The Gothic harp is a type of harp which was played from the late Middle Ages onward. Its name refers to its sleek shape, reminiscent of Gothic architecture, although at the time when it was still modern, it was of course not called 'Gothic', it was just a harp...
My Gothic harp was made in 2011 by Claus Hüttel. It is a copy of the so-called Wartburg harp which might or might not have belonged to the Minnesänger Oswald von Wolkenstein. This harp was made around 1400 by an unknown maker and at a later date decorated with certosina. My copy does not have these ornaments, but it has the same carvings as the original.
It has 26 strings, tuned diatonically, except for the two middle octaves, where I have both b natural and b flat. If any other semitone is needed, I have to make it by fretting a string with the nail of my left thumb against the wood of the neck, thus raising the pitch of this string by a half step. This is possible only in the middle range of the instrument. If I want to play a semitone which is impossible to make on this harp, it would have been impossible for Oswald von Wolkenstein too!
The string spacing on this harp is extremely narrow.
Gothic harps (should) have bray-pins. These are hook-shaped pieces of wood, which not only secure the strings to the soundboard, but also buzz against the strings when they are played (exactly the kind of sound which modern harpists try to avoid!). If well adjusted, they yield a lovely delicate buzz, which also helps the instrument to sound louder, to be able to compete with singers, fiddles, an organetto... To hear the braypins, click here and you'll hear an Italian Renaissance harp with more or less the same (im)possibilities as the Gothic harp.
This picture was taken by an unknown Italian tourist in Castel Tirolo, one of the Wolkenstein Castles, during a rehearsal with Fala Música in the summer of 2011.
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