The harp is an instrument with ancient origins. It is interesting to observe how in different epochs the problem of producing accidentals was confronted: they were either produced by pressing the fingers in the upper part of the instrument near the point were the strings were attached, or by modifying the tuning each time with the aid of a key, and, later, by turning hooks placed at the top of the instrument. Eventually the strings were layed out on two or three rows and tuned chromatically. For the triple harp (baroque harp) Monteverdi composed the solo and orchestral part of the Orfeo represented in Mantua in 1607 and Handel wrote his famous Concert in 1738. After twenty years of experiments, in 1720 Bavarian luthier Jacob Hochbrucker constructed an harp with 7 pedals that were inserted at the base of the instrument and connected to a mechanism of levers, which altered the sound of the strings making it possible to play 8 major and 5 minor tonalities.
Several improvements were introduced until the beginning of the 1800's, especially in France where the harp soon became one of the most popular instruments. Even Queen Marie-Antoniette was a skillful harpist and, commissioned by the duke De Guiness, Mozart, who was in Paris in 1738, wrote the splendid Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in C major (K299). Renowned harpist Johann Baptist Krumpholtz collaborating with famous harpsichord maker Sebastian Erard, began a process that resulted in the construction of a double-movement harp capable of producing all tonalities, which is still in use today. Between 1811 and 1835 more than 3000 harps were manufactured and sold. Historical records attest that Elias Parish Alvars, the most famous harpist of his time, executed two Concerts by Beethoven and several compositions of Chopin and Liszt. Berlioz described him as “the Liszt of harp”.
ross-strung Chromatic Pleyel Harp n. 742, Paris, early XX century. Bronze decorations on crown: buccina between two laurel wreaths in the front part of the neck; 4 female figures dancing; floral decoration on crown and pedestal. Harmonic soundboard in spruce with two hard wood planks. The holes for the strings have with bone rims. Numbered strings (15-92). Pyrography on the planks close to the hole. Rosewood thread at the side of the harmonic soundboard. Pedestal carved with geometric designs. Four metal feet, the 2 frontal ones are lion's paw shaped. Six holes for resonance on the back of the sound board.
Inscription: Pleyel, Lyon et C.te (Paris) – Harpe sist.e G.ve Lyon breveté. At the end of the 1800s Pleyel, under the direction of Gustav Lyon (1857-1936), manufactured a chromatic cross-strung harp with two rows of strings and introduced it on the Encyclopèdie de musique et dictionnaire du Conservatoire (Paris 1914-1926). This new harp took advantage of two rows of strings that corresponded to the notes of the white and black keys of the piano respectively. To sustain the tension of the 78 strings the harp was constructed using steel. In spite of the institution of some schools of chromatic harp in the conservatories of Paris, Brussels and Parma and the commission to Claude Debussy of the composition of the Danses Sacrèe et Profane (1904), after the 1950s this instrument was rarely used as it did not allow to execute some of the effects characteristic of concert harp music such as the glissandi and turned out to be quite complicated to play.
7 pedal Erard harp. Gilded in gothic style, the pillar is decorated in gold leaf with medieval figures of musician angels and female figures indicating a parchment on the crown.