The harp is prized as much for its expressive range and gentle textures as for its elegant appearance. The instrument is heard not only in the performance of classical music, but has increasingly become an integral part of Celtic and folk music performances in Canada and elsewhere. Canadian orchestras frequently feature the harp, and Canadian composers have written numerous new works for harp.

Canadian Compositions for Harp

A number of Canadian composers have written works for harp in recent years; recordings of several of these have earned awards. The Passion of Angels for two harps and orchestra by Marjan Mozetich (1995) was premiered and recorded by the harp duo Nora Bumanis and Julia Shaw for CBC Records in 1996. R. Murray Schafer's The Crown of Ariadne for harp and percussion was commissioned and premiered 5 Mar 1979 by Judy Loman. Her recording of the work (1979, Aquitaine MS 90570) subsequently won a Juno Award. She recorded it again in 1991 along with other works on the CD Chimera (Centrediscs CMC-4191). Loman also recorded Glenn Buhr's Tanzmusik for solo harp. Michael Conway Baker wrote a harp concerto for Elizabeth Volpe Bligh, which she premiered with the Vancouver Symphony in 2003.

Erica Goodman recorded Concerto (by Oskar Morawetz) with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in 1987 (CBC SMCD-5086), a recording that won a Juno Award in 1990. Goodman made another recording in 1994 devoted to Canadian harp music. Donald Patriquin has included harp in choral works, notably in Songs of Innocence, based on the poetry of William Blake. Pieces for harp and harpsichord by John Beckwith and Bruce Mather were commissioned by Sharlene Wallace and recorded in Montreal for CBC in May 2000. Milton Barnes, Frank Haworth, Talivaldis Kenins, Alexina Louie, Bruce Mather, Tibor Polgar, Allan Rae, Nicole Rodrigue, Frederick Schipizky and Gerhard Wuensch have also written works for solo harp.

Recent Compositions for Celtic Harp

Canadian composers are also taking an interest in the smaller harps: Kirk Elliot was commissioned by Sharlene Wallace to write for Celtic harp, harpsichord, and banjo; in 2002 Mark Mitchell's Concerto for Celtic Harp was premiered in Ottawa by Lucile Brais Hildesheim; Antoine Ouellette's Suite pour harpe celtique was recorded by Danièle Habel (SNE).

Post-War Interest in Harp Composition

Contemporary interest in the harp builds on the interest shown by Canadian composers in that instrument after 1940. J.-J. Gagnier wrote a five-movement Suite with orchestra (1945). Harry Somers' Suite with chamber orchestra (1949) was recorded by Marie Iösch-Lorcini and a CBC chamber orchestra under Geoffrey Waddington (RCI 86 and 10-ACM 7) and, with Judy Loman as soloist, by CBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind (Col MS 6285). Michel Perrault composed Margoton (1954) and Jeux de Quartes (1961), two works with orchestra. John Weinzweig's Concerto for harp and chamber orchestra (1967, recorded by Loman for the CBC) is among his most important works and has been played in Canada and in Europe. Loman has also recorded Weinzweig's 15 Pieces (CBC Musica Viva MV-1029). Robert Turner composed Little Suite (1957) and Fantasy and Festivity (1970), two works for solo harp. In 1972 George Fiala wrote a Concertino Canadese for four harps, dedicated to the Soviet quartet Chitari Arpi.

Contemporary Harp Teachers in Canada

The teaching of the harp continues to be very strong in Canada. In Québec, noteworthy teachers include Isabelle Fortier (Québec Conservatory), Manon LeComte (Montreal Conservatory), Jennifer Swartz (McGill University); in Ontario, Lori Gemmel (University of Western Ontario, Wilfrid Laurier University), Lucile Brais Hildesheim (University of Ottawa), Judy Loman (University of Toronto and Royal Conservatory of Music), Maureen McKay (Royal Conservatory of Music), Marie Lorcini (a Suzuki specialist in Hamilton), and many others. Iain Phillips (b 31 May 1954, d 18 July 2006) led the early music ensemble at Carleton University. In British Columbia, there is Elizabeth Volpe Bligh (University of British Columbia, Vancouver); in Nova Scotia, Karen Rokos.

Canadian Classical Harpists


The first harp teacher at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (RCMT), Joseph Quintile 1918-23, was followed by John Duncan 1930-41, Muriel Farrell Donnellan 1932-43, and Nora Phelan Rogers 1943-52. Heloise Macklem, a Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) member 1923-5 and 1930-1, played the concerto Lavender and Old Lace by her husband, Francis Paget Macklem, 1 Feb 1927 with that orchestra. Other harpists with the TSO were Donnellan, Rogers, and Maude Watterworth Craig, who also played with the Ottawa Civic Symphony. Winifred Bambrick, born in Ottawa, was a well-known harpist.

