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Introduction pratique à la musique Renaissance pour harpe
Éditions Delatour, juin 2020


Musique médiévale adaptée à la harpe celtique
Éditions Harposphères, 2002


“Les harpions, questions organologiques et musicales : quel réglage pour quel usage sur les harpes anciennes aujourd’hui"

Congrès Interdisciplinaire de Musicologie, 2009

Publié en 2013 aux Éditions Delatour dans "La musique et ses instruments"




 Braypins: musical and organological questions : Which set-up for what use on early harps today?

State of art in music and musicology. Bray pins are 'obstacles' which modify the vibrations of the strings of the harp. They are shown in iconography and referred to in texts up until the 18th century. It appears that the particular tone produced when using bray pins was appreciated in different ways according to the era.  For example, Mersenne [1] and Trichet [2]. Today, bray pins reconstructed by most early-harp makers raise aesthetic problems for musicians who then avoid using them, turning them on their side to become simple buttons to hold the strings. However, iconography always appears to indicate that on Gothic Harps, bray pins were set up to make the strings " jar" [3].

This problem has been often raised, particularly by the organologist P. Abondance [4] who illustrates with this particular example the limits of the research in organology as far as “only the picture of what we have lost is left of the past”. The question of the sound of the brays seems to be a part of the question of the repertoire, even though the problem is that we still don’t know a lot about the use of instruments in medieval music in general so we need to take into consideration musical intuition, practical experience and knowledge of the repertoire which then leads us to the conviction that the current reconstruction of brays on early harps is not the only possible solution, and that other ways deserve to be investigated.

State of the art in acoustics. Modern reconstructions look like hooks which lightly touch the strings at a certain distance from the nut on the soundboard. The main disadvantage of this is that it acts only when the amplitude of the vibration is enough to reach the hook. Then contact occurs, but when the amplitude of the vibration decreases, the sound created by the bray pins breaks off abruptly which creates a break in the timbre and in the sound. However, on some harps we can see that the brays are cut so that the contact is tangential to the string, producing a better sound, whereas the brays which do not make such contact do not produce a sustain which lasts for the entire duration of the string’s vibration.

Aims. At the crossroads of musicology, acoustics, and practical musicianship, our aim is the reconstruction of bray pins which satisfies the requirements of musicians.  The type of contact determines the quality of the sound. We will examine two type of brays: "grazing" and "tangent".

Main contribution; Comparison of historical sources with instruments with obstacles of living tradition allows us to propose musically satisfactory solutions which seem in agreement with the repertoire. By taking inspiration from the Indian Tanpura flat bridge [7], we have adapted the shape of bray pins so that the contact lasts throughout the duration of the vibration. We also noted that "grazing" brays are similar to the flat bridge of the Ethiopian Bagena [6]. Acoustic analyses confirm these results.

Further research. By proposing an acoustical analysis of the different possibilities of reconstruction of the brays and their limitations, this work could allow the musician to better choose with more knowledge. Then tangent brays are very interesting for the interpretation of music which is now played on the harp, all the more so since the harp is one of the rare medieval instruments which can play down to the G Ut. The grazing brays seem to be more adapted to a rhythmic role.

Beyond these practical considerations, this study makes us consider the problem of the instrumental repertoire of the Middle Ages not only from iconographic, museographic and literary sources, but from the question of timbre, which is rarely take into consideration and can offer new perspectives.

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