Harfenlabor is a platform for critical and open discourse on topics related to Historical Harp. Already active as an analogue network, Harfenlabor initiates and shares research, and gathers musicians, scientists, harp makers, and string makers, with the aim to provoke cross-disciplinary thinking, consider the still open research questions and propose new directions. This is its digital edition: an immersive, searchable resource of scientific and artistic research.

2. Harfenbiennale Innsbruck
Celtic String Play

The second edition of Harfenlabor’s Harfenbiennale Innsbruck opens November 9, 2023, in Innsbruck—a meeting in musical diversity, with Early music, folk and contemporary works and practice. The biennale will continue until November 12, 2023, with events at the Haus der Musik Innsbruck, ORF Tirol Studio 3 and the Ferdinandeum.

Synopsis: In 2018, Harfenlabor asked Institut für Holzforschung at the Thünen-Institut (Hamburg) to, for the first time ever, examine the wood on the Barberini Harp’s column and other parts (some of which have been examined using different methods) using new non-invasive methodology, and identify the wood species used in the construction of the Barberini Harp. On December 16-18, 2018, Volker Haag and Valentina Zemke from the Institut für Holzforschung carried out anatomical determination of structural features on the harp, at the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali (Roma). In close consultation with the museum’s management, Haag and Zemke used the non-destructive high-resolution 3D-reflected light microscopy in their investigation. This technology includes integrated image analysis software enabling production of flat observation surfaces in order to identify structural features of wood. Structural features detected on the examined areas of the harp were compared with data held in the scientific wood collection at the Thünen-Institut, and with macroHOLZdata and microHOLZdata (the two databases developed at the Institut für Holzforschung). Volker Haag presented the findings in a report to Harfenlabor, dated February 18, 2019.&&


Volker Haag / Valentina Zemke

The Barberini Harp Wood Species Identification

In December 2018, Volker Haag and Valentina Zemke from the Thünen-Institut, Institut für Holzforschung transported comprehensive microscopy equipment, including a state-of-the-art 3D-RLM (3D-reflected light microscopy) microscope from Hamburg to Roma for investigation of wood species on the Barberini Harp. This advanced technology enables completely non-destructive material analysis.

Synopsis: Marzia Faietti, the former director of the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe at Gallerie degli Uffizi, shares insights into the origins of the Uffizi's remarkably old and intact collection of graphic art and the representation of musical instruments within it. The figures of Orpheus and King David dominate these representations across various schools and artistic languages. Faietti explains why it is often difficult to attribute works clearly in the context in which artists were exposed to many different influences. The importance of music was such that some artists, like Pietro Candido, have developed techniques that “immerse" the viewer in music, “make it vibrate" on the paper. Faietti offers insight into the practices of the time on the example of Marcantonio Raimondi engraving for Raffaello. Clearly, the artists of the time were very familiar with music instruments, as they depict the instruments of their time. Graphic art of the period overlaps with design, as demonstrated on the example of the drawing titled <i>Progetto per un’arpa</i> (often attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria). Faietti focuses on the drawing as one of the preparatory drawings for a sumptuously decorated harp, and an exquisite example of the strong closeness of the various arts involved in such a project. This drawing is believed to be a preparatory drawing for the Barberini Harp, now preserved at the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali, Roma. Faietti’s art historical and iconographic analyses of the works in the collection, of their context and provenance, structure a rich interpretation of the aesthetic, musical, political, ceremonial and economic importance of precious historical musical instruments such as, in particular, the Barberini Harp.


Marzia Faietti

Two Souls of a Harp

Marzia Faietti provides art historical context for music iconography and its relation to mythological figures within the graphic art of the 16th and the 17th century at the Uffizi. Faietti's analysis of a preparatory drawing for a richly decorated harp, often attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria, offers a fascinating insight into the aesthetic, political, musical, ceremonial and economic importance of such an instrument.

