Let the Harp Sound! Introduction

Introduction in the Critical reflection of Let the Harp Sound! by Sunniva Rødland, 2014

About the artistic research project

1. Introduction

1.a. Goals and contributions of “Let the harp sound!”

The artistic research project “Let the Harp Sound!” started in October 2008 and was finished in June 2014. As stated in the “Revised Project Description” of 24 November 2011, the focus of the project has been to update understanding of the sound and artistic role of the harp in Norwegian contemporary music. More specifically the goals have been to (a) promote a broader use of the harp in Norwegian contemporary music, (b) to initiate artistic explorations of the harp among composers, to contribute to the further development of the artistic range of the instrument, and (c) to help me in my effort to build experience within the contemporary scene.

“Let the Harp Sound!” contributes to new artistic development through a series of new compositions for the harp, placing it within fields of composition in Norway where the harp has never been included before. “Let the Harp Sound!” also presents, through performances and through gathering reference material, central repertoire from 1960 until today, much of which has never before been performed in Norway. Additionally, the project sheds light on some selected harpists’ viewpoints through conversations with them.

1.b. An artistic research project

“Let the Harp Sound!” is a project within the Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme, where the research is based almost entirely on the creative processes and the performances themselves. Other PhD harp projects, which have come into light, such as by Gunnhildur Einarsdóttir and Lucia Bova, seem to have focused on the playing techniques for the harp, the historic development of harp repertoire or the written analysis of harp scores. Divergent to this, my project concerns itself with the artistic explorations, as does the entire artistic research program. Such a context for the project has enabled “Let the Harp Sound!” to emphasize the artistic expressions and the performances themselves, the entire project taking place in an artistic context.

The model for the research was for the project to be an imaginary journey through the vast field of contemporary music, with the aim always on the harp role as stated in my goals. Along the way diversions were allowed in certain directions. Start of the journey was on the traditional idiomatic compositions. The project then went on to research various contemporary directions such as music in the modernistic tradition, avant-garde, new complexity, hyper-idiomatic instrumentalism, musique concrète, electronic music, the use of multimedia, music theatre, musique concrète instrumentale, indeterminacy, free improvisation, open form compositions and cross-genre compositions. My personal interaction and communication with composers, representing varying compositional styles and working methods, was of particular interest for the project. The different formats and angles of approach to the harp given by each of these collaborations were among the interesting finds in the project, resulting in a display of what the harp’s role may be in the 21st century.

“The explorer in a strange territory may cross and re-cross the same point many times, but will come towards it from a different direction each time as he traverses the terrain, and, if he is lucky, will each time obtain a new point of view.”

Christopher Small, 19771

“Let the Harp Sound!” has been a project within the contemporary field of classical music, by a classically educated harpist, with a focus mainly on traditionally notated music. The project is distinguished by the specific focus on challenging the “idea of the harp”, among composers, harpists and musicians in general. The work is related to the work of other classical harpists who perform contemporary music, such as Gunnhildur Einarsdóttir, Miriam Overlach, Brigitte Sylvestre, Frédèrique Cambrelling, Ann Yeung, Godelieve Schrama, Sofia Asuncion Claro, Ellen Bødtker and Claudia Antonelli. However, the project has also been greatly inspired by the improvisational work, compositions and conceptual ideas of harpists such as Rhodhri Davies, Victoria Jordanova, Anne LeBaron, Zeena Parkins and Hélène Breschand. In the Norwegian scene, “Let the Harp Sound!” has been inspired by other independent musicians; such as Victoria Johnson, Rolf Erik Nystrøm, Maja Ratkje, Håkon Thelin, Tanja Orning, Rolf Borch, Else Olsen Storesund, Ellen Ugelvik, Frode Haltli, Håkon Stene and Anders Førisdal.


2. Artistic result

The artistic result was performed throughout the project period, through a series of concerts. The main artistic result was presented at a final concert and through two recordings. The end recital took place at “Kulturkirken Jakob” the 8th of June 2012, with the following program:

  • Ø.Torvund: Night & Jungle (2011/12) for electroharp, amplifiers and tape
  • R.Murray Schafer: The Crown of Ariadne (1979), for solo harp with percussion
  • G.Scelsi: Okanagon pour harpe, tam-tam et contrabassi (1968)
  • H.Hellstenius: Heritage (2011) for harp, harpist and tape
  • S.Steen-Andersen: History of My Instrument (2011), for harp, pick-up and video

In addition there were two audio recordings included in the main artistic result:

  1. Mark Adderley: All plans last only until the first shot (2010), concerto for harp andSinfonietta. Recording of the live performance 13.09.2010 at the Ultima Festival. Performed by Sunniva Rødland Wettre (harp) and Ensemble Ernst, conducted by Thomas Rimul. Recorded by Cato Langnes (Notam)
  2. Ruben Sverre Gjertsen: Grains (2003), for viola, harp and percussion. Performed by Peter Kates, percussion, Sunniva Rødland Wettre, harp and Ricardo Odriozola, viola. Conducted by Trond Madsen. Studio recording by Aurora Records for Bit20 Ensemble.


