A project two years in the making – my transcription of Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith!
This arrangement was born out of a desire to make this piece playable on the lever harp. I did and am very happy with how it turned out. Also included in the 26 page PDF are TWO versions for pedal harp. See below for more information:
“I have been obliged to publish Some of the following Lessons, because Surrepticious and incorrect copies of them had got Abroad. I have added several new ones to make the Work more usefull, which if it meets with a favourable Reception, I will still proceed to publish more, reckoning it my duty with my Small Talent, to serve a Nation from which I have receiv’d so Generous a protection” – G.F. Handel
So reads the inscription, in “Suites de Pieces pour le Clavecin, Premier Volume”, of the publication of what would become known as Handel’s “Harmonious Blacksmith”.
It began life as the fourth and last movement, an Air and Variations, of Handel’s 5th Suite in E Major, HWV 430. There are various romantic stories about Handel being inspired by a blacksmith (the rhythm of a blacksmith’s hammer, or a tune the blacksmith was whistling) but they are almost certainly apocryphal. The title “Harmonious Blacksmith” was likely assigned to the Air and Variations by a music publisher as a canny advertising ploy.
It worked, as this last movement of the 5th Suite is by far the most commonly played and recorded of all the suites. It entered popular culture to the extent that in Dickens’ “Great Expectations”, Pip is given the nickname Handel (“Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There’s a charming piece by Handel, called the Harmonious Blacksmith.”) because he had at one point been a blacksmith (“We are so harmonious – and you have been a blacksmith”).
John Thomas, the great Welsh harpist, published an arrangement of the Blacksmith for pedal harp around 1900. (You can find it at here). In 1936 Carlos Salzedo also published an arrangement for pedal harp.
The Harmonious Blacksmith holds a special place in my heart; the Salzedo arrangement was one of the first pieces I learned when I got a pedal harp in 1992. I remember playing the Blacksmith as a closing piece at concerts, holding my breath a bit each time as I got to the end of the piece to see whether I’d be able to pull off that jump to the high D.
Why this arrangement?
I’m always on the lookout for challenging classical music that can be played on the lever harp. A few years ago it somehow occurred to me to take a look at the Blacksmith with the aim of adapting it for lever harp.
This transcription was conceived as a lever harp project (since two transcriptions already exist for pedal harp). But, thanks to the beauty of digital music, I have decided to include here not one but TWO versions for pedal harp to go along with my lever harp transcription. Some notes on these two:
Pedal harp – companion version. This version is designed for those who would like to play the Harmonious Blacksmith on both lever and pedal harp. All fingerings and notes are the same as the lever harp version, with the only change being pedal markings rather than lever changes indications.
Pedal harp only. This version is for those who want to play my transcription on pedal harp with no intention of also playing it on the lever harp. Since we no longer have to accommodate lever changes, I’ve taken advantage of that with better options for fingerings and how I’ve divided the notes between the hands. I’ve also restored those few spots I had to make changes from the original to accommodate lever changes.
I’m not a music historian but I have tried to be as true as possible to the original (and I believe my edition hews closer to the original than either the Thomas or Salzedo transcriptions). I’ve worked from both the first published edition of the suites as well as from some of the various editions of the Harmonious Blacksmith that are available on IMSLP.org.