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Scottish/Celtic Music
Harp - History


Aberlemno No. 3, a red sandstone slab over nine feet in height, standing beside the narrow road leading from the town of Forfar to the village of Aberlemno (Angus). Originally this monument must has looked like a much-enlarged version of an illuminated page from a precious religious book, as a decorated wheel cross surrounded with angels, zoomorphic interlace and other patterns, is carved in relief on the slab front which faces the road. The back of the slab, divided into three sections, includes carvings of Pictish symbols (designs of an earlier era whose true meanings have yet to be discovered), a hunting scene and a carving of David Rending the Jaws of a Lion. Above and to the right of David two of his iconographic symbols, a sheep and a harp, are carved. … The appearance of the harp alone provides a sort of 'shorthand' interprestation of the David and Harp motif; the harp itself thus becomes an important iconographic symbols for David's association with music, and all that this implied to the medieval mind. The same theme appears on a second Angus monument, the Aldbar cross-slab, and also on the most northern of the Pict area monuments, the Nigg cross-slab.

Roslyn Rensch
Harps and Harpists
Indiana University Press, 1989
pp. 40-41

Perhaps, however, as has been suggested, the music which 'some hundreds of Scots harpers' composed in the years the instrument flourished in Scotland, instead of being totally lost, was appropriated by other musicians, including the pipers, when the bagpipes supplanted the harp in favour.

Various records indicate that some Highland chiefs retained their harpers well into the eighteenth century, and place names, such as Harper's Pass (Madhm na Tiompan) and Harper's Field (Fanmore nan Clairsairean) are still noted on the island of Mull, while Duntullim [sic] castle on the Isle of Skye retains its Harper's Window, and Castlelachlan in Argyll has its Harper's Gallery. The names remain to remind us of the one-time importance of the harp in these areas, and this seems especially appropriate when it is recalled that the earliest representations of the triangular frame harp, in this part of Europe, are provided by the ninth-century stone carvings of Scotland.

Roslyn Rensch
Harps and Harpists
Indiana University Press, 1989
p. 113

Read more about the history of the Harp here!


 

 


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