3. Research questions

1. How can I expand the harp’s role within contemporary aesthetics? The focus is on a broadening of the use of the harp. To expand the role I will be promoting the full expressional range of the harp, thus showcasing the expressional possibilities. The harp should become more available to composers; through workshops, harp lessons, updated references and one-on-one time with harpist and composer. Also, by showcasing repertoire where the harp is used in less conventional ways, the possibilities of rethinking the use of the harp will be in focus.

2. How can I help to redefine the boundaries of the harp as an instrument? Through exploring the harp in collaboration with others and in my own practice, I will look at the harp from different angles. Initiating artistic explorations of the harp includes different aesthetic approaches, interdisciplinary work, exploring the harp in new contexts, improvisation, investigating new playing techniques and challenging my approach to the harp as an instrumentalist. The composer collaborations will involve exploring the communication between harpist and composer within different compositional working methods.

3. How can I meet the new challenges of contemporary aesthetics? This question deals with what is required of a classical musician in contemporary music. To become able to work within a variety of aesthetics I will have to learn new skills as a performer, and gain more knowledge which further enables my interpretation. To explore this question the traditional role of the harpist will be deliberately challenged. The role of the harpist will be looked at within different contexts.


4. The Critical Reflection

4.a. Choosing the format for Critical Reflection

In the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme the research candidates must submit a critical reflection, accompanying the artistic result. The candidates are free to choose in which medium and form they present their critical reflection:

“The results of the critical reflection shall be available to the public and of a permanent nature. The candidate shall choose the appropriate medium and form.”

Norwegian Artistic Research Programme, 20102

I have chosen a written form, with a subjective point of view, presenting my personal journey and artistic development – a personal account. The reason why I have chosen to write is partly to make the discussions, reflections and effort that led up to the artistic result more available, which hopefully will shed more light on the process of composing for the harp or the development of new roles for the harp and harpist. The written critical reflection is an additional opportunity to reach the audience who were not able to follow my project. Also, however less directly, the critical reflection sheds light on the more general topics of the project, which positions “Let the Harp Sound!” in the general discursive of for example new performance practice, rethinking the concert format, integration of visuals in music, interdisciplinary collaborations, use of electronics, music education and the role of the co-creating musician.

“Artistic research is therefore not just embedded in artistic and academic contexts, and it focuses not just on what is enacted in creative processes and embodied in art products, but it also engages with what we are and where we stand.”

Henk Borgdorff, 20103

Futhermore, the critical reflection will help to avoid misunderstandings about the project itself. When presenting “Let the Harp Sound!” throughout the research period, I have become aware that different people have different expectations to what this project entails. For instance, some musicians have expressed that they think it is great that I will “put things right” with the composers, implying that my project is about telling the composers what to do. Others think that I am only interested in making the harp sound harsh or aggressive. Others again have expressed expectations of the project creating a “do’s and don’ts” for the harp. The project has never been intended to take such a determined route, and this text is intended to shed light on how choices were made, and why.

That being said, the results of my research are consistently embedded in the artistic outcome of the project and not in this text. My performances showcase reflections on the research questions. This document is therefore a supplement. It is not a scientific text that points to any objective truths, or do’s and don’ts. In fact, I believe the true strength of an artistic research project is that it hopefully points to the experience of art, within the arts.

“Clearly research in and through artistic practices is partly concerned with our perception, our understanding, our relationship to the world and to other people. Art thereby invites reflection, yet it eludes any defining thought regarding its content. Artistic research is the acceptance of that paradoxical invitation. It furthermore enhances our awareness of the pre-reflective nearness of things as well as our epistemological distance from them. This makes artistic research an open undertaking, seeking the deliberate articulation of unfinished thinking in and through art.”

Henk Borgdorff, 20104

4.b. Disposition of the critical reflection

The following text is divided into four sections. The first three sections reflect upon the research questions presented in the introduction, in perspective of the Revised Project Description (24.11.11). The final section reflects upon the presentation of the final artistic result.


  1. Christopher Small: Music, Society, Education, Wesleyan University Press, University Press of New England, Hanover, 1977,1980 ↩︎
  2. §5.2., “Regulations for the Research Fellowship Programme, endorsed by the steering committee on 08.09.2008 and adjusted according to decision on 02.09.10.,”accessed 16.06.14, www.artistic-research.no. ↩︎
  3. Henk Borgdorff, “The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research”, The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, ed.Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson, p.51, (London: Taylor & Francis, 2010). ↩︎
  4. Henk Borgdorff, «The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research», The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, ed.Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson, p.45, (London: Taylor & Francis, 2010). ↩︎