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6. HUMANITIES, Arts, Musicology
This study examines the European pedal harp tradition in Ireland in the period c.1790-1900. Steered by collections of nineteenth-century pedal harp repertoire, and hinged on data extracted from newspaper archives, it addresses a lacuna in harp-focused scholarship, by illuminating the significance of the pedal harp tradition in nineteenth-century Irish musical life and reviving nineteenth-century pedal harp repertoire of Irish interest.
The evolution of the pedal harp tradition in Ireland was influenced by multiple personalities. Foreign pedal harpists, including Nicholas Charles Bochsa (1789-1856), Charles Oberthür (1819-1895) and Aptommas (1829-1913), had a significant impact on the tradition and travelled regularly to Ireland to perform and to teach. Irish pedal harpists with a public profile, including the Ashe sisters (prior to 1850) and Glover sisters (after 1850), tended to be from established musical families. Central to the survival of the pedal harp tradition in Ireland was an amateur pedal harp community from which the demand for teaching, instruments and sheet music emanated.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, pedal harp tuition was taught privately, on a one-to-one basis or in educational facilities for ladies. In the second half of the century, access to tuition was ameliorated through convent schools and the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Over the course of the nineteenth century, demand for pedal harps and sheet music in Ireland was met by a reactive Irish music trade. Pedal harps were sold privately, by practising harpists or in music shops, and appeared in auctions of household furniture. The indigenous manufacture of pedal harps in Ireland was, for the most part, a phenomenon of the period 1800-1850 and was controlled by the Egan family of Dublin.
This study establishes that Boleyne Reeves (1820-1905) was the most successful Irish pedal harpist of the nineteenth century. Born in Cork, Reeves was the only Irish composer, harpist or otherwise, who contributed what have been termed ‘original’ works to the canon of nineteenth-century pedal harp repertoire. A wider repertoire study, enriched by RISM cataloguing, establishes the existence of a body of nineteenth-century pedal harp works ‘of Irish significance’. These include arrangements, variations and fantasias based on ancient Irish melodies, particularly those popularised by Irish poet and lyricist Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Representative recordings of repertoire of Irish significance, including four compositions by Reeves, are an integrated component of this study and breathe life into a genre of pedal harp repertoire that is hitherto unaccounted for in contemporary harp scholarship.
McCague, C. (2021). The Pedal Harp Tradition in Ireland (c.1790-1900): Practitioners, Pedagogy, Trade and Repertoire. Technological University Dublin. DOI: 10.21427/297X-FW21