Publication Date

Fall 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Music and Dance


Gordon Haramaki


Harp, Liminality, Nutcracker, Orchestration, Tchaikovsky, Timbre

Subject Areas

Music history; Music


The harp is a musical instrument with a uniquely resonating timbre, and a highly specialized expressive niche within the orchestral repertoire. A deeper study of the harp’s metaphorical use is conducted in this report by evaluating the historical context in which the harp emerged, analyzing the timbre of the modern double-action pedal harp, and reviewing the historically significant ensemble works to reveal why composers elected to feature the harp in the orchestra, in lieu of and in conjunction with other instruments. Each of these elements points squarely towards the use of the harp to represent liminal themes and the universal sentiments associated with experiencing change and transformation. To this end, the harp parts from the score of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (1892) are analyzed, alongside the theatrical cues of the first edition ballet score, and E.T.A. Hoffman’s original fairytale narrative that the ballet libretto was based on. The orchestration of two harp parts in the original score, featured at the points of the many transformational thresholds in the narrative make The Nutcracker ballet a particularly compelling piece to study, with striking examples of how the harp’s timbre is used to effectively express liminality.