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Famous Harpist Snapshots

I always encourage new harpists to learn about the giants of the harp world. Not only is it important to know who the composer of your new harp solo is, but it's also useful to understand your lineage, where your teacher and their teacher came from and how it all fits together. Below are snapshots of several famous harpists. You can either read the info directly on the website, or click to download each snap shot as a printable PDF, for use in teaching or as a reference. More snapshots will be forthcoming!

Turlough O'Carolan
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• 1670 - 1738

(born in County Meath, Ireland; died in County Roscommon, Ireland)

• Was blinded at the age of 18, due to smallpox


• After this, he was apprenticed for three years to a harper, which was a common profession for blind boys


• Traveled all around Ireland (with a horse and guide) for almost 50 years, composing and performing as a harper


• Became one of Ireland’s most famous composers

• Most of his work survived through aural tradition, as publishing music was not common during O’Carolan’s life


• His compositions include O’Carolan’s Air, Fanny Power, Eleanor Plunkett, and O’Carolan’s Concerto, among many others

Download a PDF - Turlough O'Carolan

Alphonse Hasselmans

• 1845 – 1912 (born in Liège, Belgium; died in Paris, France)

• Studied at the Conservatory in Strasburg, then in Stuttgart and Paris


• Became Professor of Harp at the Paris Conservatoire in 1884


• Taught an amazing group of harpists, who went on to become the most important harpists of the 20th century, including Marcel Grandjany, Pierre Jamet, Lily Laskine, Henriette Renié, Carlos Salzedo, and Marcel Tournier

• Primarily composed solo harp music


• Notable compositions include:  La Source op. 44, Chanson de Mai, and Guitare

• Many students play some of his easier works, such as Petite Berceuse

 or Trois Petites Pièces Faciles

Download a PDF - Alphonse Hasselmans

Henriette Renié

• 1875 – 1956 (born and died in Paris, France)


• Studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Alphonse Hasselmans

• Awarded a Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 11

• Began her professional career as a teenager,

giving concerts and setting up a teaching studio

• Became established as a composer in 1901 with the premiere of her

Concerto in C minor for harp and orchestra

• Alphonse Hasselmans asked her to succeed him as professor at the Paris Conservatoire, but the administration appointed Marcel Tournier instead


• Wrote Méthode Complète de Harpe still widely used today


• Notable students include: Mildred Dilling, Marcel Grandjany,

and Susann McDonald


• Composed extensively for the harp, including compositions such as: Contemplation, Légende, Ballade Fantastique, and Danse des Lutins. Students might know her beginning work Grand’mère Raconte une Histoire

Download a PDF - Henriette Renié

Carlos Salzedo

• 1885 – 1961 (born in Arcachon, France; died in Waterville, Maine, USA)


• Entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9, for piano and solfège

• Took beginning harp lessons with Marguerite Achard, and started studying harp at

the Paris Conservatoire with Alphonse Hasselmans at the age of 13. Salzedo was

awarded a Premier Prix in both harp and piano on the same day at the age of 16


• Was born Charles Moïse Léon Salzedo. Changed his name to Carlos in 1903,

on the occasion of his Paris recital debut

• In 1909 Salzedo immigrated the US to play with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra,

at the invitation of Arturo Toscanini


• Founded the Curtis Harp Department in 1924


• Started the Summer Harp Colony in Camden, Maine in 1931

and continued to teach there until his death


• Composed extensively for the harp in a modern style, using extended techniques

throughout his music. Many of these are included in his Modern Study of the Harp

and Method of the Harp (co-written with Lucille Lawrence)

• Developed his own technique which includes gestures inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky, a friend of Salzedo’s

• Designed the Salzedo model harp, sold by Lyon and Healy

• Notable students: Alice Chalifoux, Lucille Lawrence, Judy Loman, Edna Phillips


• Notable compositions: Chanson dans la Nuit, Ballade, Scintillation, Whirlwind, Suite of Eight Dances,

and Variations sur un Thème dans le Style Ancien

Download a PDF - Carlos Salzedo

Marcel Tournier

• 1879 – 1951 (born and died in Paris, France)

