According to this page, harp pedals are notated as

D C B E F G A.

In the score for Holst's Planets - 7. Neptune, the order

Cb D# Eb G# Ab B F#

was used. Is there a specific reason for this non-standard notation?

  • 2
    I'm very interested to hear from someone who knows (I don't, even though my daughter is learning harp!). I wonder, in particular, whether scordatura is involved? It's striking that three pairs of enharmonic equivalents are used, D#/Eb, G#/Ab, and Cb/B (note, you might want to edit your question to show this). The opening notes show why: the harpist alternates between two chords that are enharmonically equivalent, G# B D# and Ab Cb Eb, giving the effect of a rapid tremolo on a single pitch. I wonder whether they have to deviate from the standard tuning to accomplish this? Not sure. Feb 8, 2022 at 15:30
  • Only thing I can think of is a different kind of harp might have been used. Or maybe a translation/transcription error? Feb 8, 2022 at 15:49
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    This may be a age related thing. Your first link refers to a recently written document but that score is about a hundred years old. Your first document also insists that the pedal markings are NEVER in the middle of the staves - but look where they are in the score.
    – JimM
    Feb 8, 2022 at 17:39
  • I think your question is clear when looking at this specific page harpnotation.com/the-harp/pedal-mechanism/pedal-diagrams Feb 8, 2022 at 19:07
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    I think it's worth noting that the pedal order is not consistent throughout the piece. Feb 9, 2022 at 0:59

1 Answer 1


This is from my Walter Piston Orchestration book...

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...the pedal notation can be given as scale degrees, letters grouped by the left/right pedal positions, or graphically as black marks on, above, or below a line.

Looks like Holst opted for the scale ordering.

  • 1
    How does that account for the F being last? Feb 8, 2022 at 19:19
  • I edited my answer to take out the "alphabetical/scale order", that was my wording, not Piston's. The F being last doesn't really matter, the pedaling is clear: set F to sharp. The letter order is odd, but you can still see the settings. Feb 8, 2022 at 20:06
  • My read of the question is that it’s asking why the pedal order is odd. This doesn’t seem to be a complete reason why, because it doesn’t offer an explanation for why the F is listed last. Feb 8, 2022 at 21:01
  • Yeah, I get that. But maybe there isn't a reason. If there isn't a requirement to indicate pedals in the first place, if given, why assume they must be in a particular order? Feb 8, 2022 at 21:27
  • Holst found he'd missed the F setting and so put it at the end, and his editor didn't notice?
    – Peter
    Mar 14, 2022 at 16:17

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