Answers

LYNNE LEWANDOWSKI ANSWERS QUESTIONS ABOUT EARLY HARPS

EXPLAIN “Harps for Early Music”?

It means a thousand years of harps before pedals, or levers, or modern materials.

WOULD YOU DISCUSS CHROMATICISM AND EARLY HARPS?

Early harpers always have a tuning wrench at hand, and become expert at rapid retuning. Some of the most engaging concert moments are the harper’s improvisation into the next mode or key. In that sense, all harps are chromatic. Players who imagine limitations will miss out on a millenium of harp history and music.
First we ask, “what’s the music doing?” For example, twelfth-century music is modal. It doesn’t require sudden accidentals. As we move through Renaissance music, an accidental may appear and then vanish (“musica ficta”.) With some gut-strung harps, the player can neatly press the string on the neck to raise the pitch. Players may prefer a nine-tone scale, or may tune with different accidentals in each octave. A diatonic harp can be tuned with a gapped scale. Double, triple and cross-strung harps feature extra rows of chromatic strings. And everyone can learn to improvise around the accidentals. The harps can do it, but not without a willing performer.

WHERE IS THE WRITTEN MUSIC FOR THE VERY EARLY HARPS?

Shadowing the words “improvisation” or “untexted repertoire” is the fact that, well, there is none. The irony is that some persons most capable of crafting a readable modern manuscript refuse to do it, for their own excellent reasons. At this point I turn you over to the scholars, so you can share the excitement of their explanations.

SO HOW DO I GET STARTED IN EARLY MUSIC?

Read every chapter of “A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music” (Ross W. Duffin, editor, Indiana University Press), wherein performing scholars tackle intriguing questions. While you may never meet a trombe marina or play the gittern, you will learn about poetics, tuning, improvisation, proportion. This book becomes a secret pleasure and makes you very interesting at parties. (And you’re allowed to argue with it.)

WHO ARE YOU?

My name is Lynne Lewandowski. I’m a luthier specializing in medieval and Renaissance harps and psalteries. I research, design and build the harps you see here.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN EARLY MUSIC?

I was lucky to be in New York City in 1975. I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with studies in philosophy and early music. (There isn’t a career counselor in the world who will touch that one.)
Early music was everywhere, but nobody was building authentic historical harps. Established makers of other instruments were generous with their encouragement. Museum curators granted me access to instruments and medieval relics. Since the work required iconographic research, I lived in gratitude for librarians and used books stores.

In 1980 I moved to the extraordinary state of Vermont, where I live and work today.

HOW TO SEE AND PLAY THE HARPS

You can see the harps at the Boston Early Music Festival and Exhibition (a biannual extravaganza of concerts, workshops, and the Exhibition), the Amherst Early Music Festival & Instrument Maker’s Fair, and numerous other venues.

 

 

 

 

Lynne Lewandowski Harps for Early Music • 126 Atkinson Street • Bellows Falls 05101
(c) 2008 Lynne Lewandowski. All Rights Reserved.
All photos property of Lewandowski Harps for Early Music.