Up through the Renaissance, harps were relatively simple instruments, able to play diatonic scales. In response to more complex music of the early Baroque, an arpa doppia, or double harp was developed.
These harps had a second course of strings (tuned differently than the first). This gave the player more notes, with the two courses even allowing chromatic passages to be performed.
Italian Baroque composers soon took advantage of the increased potential of the instrument. And this release presents some of the resulting works.
The program includes some big names, such as Girolamo Frescobaldi, Sigismondo d’India. Lesser-known composers such as Gregorio Strozzi, Ascanio Mayone, and Biagio Marini are also represented.
The release also features the arpa doppia in a variety of ensembles. There are solo works, such as Giovanni de Macque’s Seconde Stravaganza. There are chamber works, such as Frescobaldi’s Canzonas. And even vocal works, such as Giovanni Mazzocchi’s “Ti lascio anima mia.”
The arpa doppia has a softer, quieter sound than a modern harp — almost like the contrast between a lute and a classical guitar. Vera Schnider delivers some thoughtful and insightful performances. For each track, the role of the instrument is different, and Schnider adopts her playing in kind.
As an accompanying instrument, Schnider’s arpa doppia sounds a little forward of the rest of the basso continuo, but not unpleasantly so. As a soloist, Schnider plays expressively, drawing the listener into the music (or at least this one).
A wonderful collection of early Baroque pieces. And an effective showcase of the arpa doppia, one of the lesser-known instruments of the period.
Italian music in the 17th Century for Arpa Doppia
Vera Schnider, harp; Das Kleine Kollectiv