Click this link to read an interview with Javier talking about historical aspects and musical techniques of the early Irish and Scottish harp. The interview includes short videos of Javier playing the harp.
A native of Cantabria in northern Spain, Javier Sáinz graduated from the Conservatorio de Música Ataulfo Argenta in Santander in 1991 with a degree in classical guitar and music education. Since 1980 he has played early harps, focusing particularly on historical techniques such as playing with nails, selective string damping and -on his Renaissance harp- producing finger-stopped semitones. He plays exclusively historical harps and is an effortless exponent of various styles of sparkling melodic ornamentation.
Javier is a pioneer in the revival of the two early gut-strung Spanish harps: the Renaissance arpa de una orden with a single string row and the chromatic arpa de dos ordenes with two rows of strings. Both a dedicated musicological researcher and a gifted soloist, Javier is one of the first harpists in modern times to play much of the original repertoire for these instruments and, almost uniquely, plays directly from 17th and 18th century harp tablature manuscripts without the need to transcribe them to standard notation.
His other abiding interest is the early culture, poetry and music of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. He plays Irish and Scottish music of the 16th to 18th centuries on a facsimile of the Lamont Harp: a brass-wire and gold strung early Scottish clarsach from c.1500. Javier has extensively researched the original repertoire, sources and playing techniques of the instrument. Javier lived in Ireland for three years where he was the Historical Harp Society of Ireland‘s teacher of early Irish harp – and gut-strung Renaissance and Baroque harps – in Dublin and regular course tutor of the Irish Summer School of Wire-strung Harp (Scoil na gCláirseach) in Kilkenny.
Javier Sáinz has performed at harp and early music festivals throughout Europe including the Festival de Música Antigua de Barcelona, Edinburgh International Harp Festival, Scoil na gClairseach, Galway Early Music, East Cork Early Music, Edinburgh International Harp Festival, Festival Internacional de Santander y de Granada and the Ciclos de Música y Teatro Medieval de Madrid. He has recorded and broadcast on various European radio stations including Radio Suisse Romande, Radio Clásica RNE and RTE.
His first solo recording appeared in 1995: El Lamento de la Cierva Herida, Sony Classical SK 62257. In 2002 he was invited by The Wire Branch of the Clarsach Society to take part in a groundbreaking pedagogical DVD on the playing techniques necessary for the performance of early Scottish clarsach repertoire. This DVD and music book with the title Playing the Wire-strung Harp was released in 2011 by the Scottish label Siubhal.
Javier Sáinz is the co-founder of, and has been, for the last four years, artistic director of Música Antigua en Santillana del Mar, an early music festival in the beautifully preserved medieval village of Santillana in Cantabria.
His most recent solo CDs are Silva Caledonia: Scottish Harp Music of the Seventeenth Century, which was released in November 2008 by the Scottish label Siubhal, and E con la Harpa d’Orfeo, which was released in May 2011 by the Spanish label Artimaña Records.Photo credits: José Atienza