The Harp – Not As Simple As You May Think

Harp musical instrumentTo some, the harp may seem to be a simple instrument, but nothing could be further from the truth. This instrument is said to be the oldest, dated as far back as 3000BC, and most universal instrument of all musical instruments. It is believed that the first harp was two frame parts conjoined together – the body and the neck – and strings made of gut were stretched between the frame. They would be plucked to produce different pitches of notes to create sound.

Instrument Models

The first model of harps were the arched harp and the angular harp with the framed harp coming along around the ninth century AD. It is believed that the framed harp came by of the Celtic people, where it has maintained a presence throughout Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Three parts created the frame: the body, the neck and the fore pillar. It is the fore pillar that would complete the triangle shape of the harp as we know it today. It also provided strength for the structure as a whole which accommodated the tension increased of the strings.

Of all orchestral instruments, the modern harp has a range larger than the others from its forty-seven strings. The original thought was that each string would represent its own note, but that theory made the instrument more cumbersome than it is now. Hooks were placed on the neck during the seventeenth century and set so that would catch the string and a semitone would increase the pitch. Clumsy yet effective.

Harp Musicians

In 1720, a German by the name of Celestin Hochbrucker would introduce an creative system so that the hook system to creates a pedestal by introducing the body to seven foot-pedals. The former solid front pillar was hollowed to accommodate the levers and wires being inserted to transmit the motion of the pedal to the hooks. This would raise and shorten the strings pitch by a semitone. This would give us the first single-action pedal harp.

In 1810, Sebastien Erard a pianoforte maker progressed the efficiency and scope of the existing mechanism by substituting the hooks and rotating discs by mounting two studs, then the pedals would activate the discs and grip the strings to give a raised pitch effect. Each string was supplied with two discs to increase another semitone in the range.

With Hochbrucker and Erard efforts, the harp could attain a chromatic scale and be tuned diatonically as well with each octave having seven notes versus the original twelve-note chromatic octave. The double-action pedal harp that was the creation of Erard’s mechanism is still used today.