Carla Emerson (b St John's, Nfld, 4 Mar 1922) studied with Muriel Donnellan at the TCM and then with Marcel Grandjany at the Juilliard School, from which she graduated in 1948. She was in London 1950-5, and during part of that time was a member of the Royal Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham. Returning to Toronto, she taught 1955-62 at the RCMT and commuted to play in the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra. She also was second harp 1957-8 for the TSO.

Judy Loman became principal of the TSO in 1959, succeeding Donna Hossack; as of 2004 Loman was the TSO's principal harp emeritus. In addition to orchestral work and a solo performing career, Loman taught, and her pupils included Sarah Davidson, Janice Lindskoog, Jennifer Swartz (Montreal Symphony), Lori Gemmel (Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony), Sharlene Wallace (Kingston Symphony), and Erica Goodman. The latter has performed as a soloist, as a duettist with Robert Aitken, and as a member of chamber groups.

Janice Lindskoog and Dorothy White have performed as members of the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) and the TSO. Manon LeComte has held the post of principal harp of the NACO for more than 40 years. Ottawa Symphony Orchestra harpist Caroline Léonardelli performs in duo with Montreal harpist Caroline Lizotte.


In the Quebec Symphony Orchestra the post of principal harp was held by Lucille Baby, who was succeeded by Nathalie Teevin-Lebens and then Isabelle Fortier. Harpists of the Orchestre métropolitain have included Danièle Habel.

Nova Scotia

As of 2004 Karen Rokos is principal harp for Symphony Nova Scotia. Phyllis Ensher (b Massachusetts) performed with the Halifax Symphony Orchestra 1958-78 and was that city's leading harpist during that period. She performed on CBC-TV and in NOVA MUSIC concerts. Her arrangements for voice and harp of folksongs from Nova Scotia were frequently played.

Western Provinces

A violin pupil of Ysaÿe, the Belgian Frank J. Simons arrived in Winnipeg in 1921, and was that city's only harpist 1949-61. A member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, he had Antoinette Corbeil as a pupil. Susan George, Barbara Kraichy, and Richard Milton Turner have been harpists with the orchestra; Turner is now its principal harpist.

Tisha Murvihill is principal harpist of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. In that city's earlier years, Eva Bohmbach was a soloist with the Calgary Symphony Orchestra in 1913 as well as a member of that orchestra. Other harpists in Calgary have included Jean Farquharson and Barbara Keenan. The principal chair in Edmonton in the 1970s was held by Regina Watson and is now held by Nora Bumanis.

Principal West Coast orchestral harp positions are currently held by Liz Volpe (Vancouver) and Annabelle Vitek (Victoria); BC harpist Rita Costanzi is heard regularly on CBC. Donna Hossack was harpist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra during the 1960s, and Lanalee de Kant was principal with that city's orchestra in the late 1970s.

The Folk (Lever) Harp

The lever or folk harp has seen a tremendous rise in popularity in Canada in the past twenty years. Previously used mostly for folk and Celtic music, its lower price and portability have opened the door to many adult and child students. Smaller harps have enabled children as young as four to begin harp lessons, as seen in Marie Lorcini's Suzuki studio in Hamilton. Lorcini's unique teaching method incorporates key elements of the French (Grandjany's) and Suzuki methods. It is becoming more common for classical harpists to teach on both types of instruments, and even in both styles.

The lever harp world encompasses many styles of harps (including lever, Paraguayan, and electro-acoustic) and many genres of music. BC harpist Lori Pappajohn and her seven-piece ensemble Winter Harps perform world, Celtic, and medieval music. As with many Celtic harpists, Pappajohn has written original music, including two works for two harps and percussion and a commissioned piece for two harps and orchestra. In Montreal, Eralio Gill has been playing Paraguayan harp for decades. Also in Montreal, Robin Grenon creates his own special style of music combining Celtic and South American sounds, and showcases both Paraguayan and Celtic harps in concert with harpist Gisèle Guibord. He is also harpist with la Compagnie musicale La Nef (performing music of the Middle Ages) and founder of Harpissimo Québec. East Coast harpists include Joan Woods (PEI), and Cheryl Reid O'Hagan (Nova Scotia), who teaches at the Maritime Conservatory in Halifax and runs the Eastcoast Harpshop.

