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The 'harpe organisée', 1720-1840 : rediscovering the lost pedal techniques on harps with a single-action pedal mechanism

While preparing for a concert in 2014, I, Maria Cleary, found certain passages impossible to play in Louis Spohr’s Opp. 115 and 118. I consulted Backofen’s methods for harp, where I knew that he had written about double-pedalling. I explored all aspects of pedalling on the single-action harp. The research extended across five historical areas of research: treatises and methods, musical sources where a special solution is written by the composer/publisher, scores with no instructions but where multi-pedalling is implied by the music, historical shoes, and finally images of harpists pedalling. To play Spohr’s music, the harpist uses the heel and toe independently and over thirty-seven complex moves are part of his music. When a pedal is folded or unfolded during a piece, Spohr writes at least one bar’s rest for the harpist. Historical pedalling employs the whole foot, completely off the floor, where most pedals are not fixed. Pedals were moved at the moment where an accidental is written in the music and then released. Pedal markings are unnecessary, as pedalling becomes an inherent part of the musical gesture. The physicality of pedalling creates tensions and resolutions that mirror the musical line.

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