To hear a brief
sample of clarsach playing, click on the picture.
This excerpt is taken from the Skye Scene Highland Ceilidh CD.
(RealPlayer G2 required; if you don't have it, download it free from Real Audio)
"Clarsach" is the Gaelic word for "small harp", and the instrument is sometimes known as the Celtic Harp. These instruments have featured in Scottish history from as early as the eighth and ninth centuries, and by the late Middle Ages were established as the characteristic instruments of the Scottish Gael.
There were two types of harp in Scotland. The clarsach was the harp of the Highlands, and was strung with wire, and the similar gut-strung instrument was found in the Lowlands of Scotland.
Playing the harp was a noble profession during these times, and the Clan chiefs of the Highlands employed harpers or bards to compose tunes and songs for them. One of the most notable of these was Rory Dall Morrison, who was harper to the chief of the Clan MacLeod at Dunvegan on Skye in the early eighteenth century.
The harping tradition died out in the eighteenth century after the collapse of the clan system, and there were subsequent attempts to revive the small harp during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But the strongest and most successful effort has been over the past 20-30 years. There are now more harp players in Scotland than ever before, and the clarsach has once again established iteslf as one of the strongest instruments on the Scottish traditional music scene today.
© Eilidh MacLeod
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