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From the number of instruments surviving in museums today, and from baroque dictionary definitions, it would seem that the arpanetta was wide-spread across Europe and frequently played during the 17th and 18th centuries. We see more arpanette than baroque harps.


But the arpanetta is hardly ever heard in today's Early Music.


What is it? 

The Arpanetta is essentially a large, double-sided,, chromatic psaltery. Imagine a harpsichord standing on its keyboard, vertically upright. But there's no keyboard, you just pluck the strings with your right-hand fingernails. And the instrument is double, with another set of strings for the left hand, on the other side.


On each side, the strings are arranged in two parallel rows, like the white and black keys on a keyboard. The first row has the diatonic (white) notes; you poke a finger through between two diatonic strings to reach the chromatic (black note) row inside. For the player, this arrangement of diatonic and chromatic strings feels similar to a baroque harp. But there is an important difference - you can't look through the solid body of the arpanetta, so that you cannot watch both hands at once.


On the Right Hand (treble) side, the diatonic strings are double-courses. Each note has a pair of strings, tuned in unison. The fingernail strikes both strings simultaneously, just as on a lute or baroque guitar.


Whereas baroque harps had gut strings, and early Irish harps had thick brass strings, the arpanetta was strung (rather like a harpsichord) with thin brass and/or iron. Typically, the left (bass) side was strung in brass, the right (treble) side in iron.


There are many more Arpanettas surviving in museums today than there are baroque harps or early Irish harps, even though we hardly ever hear them in concerts or CDs.


The large number of surviving instruments probably reflects the historical situation. The arpanetta was a much-loved domestic instrument. You can think of it as the "upright piano of the baroque" - a domestic instrument that many people owned, but for which there is no specific repertoire. After all, who composes for upright piano? No-one. But on the other hand, what do people play on upright pianos? Everything, especially their favourite, most well-known pieces (whether originally songs, or orchestral symphonies). So with the arpanetta: although there is little written for it, it's historical repertoire is almost unlimited.



Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach


Co-directed by Headley, Lawrence-King & Stubbs

Program devised by Andrew Lawrence-King


Andrew Lawrence-King - arpanetta solo


Monteverdi Ballo delle Ingrate 


Co-directed by Headley, Lawrence-King & Stubbs


Featuring Andrew Lawrence-King - arpanetta continuo


These recordings were made using an instrument built by Roger Rose at West Dean College in the 1990s, based on the surviving arpanetta in the Victoria & Albert museum, London



The Museum at Kloster Michaelstein displays a surviving original arpanetta. As part of the project to provide recorded audio examples for each instrument in the collection, the Michaelstein Music Institute for Performance Studies  funded a concert and recording with Ensemble Bell' Arte Salzburg directed by Annegret Siedel and Andrew Lawrence-King (baroque harp, arpanetta).


For these performances, Katerina Antonenko restored, adjusted and restrung the instrument constructed by Roger Rose. As part of this work, a new lower bridge was made for the Right Hand side, so that the string spacing could be adjusted to bring the unison strings within each course closer together, and each double course further apart from the neighbouring course on the next diatonic note. On both sides, the diatonic and chromatic rows were also moved further apart.


These adjustments made it easier to play both strings of each double course simultaneously, while avoiding the neighbouring courses and the chromatic row. They also facilitated a better sound from the chromatic row by creating more space for the fingers to move.


Andrew Lawrence-King revised his playing technique in line with newly-available information from Johann Philipp Eisel's Musicus αυτοδιδακτος (Erfurt, 1738). In particular, he adopted Eisel's Good-Bad fingering with index and middle fingers, and 7-note chords for continuo-playing. He also brought the hands lower down, close to the bridge, as suggested by Adlung's comparison to a harpsichord's spinet stop, in Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (Erfurt, 1758). This position is supported by period techniques for harp and lute-family instruments.


 Adlung's book also hinted at an explanation for a strange mechanism on the V&A arpanetta. Roger and Andrew were unable to understand the function of this felt-covered roll-bar in the 1990s, although they speculated that it might work to damp the strings after playing. But by analogy with a harpsichord's buff-stop, Andrew and Katerina now consider that the felt bar rolls up against the strings to alter the sound whilst playing.


This revelation came too late to construct a roll-bar mechanism in time for the Michaelstein performances, but a low-tech version (a band of felt stretched tightly against the strings) worked well, encouraging further work in this direction. For the Michaelstein recording, the instrument was played both with and without this "buff-stop" effect. 



27 September 2014

Wenn das Glücke wetterwendig

Domestic Music from the time of Erlebach, Bach & Telemann 

 Ensemble Bell' Arte Salzburg directed by Annegret Siedel

Andrew Lawrence-King (baroque harp, arpanetta).


The performance included Erlebach's Ich stehe fest with arpanetta playing continuo and in the opening ritornello; Bach's Aria from the Goldberg Variations (arpanetta solo); and Telemann's cantata Die Liebe with arpanetta continuo. 



Philipp Heinrich Erlebach Ich stehe fest

Britta Schwarz - Alto,

Ensemble Bell' Arte Salzburg directed by Annegret Siedel

featuring Andrew Lawrence-King - Arpanetta


Arpanetta by Roger Rose, restored by Katerina Antonenko


The recording will be presented in the Museum at Kloster Michaelstein, accompanying the exhibit of a surviving arpanetta.

The recording will be included on a CD of audio examples of surviving instruments for future release. 

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