the first clarsach

On page 87 of their book Telenn: la harpe Bretonne, (Éditions Le Télégramme 2004), Alan Stivell and Jean-Noël Verdier write 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).

Continue reading the first clarsach

Gothic harp vs Gaelic harp

At the salon des luthiers in Dinan, I met up with an interesting harpmaker, specialising in medieval European harps, Yves d’Arcizas. His craftsmanship and artistry is very high quality, with a selection of wood and a handling of the tools and finish that look similar to Davy Patton‘s. He had on his modest display a copy of the Wartburg harp – one of the best and earliest of the surviving Continental instruments.

I was fascinated to try playing this instrument, and also to compare it with my replica of the roughly contemporary Queen Mary harp. Though the gothic harp and the Gaelic harp are rather different beasts, there were a lot of subtle and conceptual similarities between these two instruments.


I am in Dinan, Brittany, for the harp festival. Last night I played with Ailie Robertson and Stefano Corsi at the big evening concert in the Theatre. This press cutting made me laugh: “le roi du répertoire traditionelle gaélique”

Today I have a “rencontre”, a kind of conversation – I am looking forward to this. And then tomorrow afternoon I am playing in the medieval castle, a lovely stone room, a small audience (40 people) and a programme of medieval sacred and secular music.

I have been spending as much time as possible wandering the amazing medieval streets of the town. On the first day I was here I managed to eat crepes, drink local cider, and join in traditional Breton circle dancing. And I came across this excellent busker in the centre of town: