After having interpreted the liquid sounds of Impressionism in an almost essential way, the modern harp plays only a marginal role in the instrumental repertoire of classical music, not to mention contemporary popular music. For today's observer, it must be difficult to imagine that the harp was more than an "angelical" instrument available to both the educated and the popular musician. Yet precisely the characteristic sound of the harp made it a privileged instrument in the music of the European Renaissance as well as in that, which was its immediate descendant, transported to the New World with the Colombian Caravels.
In the Spain of the Catholic Kings, who indirectly propitiated the American adventure, the "sweet" stringed instruments — the lute, the vihuela and the harp — and the keyboard instruments were in practice the only ones to be considered worthy of attention by part of the educated courtier. It is no coincidence that are precisely the stringed instruments for which, starting from the mid-XVI century, a series of publications begin to appear in Spain that will have an important impact not only in Spanish music but in general in all European music.
The study of the harp was perhaps not as widespread and common in the courtly environment as that of other plucked instruments, which were used to accompany singing and recitative, but since the musical collection of Venegas de Henestrosa (1557) the harp it is normally included among the tools for which systematic treatises are developed. Unlike the vihuelas and the lutes, however, there are no XVI-century harps or contemporary music specifically dedicated to the harp.
To understand what the harp was in use at the apogee of Renaissance music in Spain, that is, the instrument that would have first crossed the ocean to reach the new world, we have to resort to coeval iconography. This shows us how, around the end of the XV century, the instruments in use were diatonic harps or with a very variable number of strings, of a slightly larger size than the torso of the musician who played them. Already during the following century, however, the harp was perfected with double rows of strings, chromatic and diatonic, crossed in the Spanish harp and parallel in the Italian arpa doppia. Most of the instruments that the colonists brought with them on their journey to the new Spanish possessions overseas were probably of this type.
These were the instruments that quickly became part of the instrumental repertoire also of the American natives, who adopted them to perform the music of the conquerors, as well as their own music, and were apparently able to copy and to reinterpret since the origins of colonization. We are not aware, on the basis of direct sources, of the extent to which the harp, with its unprecedented sonority, has been adopted in Amerindian musical practice, but certainly the continued use of the harp and its adaptation to most of the great cultural currents of contemporary Latin America seem to indicate that this instrument found its privileged place in the American autochthonous musical imagination.
In the absence, at least to date, of documents from the early periods of American colonization, the task of tracing the original history of the harp must be entrusted essentially to patient comparative work. How was the Spanish music with which the American natives came into contact at the end of the XV century? How was the musical environment organized in the New World in the absence, at least for a few decades, of professional musicians? What repertoires existed alongside the liturgical music imported into large cathedrals? Who were the composers who dictated American musical "fashions" in the XVI and XVII centuries? How did the music of the conquerors interact with the native linguistic and musical traditions? And finally, is it possible to identify the specific ways, the stylistic features that characterized American colonial music and made it distinct from its original model?
The permanent use of the "angelical" instrument in Latin American traditions suggests that the harp played an essential role in the musical colonization of Spanish America, but its use — outside the liturgical environment — had to be configured as a set of musics that in many cases were created almost like improvisations on the basis of some pre-existing scheme. These "fashion" themes, which varied continuously, were probably not considered important enough to be transcribed and therefore could not be transformed into a consolidated repertoire. This work aims to explore the arrival of European music in America and the influence that musical colonization had on the future of American music by doing without these sources, which would seem indispensable to the historiographic investigation. This is why, in essence, it is proposed as a musicological research.