Synopsis: The harpist and researcher Chiara Granata provides a scientific commentary on the opposing views presented in the Harfenlabor Interview, <i>About the Barberini Harp</i>, by the harpist and researcher Mara Galassi and the master luthier Dario Pontiggia. “Is it worthwhile to construct an ‘absolute copy’ of" the Barberini Harp “that runs the risk of not being completely playable?” the luthier asks? Taken from the position of the musician, would it not help to get “closer to a new vantage point, which offers the opportunity to listen to something quite different from what, for decades, we have called ‘early music.’” Granata presents arguments for keeping this tension open. Archival research has uncovered that the Barberini Harp was the work of a group of artisans; its final efficiency directly honed by the musician. Though many 17th century harp performances were best suited to a small “sonorous” space, some treatises and musical scores from the period offer examples of harp’s highly rhythmical bass lines used in dance contexts, and of its “resonant” sound that might be suited to large outdoor spaces. Granata proposes that it is precisely the contradictions presented by such an instrument that will offer a closer understanding of the Barberini Harp.


Chiara Granata

“My Hands are Armed with Nought but Sweet-toned Strings?" Different Ways to Use the Same Instrument

Chiara Granata argues for keeping open the tension between the opposite viewpoints expressed by Dario Pontiggia and Mara Galassi in <i>About the Barberini Harp</i> on the need for a true copy of the Barberini Harp. Granata presents a variety of performance situations and argues that the harp had a varied use: the contradictions preserved in an absolute copy would allow for diverse solutions.

Synopsis: Whilst there still are quite a few luthiers around, string makers are rare: this secret art has been passed onto the new generations of string makers through oral transmission and teaching of gestures. Peruffo’s work and research aim at decoding the ancient sources, but he warns against relying solely on written accounts as those were mostly relayed by travellers quickly passing through. The 17th and 18th century musical string guild guarded its secrets closely, as their economic power, influence on the Pope, and their market monopoly depended on this knowledge. Peruffo shares some of this knowledge by showing how to turn casing into membranes on an oak wood stripping table, using a special tool made of split reed. Precise reconstruction of this ancient technique may not be possible, Peruffo tells us.


Mimmo Peruffo

Early Music Strings

Master string maker Mimmo Peruffo is one of the very few remaining makers of musical gut strings. He has learnt this secret art from an old master from Abruzzo through oral transmission and teaching of gestures. In his workshop in Vicenza, Peruffo demonstrates elements of this ancient technique and its simple tools, and offers insights as to why gut string making has been such a closely guarded secret for centuries.

Synopsis: Contemporary performances of Claudio Monteverdi’s <i>L’Orfeo</i>, the score for which was first printed in 1607, require adaptations in terms of staging, distribution and performance practice. In this interview, recorded on the stage of the Teatro Comunale di Ferrare, one of the few remaining Italian style theatres, amidst preparations for the staging of <i>L’Orfeo</i>, conductor, cembalist and basso continuo player Ottavio Dantone demonstrates the importance of understanding the modernity of Monteverdi’s musical language. Dantone demonstrates the richness of his rhetorical figures, forms, phrases, and the blending of the harmony and rhythm of the word and singing in recitar cantando. Accompanying himself on the harpsichord, Dantone opens up a new sense of appreciation for Monteverdi’s scientific approach to conveying emotions and affects through musical language. Whilst emphasising that Monteverdi’s instrumentation indications are rather precise, Dantone points out that one still needs to make choices—based on the aesthetic knowledge of both the repertoire and the treatises. Continuo player, in particular, must be aware of the fact that at the time the difference between modality and tonality was still important. But the instrumentation choices must also relate to the space in which the opera is performed—<i>L’Orfeo</i> was originally performed with the instruments at the same level as the singers, and this staging of the opera by Pier Luigi Pizzi retains this closeness.


Ottavio Dantone

Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo : Speaking in Song

Ottavio Dantone shares his insights into the modernity of Monteverdi's musical language in this interview and demonstrates recitar cantando, accompanying himself on the harpsichord, through some of the key moments in Claudio Monteverdi´s masterpiece <i>L'Orfeo</i>. The interview took place in the Teatro Comunale di Ferrara where Dantone conducted <i>L'Orfeo</i>, staged for performance conditions similar to those in which the opera would have been performed in the 17th century.