My YouTube videos playing the harpolyre continue to get a lot of attention, and I wanted to share with you a little of the backstory of this amazing three-necked harp guitar.
In an effort to bring history to the harp guitar I discovered ten works for the harpolyre written by Fernando Sor, known as the Father of the Classical Guitar. The amazing thing about these compositions is not only are they extremely tender and lyric pieces, but they had never been played since 1830 and perhaps have never actually been heard in public until my recording “The Lost Music of Fernando Sor” along with my live performances and YouTube videos. I felt like Indiana Jones uncovering this forgotten music for a forgotten instrument.
I ordered the microfilm of this music in 1977 from the La Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and with this extremely rare and beautiful music in my hands, I could only dream of finding one of a handful of existing harpolyres upon which to really recreate these beautiful musical pieces. After thirty years of the hunt, I was blessed to find a circa 1830 harpolyre that had been restored to near pristine condition.
Last October I had a chance to conduct a Sor Symposium and debut a new show “Beyond Six Strings – from Sor to Hendrix” at Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon. Months before I had an opportunity to talk with Peter Zisa who conducts the guitar program there about my research in the life and music of Sor, and he suggested that Marylhurst University host a Sor Symposium. Peter is not only a great player and elegant human being, he has such a great imagination and he coordinated with several teacher/performers in the area to have students come to a master class and themselves participate in the Symposium. Both the class and the Symposium went incredibly well.
Peter reviewed the event as follows:
“Marylhurst hosted an historic performance by John Doan on three beautiful and historic instruments. John’s blend of remarkable skills as a storyteller and masterful performer proved to be the highlight of the two-day Sor Symposium. John, who began his performance with his own music and arrangements on harp guitar, concluded the program with a historic premier performance of Sor’s music for the three-necked harpolyre. The pieces, which varied in level of technical difficulty from intermediate to virtuosic, charmed and moved the spellbound audience.”
Fan, Shannon J. Murphy, had this to say about the concert:
I was present at the concert at Marylhurst and was able to relive it as I read your account here. It was a beautiful presentation and I know your future audiences at this concert are going to love it as much as I did. Your description of Sor and his musical technique struck me as being just what I could say of you and yours. You are the instrument that makes the music flow. Continue to walk in the light.
In short, it was a kick!! It seemed crazy to combine in the same show the music of Fernando Sor – the “Father of the classical guitar” with the music of Jimi Hendrix and other contemporary guitar innovators but as the show evolved it flowed beautifully into an event that reached across time, generations, and cultures. Continue reading →
“The Inevitable Harp Guitar- Recurring Cycles in Guitar Evolution” was published in Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine No.66, and is used here with permission. For more information on harp guitar history go to harpguitars.net.
Back in the early 1970’s in my college studies on guitar I was very taken by the music from the renaissance and baroque eras and was intrigued that much of the material was originally intended for instruments beyond six strings. Having played twelve-string guitar and a double neck electric guitar in bands multi-stringed instruments seemed familiar to me. Just out of school I got an eight-course renaissance lute as well as a fourteen-course theorbo to play original lute music and included them in my guitar concerts.
Over time I began to recognize all sorts of multi-stringed instruments in some music shops, museums, and in books on instruments and was curious that hardly anyone played them or even seemed to know much about them. There were various lute-guitars (a.k.a. “lutars”) from late 19th/early 20th century Germany (those who think poorly of them call them “gututes”), Basse-guitares or Schrammel guitars from Europe (especially from Sweden, France, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe), and harp guitars from early 20th century America.
These guitars all had an extended bass range with up to twelve additional strings. I even found a harp guitar made by Chris Knutsen in Port Townsend, Washington from the late 1890’s with seven additional super-trebles attached to the right of the ordinary six strings of the guitar. In time I acquired a Gibson harp guitar (literally hundreds were made in Gibson’s first twenty years), a Dyer harp guitar (made by the Larson brothers and still popular today especially since adopted by such great players like Michael Hedges and Stephen Bennett, among others), and various lesser known makes. I finally commissioned a twenty-string harp guitar (perhaps the first modern constructed harp guitar design in our times) from John Sullivan and Jeffrey Elliott of Portland, Oregon in 1985 and haven’t looked back since. *(note: William Eaton was building amazing multi-stringed creations of his own even before this). Continue reading →