Special Effects Aren’t Just for the Movies

Nov 02, 2022

By Anne Sullivan 

The harpist and composer Carlos Salzedo strove to be an agent of change in the harp world. His aim was to bring the harp into the modern musical world of the early twentieth century, and he created new methods and new sound effects designed to revolutionize the traditional conception of the instrument. Some of his innovations have found a permanent place in harp playing; others have been discarded by subsequent generations of harpists. Still other sounds have been invented since Salzedo’s time.

He often attempted to modernize harp terminology, substituting terms he considered more appropriate for those in common use. One of his ideas was to substitute the word “flux” for the traditional term “glissando.” He believed that the term “glissando” reflected only the sliding nature of the harpist’s gesture and ignored the fluid, graceful and supremely expressive nature of the actual sonority of the effect.

The fact is, the harp has almost unlimited sound possibilities. It allows composers a wide range of creative options for the music they write, and we harpists have many choices for the sound colors we bring to the music we play. The harp can sound soothing or scary, whispery or heroic, calm or dramatic.  The harp is an ideal instrument to accompany a story or underscore a movie.

While Salzedo’s use of the term “flux” didn’t come into common usage, many of the special harp effects that he used in his music did. How many of the terms below do you know? Note that you may have played some of these effects, but these names might be unfamiliar. Look them up if you aren’t sure!

  • P.d.l.t. or  Pres de la table
  • Harmonics
  • Bisbigliando
  • Xylophonic sounds
  • Gushing chords
  • Timpanic sounds
  • Con sordina
  • Plectric sounds
  • Pedal slides
  • Whistling sounds
  • Thunder effect
  • Rocket-like sounds

How many of these effects have you played in your pieces? What other harp effects have you used? Let us know in the comments below!


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