Thanks to its “universal character”, the harp is one of the oldest and most widespread musical instruments known to man.
Harps may come in a variety of shapes and sizes but they all have three components in common: the soundbox (body), the neck and the strings. In 1914 the Berlin musicologists Ernst Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs defined harps as follows: a harp is any stringed instrument whose string plane is vertical to the soundbox. This is true of both triangular and rectangular instruments as well as those with a simple mechanism or a complex one.
Defining the harp’s role in culture is not so easy: it is by nature diatonic and was used in many cultures to accompany poets and singers. In the ebb and flow of its development it has had its place in all classes of society, fulfilling a multitude of functions: as a folk instrument and instrument of worship, to accompany dancers or singers and minstrels and last but not least as a sculpture laden with symbolic meaning in the salons of 19th century aristocrats.
The name of one of the harp’s typical playing techniques, the broken playing of chords, was derived from the name of the instrument itself: arpeggio . Broken chords are now called arpeggio even if they are played on, say, a clarinet.
In recent years composers have begun making far more effective use of the harp, which has resulted in the development of a great many new playing techniques and sound effects.
In modern orchestral and concert playing the double-action pedal harp has established itself, a model first developed in around 1820 by Sébastien Erard in Paris.
Composite chordophone (stringed instrument), plucked instrument
Approx. 145 cm long, maple; flat soundboard, five sound holes on the underside.
Curved, made of maple
Head with crown
Material: Wood or metal; joins the pillar to the neck
Approx. 183 cm high, maple, hollow, contains the rod mechanism (connecting wires for altering string pitch)
47 strings made of gut, steel, copper, nylon; tuned diatonically in Cb major. Cb strings are colored red, Fb strings blue. Longest string: 150 cm, shortest: 7 cm; string tension 700–1400 kgf
Foot and pedal box
Maple, contains 7 pedals
Approx. 35 kg
Approx. equal temperament