instrument of a certain kind of music, most of the composers consider it as any other instrument. From solo pieces to big orchestral works, from classical, traditional or modern and complex systems of writing, composers testify to the search for a new sounding world.