The Well-Tempered Ear

Does Wisconsin Public Radio play too much harp music? | March 26, 2022

PLEASE NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, the following commentary was posted briefly yesterday and then withdrawn. That also disabled the commentary function temporarily. Once the glitch is solved, The Ear will post it again. That means some of you will get it twice. I apologize for any inconvenience. And to the fans who have kindly greeted my return, heartfelt thanks. I will be posting more details about the use and frequency of this blog in the near future.

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Can’t help it.

The harp always reminds The Ear of a giant egg slicer.

Still, The Ear loves the sound of the harp — in the right works.

That usually means when it is blended into orchestral works (Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Mahler come to mind) and chamber music works (Debussy and Ravel come to mind).

But when it comes to solo harp and harp concertos, no thanks. Barring some Baroque music and Classical works — Handel’s concerti grossi and Mozart’s “Brunch” Concerto for Flute and Harp — he’ll pass for the most part.

So much harp music, both original and arranged, just sounds second-rate or worse. Can anyone name a masterpiece for the solo harp written by a great composer? And I don’t mean Louis Spohr who composed for his harpist wife.

The solo harp repertoire is very small, hence the need for so many transcriptions.

That’s a problem.

The harp tends to make music for other instruments sound so .. so … so pleasant! Even when the original is dramatic, it’s all pluck pluck, twang twang, zing zing. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of J.S. Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue in D minor for Organ played on the harp.

So, The Ear asks, why has Wisconsin Public Radio started playing so much harp music on almost every show? (Below is WPR host, accomplished harpist and harp evangelist Ruthanne Bessman, who often includes harp music in her Saturday Morning program “Classics by Request.”)

Is it because the public really loves hearing the harp so much?

Is it because the radio show hosts do?

Do listener surveys indicate a preference for the harp?

Does the covid pandemic play a role in seeking bland but soothing music?

What do you think?

Do you like or even crave harp music?

Do you think WPR is programming too much harp music these days?

Too little?

Or the right amount?

Leave a comment, please.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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  1. A great wish has been granted: The Ear is back, wunderbar! And on Piano Day: nice coincidence? (probably not, but if that makes you happy, we’re happy too!) As for the harp question, I guess I tend to agree with the “meh” evaluation – but again, if those tones keep Ruth Anne happy, I’m for them too.


    Comment by dan53705 — March 29, 2022 @ 10:30 pm

  2. Nice to see your byline again, Dr. J.


    Comment by Shazaam — March 29, 2022 @ 3:53 pm

  3. As I told a friend, if you dislike the harp, any is too much, and if you love it there’s seldom enough. I’ve never understood people with strong dislikes for a particular instrument. There’s a reason it’s called a “symphony” –because the sounds are best heard together. Pieces that showcase one instrument or another allow us to better focus our listening, and pick out the unique sounds of some of them. Any instrument well played of well crafted music, deserves a listen, and the hard work and diligence of the performer warrants respectful attention. There’s not a lot of music composed for the didgeridoo, but I love hearing it and find the sound captivating and mesmerizing. –but I’d probably not subscribe to the Serius didgeridoo channel. Is there too much harp music on WPR? –Not in my opinion. And since I retired, I listen to it all day. In every way, I find it “fair and balanced”! —-George Gay


    Comment by George Gay — March 26, 2022 @ 10:27 am

  4. So glad you’re back. I agree with your assessment that WPR has been playing a lot of harp music, which I don’t particularly like, either. The Comment feature isn’t working.


    Comment by Dean Olsen — March 25, 2022 @ 10:37 am

  5. Hey, Jake,

    You’re back!

    John Holzaepfel


    Comment by john callan — March 25, 2022 @ 9:04 am

  6. Where have you been? Haven’t gotten a post from you in ages. Did I inadvertently unsubscribe? Anyway, glad to get today’s post.

    Harp music…meh. Haven’t noticed that the amount they play on WPR seems too much, but listen to the streaming classical channel all day.

    Cal Bruce


    Comment by CALVIN S BRUCE — March 25, 2022 @ 8:31 am

  7. MY WPR listening habits are quite random so it is difficult for me to discern patterns or trends regarding the repertoire being featured. However, I’ve learned over the years that every musical instrument has passionate advocates as well as an organization with members, officers and periodic gatherings. I expect the harp advocates and organization will respond to the viewpoint and questions you’ve posed. ??

    Mike George ________________________________


    Comment by Michael George — March 25, 2022 @ 8:20 am

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