What people have said about "700 Years of Pop"

Newsletter by artist John Howe, 15 January 2006 - www.john-howe.com (review no longer available at the original location)


I receive quite a few things via the site, sometimes from members of the forum, of whom, hidden as they are behind oft-changing pseudonyms and avatars, I have only the most limited knowledge. Many of them are talented artists, musicians, writers and every now and then some of them decide to share what they do.

A few weeks ago, I received a CD. "700 Years of Pop", by Asni, or Astrid Nielsch. It’s been in the player since I put it in 2 weeks ago, and has to be the most wonderful music for drawing that I’ve heard in ages.

If you want a record to reconcile you with the harp, this is it. It covers, as the title says, 700 years of music, from an anonymous 14th century piece to Howard Shore. The simplicity of the harp (occasionally accompanied by a baroque guitar) makes it seamless. I haven’t managed to listen to it entirely yet because it blends so deeply into whatever I’m working on that I suddenly surface partway through and wonder where half a dozen tracks went. It’s really astonishingly beautiful.

Buy it. NOW !! (You won’t regret it, believe me.) "

I've been meaning to write to you to tell you how much I enjoy your CD: 700 Years of Pop! I put it on my ipod. I really love your playing. At first I was surprised to see a Beatles song and the Beauty and the Beast listed and played on a historical harp, but they are among my favourite tracks. I get it, it's all popular music. Your Beauty and the Beast is incredibly lovely and heartfelt. And I really love the Spanish tracks.

I first heard of you from your tracks on the Reflections CD (I'm friends with Nancy Thym), and I really like your musicality, interpretation, etc. Good luck with your new project! I'd rather not be on your newsletter list, but it would be great to hear from you or meet you one day.
Nancy Hurrell, harpist, Boston (personal email)

Martha Harich, Februay 2003 - publication?? (performance at Peterskirche Dornberg, near Bielefeld, Germany)


Bielefeld. What is pop music? In any case it is not just a 20th century phenomenon – this was made audible in an impressive manner in a concert with Astrid Nielsch on Sunday. The musician from Berlin played popular music from seven centuries on medieval and baroque harps – music from the baroque period and songs from musicals, Spanish dances from the 17th century and medieval music. A programme that suited the location, the medieval Peterskirch, extremely well.

What is regarded as classical music today, was popular music in its own time – this is especially true for the harp. Melodies that the birds sang from the rooftops, found their way into printed sheet music for this instrument. Other parts of her programm were Astrid Nielsch’s own arrangements: Music taken from film scores, for example, which she weaved into medleys together with baroque dance pieces and improvised interludes. It was surprizing, how similar a song from “Anatevka” and motives from the early baroque collection “Luz y Norte” turn out to be!

Ideal acoustics in the Peterskirche

With respect to harmonic language, however, the baroque pieces were the more surprizing. But who knows? Maybe the things we regard today as particularly artistic, were just the common musical formulations of their own day.

Once more the wonderful, sustaining acoustics of the Peterskirche proved ideal for a soft solo instrument. Besides the baroque harp with its warm sound, in amongst the stylistic medleys Astrid Nielsch played melodies from the 12th and 14th century on a medieval harp. This instrument is less than a meter in heigh and has a softer, but at the same time almost metallic sound. Listening to a French lovesong from the times of Richard the Lionheart, or an English melody the imitates the voices of birds, one fancies oneself in a different world. Especially in a church building, whose origins reach back to the 8th century, the music of the Middle Ages unfolds its own very special tension and incredible charm.

Of course this requires a musician like Astrid Nielsch, who is able to sing out each part individually, up into the (almost) inaudible, in complex polyphony like, for instance, a Chaconne by Handel. The specialist on historical harps, and graduated musicologist, also showed a light touch in her moderation. Competent, but without a scholarly attitude, shetook her public on a stroll through a few centuries of music history, and evidently enjoyed both the music making and her discoveries. For instance that of the Irish bard Turlough O’Carolan, who wrote a sort of highly complex folk music in the late baroque period, strangely untouched by musical developments on the European continent.

The audience in the sold-out Peterskirche listened to all that with increasing enthusiasm and had a special surprise in the end, when the artist pulled out a forgotten song by the Beatles (from their Hamburg period) as an encore: “Cry for a shadow”. Perhaps the song will become a hit posthumously, in its harp version!