Celtic-Classical Explorations

Some classical harpists have turned to the lever or folk harp to explore other musical avenues. Sharlene Wallace (York and Guelph Universities; Royal Conservatory of Music) has written original compositions blending Celtic, South American, and Canadian sounds, as well as commissioning works for lever harp. To illustrate the differences between classical and lever harp, Wallace and Lucile Brais Hildesheim have put together a program showcasing both instruments in the same concert. Lori Pappajohn and her trio Harps International (Celtic, Paraguayan, and classical harps) have taken their unique combination across North America and Chile.

Recent Activities in Folk Harp Training, Composition, and Building

Canadian composers are also taking an interest in the smaller harps: Kirk Elliot was commissioned by Sharlene Wallace to write for Celtic harp, harpsichord, and banjo; in 2002 Mark Mitchell's Concerto for Celtic Harp was premiered in Ottawa by Lucile Brais Hildesheim; Antoine Ouellette's Suite pour harpe celtique was recorded by Danièle Habel (SNE).

A few Celtic schools and summer festivals include harp classes, including Saint Anne Gaelic College (Nova Scotia), Goderich Celtic College (Ontario), and Island Mountain Arts (British Columbia).

The demand for lever harps is very strong, and Canadian builders such as Timothy Habinski and Tat Stanley (Ontario), Alain Beaudoin (Québec), and Joseph Jourdain (British Columbia) are producing some world-class instruments.

The History of the Harp in Canada

Introduction of the Harp in Quebec

The date of the harp's arrival in Canada is not known, but one was used in Quebec City 21 Feb 1792 at a "vocal and instrumental benefit concert on behalf of sieur Jouve, musician to His Royal Highness." Jouve had come to Quebec City in 1791 with the Duke of Kent and gave harp lessons. The program describes a "scene and arietta of Atis with harp accompaniment" and "The sleep of Atis with harp, sung by Messrs. Bentley, Glackemeyer, and Jouve." About that time, the harp was one of the instruments being taught at the Ursuline Convent.

Over 40 years later a concert by an Irish harpist was reviewed in Le Journal de Québec (17 Jun 1843): "On Wednesday Mr. Wall gave a single recital, as he had announced. The harp is an ungrateful instrument by nature, since despite all the artist's skill, it nevertheless emitted some hard metallic sounds."

Joseph Lajeunesse, father of the singer Emma Albani, played the harp and taught it to his daughter as early as 1858 at the Sacré-Coeur Convent in Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal), where he also taught piano. In her concerts in Montreal in 1862 and Albany, New York, in 1864, the future Albani performed her own variations of "'Tis the Last Rose of Summer," and thus probably was the first Canadian to write for harp. Her first harp is preserved in the town of Chambly, and another instrument, thought to have belonged to her, is in the Château de Ramezay in Montreal.

The harpist Josephine Chatterton, the wife of Henri Bohrer, performed in Montreal in the 1880s. In 1890 the Montreal violin maker George Violetti advertised harps for sale, and in 1898 a Dame Parratt offered her services as a teacher. Two harpists from New York, the Rasina sisters, performed with great success at His Majesty's Theatre in March 1901, and one of them played Hasselmans' Ballade with the Goulet Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 1904. Nicholas Eichorn was that orchestra's harpist for the 1905-6 season.

The first recital entirely devoted to the harp in Montreal was probably given by the Italian Alberto Salvi in 1922. In the 1930s Juliette Drouin was the most sought-after harpist, if not the only one, in Montreal. She gave her first recital 9 Feb 1930 at the Ritz-Carlton. Marcel Grandjany, who had been giving recitals since 1926, was invited by Wilfrid Pelletier in 1943 to start a harp class at the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec à Montréal. He taught there regularly for 20 years, and his many pupils included Gloria Agostini, Claude Hill (Metropolitan Opera), Marie Iösch-Lorcini, Lise Nadeau, Cécile Préfontaine, and Dorothy Weldon.

Introduction of the Harp in Ontario

In the mid-19th century the harp was taught in several girls' colleges in Ontario. In Toronto a Mr. Ransome advertised as a teacher of flute and harp in 1841-2. The French harpist and composer Nicolas Bochsa performed in Bytown (Ottawa) in 1853, and probably also in Montreal and Quebec City. In 1851 Alfred Toulmin performed at St Lawrence Hall, Toronto. Fabiani was the harpist of the orchestra of Heinrich Klingenfeld in 1895.

See also Instruments: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque.