Skip

My harp will go on. Underwater. Glug glug.
April 9, 2012 6:12 PM   Subscribe

How did harps come to be associated with (under)water?

Harp music is often associated with the deeps. When/where did this start? Does anyone know why?

BONUS QUESTION: Are there any interesting theses or research papers on harps/harp music available for free (or free-via-participating-library) reading?
posted by curious nu to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The history of the harp.

(can't answer the underwater question, and I don't even know that they ARE associated with it)
posted by empath at 6:17 PM on April 9, 2012


and I don't even know that they ARE associated with it

I was just watching a Discovery Channel bit on giant squids, and there was harp. Harp is ALWAYS showcased with water. It's weird. And in any given underwater fantasy environment - mermaids and the like - the two instruments you see are harp and, of course, conch shell.
posted by curious nu at 6:19 PM on April 9, 2012


I suspect that it has at least a little to do with the existence and popularity of certain types of musical instruments during the time periods when mermaids, Atlantis, and that sort of thing became part of well-known stories. Guitars, pianos, saxophones, and other instruments are extremely recent inventions. By having a conch shell for a horn and a harp (more likely a lyre), you've more or less go the two categories of ancient musical instruments covered. Some sort of percussion instruments would make sense, too, I guess. It's not like the ancient Atlanteans or whatever are going to have Moog synthesizers and Simmons drum pads. That said, I suspect that if you did a thorough analysis of a statistically-significant sample of modern depictions of fantastic underwater musical scenes, you'd find a surprising number of guitars, marimbas, drums, and that sort of thing.
posted by The World Famous at 6:27 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


And in any given underwater fantasy environment - mermaids and the like - the two instruments you see are harp and, of course, conch shell

I think that's it -- the fantasy element. For me at least, the harp is associated with fantasy. Think fairies and elves and magic and mystical realms... and the underwater world can be a fantasy world too, since even though in this modern age we have deep-sea explorers and even James Cameron down in the depths, it's still one big mysterious pool out there.
posted by ditto75 at 7:09 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are you thinking of Spongebob Squarepants? Such as when a scene transitions into another scene, the bubbles float upwards, and and harp is played to indicate the passage of time? In any event, the Greek sirens typically played harps to tempt sailors to their grim deaths. I would suggest that the harp has thus been used to symbolise "the lure of the sea".
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:10 PM on April 9, 2012


(Lyres, anyway, rather than harps.)
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:12 PM on April 9, 2012


Addressing your "presumably mythology" tab, Apollo, god of light and the sun, is also the god of music. He is the master of the lyre, which was created for him by Hermes. Orpheus used his lyre to distract Jason and the Argonauts from the voices of sirens. Other sirens are depicted as using lyres, though, including in early Christianity.

There is, of course, this modern occurrence. And this one.

I like the World Famous' explanation, and I'll add that the harp can have a twinkling sound that evokes not only the sound of bubbling water, but also the effect of light refracted through the surface, as seen from below.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:32 PM on April 9, 2012


Harp is simply the most 'watery' sounding of all orchestral instruments. Its most characteristic, easiest gestures -- therefore the gestures composers often use it for -- include glissandi and bisbigliando passages and fast, flowing arpeggiated chords.

Discover the Harp: more videos, details, and history.
posted by kalapierson at 11:09 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


hydrophonic (eponysterically) has the only reason that rings true for me: Orpheus used his lyre to distract Jason and the Argonauts from the voices of sirens.

After that hugely famous association of the harp and sea-women (sirens are often, but not always, depicted as mermaids), it gained momentum.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:49 AM on April 10, 2012


« Older Ethicalfilter: I gave a genero...   |  Need a top-notch Seattle area ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post