Why the Harp Consort, part 2
Of course the Harp Consort is special for more than it’s flexible line-up. The Harp Consort is an ensemble that excels at improvisation within the distinct styles of baroque, Renaissance and medieval music. The group takes its inspiration from the 17th-century harp consort formed in England at the court of Charles I: in contrast to the homogeneous string orchestra (also formed at this time), the Consorte brought together diverse types of solo instruments and voices, to create colourful new combinations in the fashion of the day. Like the 17th-century Consorte, The Harp Consort is formed around the accompanying instruments of the basso continuo and brings together an international team of musicians who create a rich variety of timbres.
When The Harp Consort last toured Australia in 2006 it presented an intriguing musical tapestry taken from the compendia of Venegas de Henestrosa in the Golden Age of the Spanish Renaissance. This year it brings an even more surprising collection inspired by the music of the leading composer of the Irish Baroque, Turlough O’Carolan.
The program is around the byways of history, the music and stories less-travelled by other groups, yet one that feeds into the main story of its time. Says Carl Vine, “the first thing to do in the current instance is to prepare to reconsider any preconceptions about what constitutes Baroque Music, and countenance the idea that much more diverse forms abounded at the time that Purcell, Bach and Vivaldi reached their respective, heavily formulaic, peaks.”
Carolan’s music is multi-faceted. Having lost his sight only in his late teens, he turned to the harp and to harp traditions from a slightly different background. According to Andrew Lawrence-King, Carolan’s music sits “somewhere between the learned, intellectual, composed, written tradition and the aural folk tradition… some pieces being more in the high art tradition, some being more dance music and with all the issues of low art.” Then there are the layers of French and Italian influence, coupled with the changes inherent when music is passed on by aural tradition. “There’s a Chinese whispers element to it,” says Andrew, “and that’s one of the wonderful things of working with this repertoire, that as the music was passed down in the aural tradition, it was embellished, it was enriched, it was changed.”