Tag Archives: Dolmetsch

Repairing, restringing and playing the Dolmetsch harp

When Iris Nevins gave me the Arnold Dolmetsch harp no.10, it had a bad soundboard crack. Closer inspection showed that the entire area where the neck attached to the soundbox was also loose.

I had promised Iris that I would get the harp up and running and do a video of it being played, so first I had to repair it.

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the first clarsach

On page 87 of his book Telenn: la harpe Bretonne, (Éditions Le Télégramme 2004), Alan Stivell writes about Heloise Russell-Fergusson:

depuis l’été 1932, elle possédait la première copie de clarsach fabriquée par le musicologue suisse Arnold Dolmetsch, installé à Haslemere en Grande-Bretagne: modèle en cerisier monté de 27 cordes en métal. La harpiste, l’instrument et les mélodies vont charmer le public (dont Gildas Jaffrennou), au point de faire une tournée en novembre de cette même année en Bretagne. L’année suivante, elle sera encore présente au Gorsedd de Quimperlé : à cette occasion, Gildas Jaffrennou prendra les mesures de cette clarsach et en réalisera une copie dans son atelier de Carhaix : selon les dires de l’intéressé lui-même, ce premier instrument n’était pas assez satisfaisant, cette première harpe aurait fini au feu ! (Rencontres avec Gildas Jaffrennou en juillet 1993 et 1997).

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Mabel Dolmetsch recordings

I have digitised the first of the three sides I have of these old Dolmetsch transcription discs. I chose the “test” side to do first as I assumed it would be the least interesting.

Actually it turned out to be really fascinating. There are 5 tracks. The first starts with the voice of Arnold Dolmetsch himself, announcing his performance of Lord Salisbury’s Pavan on the Clavichord. At the end he laughs and says “hopeless!”

Then we have three tracks of Mabel playing the early Irish harp. Two of them are fragments of An Seann Triucha (the Old Trugh) – from Bunting’s Ancient Music of Ireland, 1809, p.6.

I do not recognise the third track. I wonder if it is some Welsh music from Robert ap Huw.

You can listen to these tracks here:
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/Dolmetsch/

The oldest recordings of early Irish harp music?

I have acquired two discs which I think might be the oldest recordings of early Irish harp music, recorded in April 1937. I have not yet played them to hear what is on them – I am still trying to source a suitable stylus for my turntable.

They are one-off lacquer gramophone records, also known as transcription discs – the 1930s equivalent of a cassette tape, for direct recording as a one-off copy. These are not reproductions or duplicate pressings so are almost certainly the only copies that exist of these takes.

Here’s the handwritten label of one of the discs, a double-sided 10-inch disc:

 Victorious Tree
Lullaby
Take 3.   N.D.G
(The other side of this disc says “Tests – A.D. on outer ring – II.IV.37”)

And here is the second record, a 12 inch single-sided disc:

D II Take I
Irish Harp Music.
Mrs. Dolmetsch.
The Victorious Tree.
Lullaby.
 These records came from a collection of Dolmetsch discs, tapes and papers. Some of the other discs indicated that they were recorded by L. Ward.
Arnold Dolmetsch made a number of harps, both small gut strung instruments as well as the early Irish harps modelled on the Queen Mary harp and Trinity College harp, and fitted with metal wire strings. Mabel used them mainly for exploring the medieval Welsh repertory preserved in the Robert ap Huw manuscript, and in 1937 they released a set of gramophone records with an accompanying book of sheet music “translated” from the manuscript. Mabel played this Welsh music on the wire-strung Irish harp, and her performances and Arnold’s editions proved very influential; Alan Stivell included performances of these versions on his LP “Renaissance of the Celtic Harp”.
However I did not know until now that Mabel had also experimented with Irish repertory. “An Bile Buadhach” (The Victorious Great Tree) comes from Edward Bunting’s 1809 collection; it was collected by Bunting from an unnamed informant “at Lord Clanbrassil’s” house, Tollymore Park, co. Down, “in 1793”.
When I get the correct stylus for my turntable I will play these discs once, digitise them and present them here for you! I am not going to put them on the gramophone machine – I understand that these transcription discs are extremely fragile and wear out very quickly from only a few plays.
Here’s what Mabel had to say about her own playing of the early Irish harp music:
…the small, metal-strung variety [of harp], favoured in Ireland, and the Highlands of Scotland, under the name of Clarsach. I never ceased to thank him [Arnold Dolmetsch] for producing these most fascinating of instruments, whose suavely tuneful music rejoices the heart and charms the senses. One day when I was recreating myself with one of these little instruments, a neighbour who had asked if she might use our telephone, came running into the music room, exclaiming: ‘Oh, what are those lovely sounds? That is the kind of music I want to hear when I am dying!’

 From Mabel Dolmetsch, Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch, RKP, 1957, p148