The revival of historical Gaelic harp music really started only in the 1970s, when Ann Heymann got hold of a copy of the historical Castle Otway harp made by Jay Witcher, and started applying the historical left orientation and fingernail playing techniques detailed in Bunting’s books. That revival continues to the present day with many players having studied with Ann, and many instrument makers following Jay’s lead and producing good copies of the historical instruments, set up according to historical practice with metal wire strings.
Before this, though, there were people who realised that the usual modern gut-strung “Celtic” harp and its Romantic music was a 19th century invention, and that the older traditions used a very different harp and different traditional idioms. Earlier experiments do tend to concentrate on the physical instruments, perhaps because the old harps in museums were always visible as a reminder of the old style, whereas the sources for style and technique were hidden away in rare books and unpublished manuscripts.
Some people did experiment with the old repertory and styles, but using a modern harp. I have put together an appendix for other recordings connected with Gaelic harp music but not using an old-style Gaelic harp.
This list is not complete; it is a personal selection of the kind of music I am interested in, i.e. old Irish and Scottish music played in historical style on the ancient type of clarsach or Irish harp, with metal wire strings. If you think I have missed out anyone important please do let me know.
Other musicians working at this music before 1970 include Chris Warren - I have heard a 1974 lecture in which he plays fragmentary examples, but his harp was poorly set up and he was a scholar rather than a musician. Also Rev. Richard Henebry made himself a copy of the Trinity College harp c.1907 and I understand he did play it. He collected wax cylinders as well! And of course, from 1892 onwards there were the harps made in Edinburgh by Glen, some of which were played at the first Mod. Is it possible that there exists somewhere a phonograph recording of one of the old Irish harpers?
Ordering instructions: I carry a number of Gaelic harp books and CDs in stock at the Emporium. I am happy to try and source out-of-print or hard-to-find items not currently in stock. Go to the Emporium homepage for more details.
I also will buy secondhand copies of many of these items. Contact me with details of what you have and we can discuss terms.