The harp in Latin America
“[…] One of the Indian boys in the new village who learned with me to play the harp progressed so much that he now masterfully plays in it the most difficult "suites" of world-renowned composers such as Schmelzer and complicated pieces partly written for violin by Biber and Truebner. […]”
Anton Sepp, Relación de Viaje a Las Misiones Jesuíticas (Buenos Aires: EUDEBA, 1971).
As already partially discussed in the previous chapters, the harp is an instrument with very ancient roots. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, it was already perfectly integrated into the musical and theatrical culture of many European countries, particularly England and Spain.
An instrument often associated with the figure of kings — King David is always portrayed with a harp on his lap — as it is considered “[…] the most appropriate Symbol of a Monarchy” because “when the right impulse of the hand that supports it, each string plays, in accordance with the temperament that determines it […]”,1 it soon began to be an integral part of the tradition of jesters and minstrels from England and troubadours and trouvères from France.2
In Spain, between the XII and XV centuries, the flourishing of poetry and music was amazing and began the practice of "importing" minstrels from England to perform in the Iberian courts.3
Miguel Querol Gavaldá, in his study of music in the works of Miguel de Cervantes, points out that during the Renaissance there were mainly two contexts in which the harp was used: in the streets, by jesters and acrobats, who used a small, easily transportable instrument that was mainly used to accompany songs; and in the domestic environment, where the instrument was dedicated to a more intimate use and that, because it was fixed in a single place, tended to be larger than that used by minstrels and to have more strings, so as to be useful, in addition to the accompaniment, to the performance of solo songs.4 It is probably this second type of instrument for which composers such as Henestrosa and Cabezón conceived their music collections.
1 Diego Fernandez de Huete, Compendio numeroso de zifras armonicas, con theorica, y practica, para Harpa de una orden, de dos ordenes y de Organo, 1st ed., vol. 1, 3 vols. (Madrid: Imprenta de Musica, 1702), http://bdh.bne.es/bnesearch/detalle/bdh0000075392, p. 1.
2 A poetic-musical phenomenon originating in France. Between 1070 and 1220, the Troubadours flourished and worked in the southern provinces (Provence, Languedoc, Limousin, Auvergne) in an environment of feudal nobility, and their literary production was expressed in the langue d’oc. The Trouvères, on the other hand, operating in the regions of northern France between 1145 and 1300, and mostly proceeding from the monastic world or from the small bourgeoisie, expressed themselves in the langue d’oil (the language that gave rise to modern French).
3 Among these include, for example, the joglaressa Catarina d’Anglaterra who arrived in Spain to perform in the XIV century.
4 Miguel Querol Gavaldá, La Música En Las Obras de Cervantes (Barcelona: Ediciones Comtalia, 1948), pp. 142-143.