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I feel as though this is likely possible, and just rather difficult, but as someone who hasn't ever played one, I thought it was best to reach out and check! Tried to google it but didn't have much luck.

enter image description here

Thanks

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    Can you add the key signature and tempo either in the text or the excerpt? Commented Feb 20 at 12:33
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    I elaborate later, but the only thing that could make this unplayable on harp would be a prohibitively fast tempo, and for a professional that would be pretty darn fast. You can get more useful answer if you edit explain why you had concerns, and especially what skill level You’re planning for. Commented Feb 20 at 15:15
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    I don’t think arco is a normal harp technique. Commented Feb 20 at 15:45
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    By far the most common reason why people write unplayable harp parts (and even great composers of the past were guilty of this!) is because they don't realize the concert harp has only seven choirs of strings and not twelve, so that chromatic passages must be planned very attentively. Your example only has notes from one unchanged diatonic scale, so this isn't an issue. Commented Feb 21 at 8:23
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    You might want to get some books on orchestration. Good ones will get into the technical details of instrument playing techniques, various ranges and limits, and include musical illustrations from real scores. Along with such books, a few full scores of famous and spectacular orchestral works make good orchestration references, things like The Rites of Spring, La Mer, The Planets, etc. Various concertos or soloist with orchestra for particular instruments would also make good reference works. There are harp and orchestra works by Debussy, Ravel, Hovhaness, etc. Commented Feb 21 at 21:06

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I have had a go at sight reading the top line, which is obviously the more difficult. There are a lot of runs of notes going in the same direction, with little reverses in direction, which makes the fingering a bit tricky. It's the sort of thing where the harpist would have to sit down and work out exactly which finger to use for each note.

But there's nothing impossible or really difficult.

It's playable, so long as you're reasonable about how fast you want it played. For me, as an amateur, that's not going to be very fast. A professional would do a lot better.

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Sorry for the slow answer. I should disclaim that I'm not a harpist, but have a kid who's been studying it for a few years. Even at her early level, and assuming a reasonable tempo, this looks playable.

What makes a passage hard for harp?

The easiest thing that would accidentally introduce difficulty is to use accidentals, especially to use multiple "versions" of the same note. For instance, this bit:

enter image description here

... would pose no significant challenge on piano, but the proximity of an f natural and f sharp mean that a lever harp would have to flip a lever with one hand while playing the intervening three notes. A pedal harp makes these situations easier, but also more complicated, and pedaling for a single note is more of a demand then simply playing a black key on piano. I imagine it's possible to create chromatic passagework that changes too quickly even for pedals.

Note, there's no reason you have to stick to a major or minor key, as long as the harpist has time to prepare beforehand. You could set up another mode simply by flipping levers or pedals. Also note, a lever harp can raise any given individual string by a half step, but a pedal harp alters all octaves of a given pitch class at once (e.g. all Fs become F#s). And even for a pedal harp, some combinations might not be possible. For example, if you want G, G#, and A, then you can't either raise the G or lower the A to create the middle note.

Also, your passage is easy because it's melodic and not chordal. My perception is that harp and piano share some of the same challenge rubrics in this regard. More notes to play at once simply equals more to think about, and chords with difficult spacings are hard for fingers to reach. There could be some chordal combinations that might be more difficult for harp than piano because of the action of plucking rather than simply pressing keys. For instance, this kind of alternation:

enter image description here

... might be reasonable (though not pleasant) for a single hand on piano (say, if the left hand is also occupied), but might be too much for harp.

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  • Why would you have to retune a pedal harp?
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 21 at 21:30
  • @phoog Oh, right, I was getting confused with a different issue, that of mixing octaves. edited Commented Feb 21 at 21:52
  • I see! That makes sense, thanks. But even still, retuning would only be necessary if you also need G naturals and E naturals; otherwise you could play the F sharp as a G flat or the F natural as an E sharp.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 22 at 11:18
  • @phoog Heh, you're right. Okay, one more scenario: half-step clusters! Commented Feb 22 at 17:54

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