• Studied with Hasselmans at the Paris Conservatoire, entered at the age of 16,

awarded a Premier Prix at age of 20

• Also focused on composition during his studies,

won the Second Prize at the Prix de Rome in 1909

• Tournier is considered a composer who happened to play the harp,

rather than a harpist who also composed

• Succeeded Hasselmans and taught at the

Paris Conservatoire from 1912 – 1948

• Tournier’s wife Renée Lénars-Tournie was also a harpist, and was professor of

chromatic harp at the Paris Conservatoire from 1912 – 1933


• Notable students: Marie-Claire Jamet, Eileen Malone

• Many compositions for harp, including: Au Matin, Sonatine, Images,

Vers la Sources dans la Bois, Féerie

Download a PDF - Marcel Tournier

Marcel Grandjany

• 1891 – 1975 (born in Paris, France; died in New York, New York)


• Began harp studies with Renié at the age of 8, started studying at

the Paris Conservatoire with Hasselmans at the age of 11

• Awarded a Premier Prix at 13

• Gave debuts in Paris, London and New York and

established his career as a performer through these

• Moved to the United States and headed the

Juilliard Harp Department from 1938 – 1975

• Founded the American Harp Society in 1962

• Notable students: Anne Adams, Nancy Allen, Kathleen Bride,

Sarah Bullen, Catherine Gotthoffer, Ruth Inglefield,

Karen Lindquist, and Emily L. Oppenheimer

• Composed and transcribed extensively for the harp, including: Rhapsodie, Fantaisie sur un Thème de J. Haydn, Aria in Classic Style,

and many transcriptions of J. S. Bach


• Grandjany wrote many pieces at easier levels, including Trois Petites Pièces, Le Bon Petit Roi d’Yvetôt, Petite Suite Classique, and Automne

Download a PDF - Marcel Grandjany

Harpo Marx
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• 1888 - 1964

(born in Manhattan, New York, USA; died in Los Angeles, California, USA)


• 2nd oldest of the five Marx brothers, who were an American family comedy act


• Born Adolph Marx, changed his name to Arthur, and then was given the stage name Harpo because of his harp playing


• When Harpo was in his twenties, his mother gave him an inexpensive harp and he learned to play on his own


• Because he was self-taught and couldn’t read music, Harpo’s playing is both highly creative and really unorthodox


• Later he took lessons with well-known harp teachers, including Mildred Dilling and Henriette Renié, but his playing remained unique


• Harpo never spoke during comedy performances (in contrast to his brothers)  

• Together the Marx Brothers made 13 feature films and Harpo plays the harp in many of these

Download a PDF - Harpo Marx

Dorothy Ashby

• 1932-1986

(born in Detroit, Michigan, USA; died in Santa Monica, California, USA)

• Initially played the piano. Also learned about music from her father,

a jazz guitarist


• Learned the harp at Cass Technical High School in Detroit,

a public school with a harp program


• Primarily a jazz harpist, but also included other styles of music in her playing, including R&B and world music


• Made 11 solo recordings including Afro-Harping, The Jazz Harpist, and Hip Harp

• Her husband, John Ashby, was a drummer and they played together in a trio


• Won Down Beat magazine’s critics’ and readers’ award for best jazz performer in 1962

Download a PDF - Dorothy Ashby

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Alice Coltrane
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• 1937 – 2007

(born in Detroit, Michigan, USA; died in Los Angeles, California, USA)


• Born Alice McLeod

• Grew up in a musical family and began studying classical piano at the age of seven

• Became a really innovative jazz musician


• Primarily played the piano, but also played the harp and the organ


• Purchased a pedal harp in 1968  and was possibly self-taught on the instrument


• Recorded many albums and most of these featured her playing the harp alongside her other instruments


• Was married to the famous jazz saxophonist John Coltrane

• Had a strong interest in Eastern religions, both musically and in her life outside of music

Download a PDF - Alice Coltrane

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