15 Interesting Facts About The Harp
The Harp is a unique musical instrument belonging to the string family. It has a number of individual strings which run at an angle to its soundboard. The strings are plucked with the fingers.
The Harp is an instrument of very ancient lineage and is synonymous with classical music and Cupid’s lyre. Over the years, the Harp has evolved from its primitive hunting bow shape to its modern day form. Across the world, each culture has its own version of the Harp.
Here are fifteen interesting facts about this amazing instrument.
1. The origins of the Harp
The Harp is believed to have existed since 15,000 BC, making it one of the oldest instruments in the world.
Harps have been found in ancient burial tombs and painted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs. In Europe, Asia and Africa, Harps date back as far as 3,500 BC.
2. Harps are complex
The Harp is a multi-stringed musical instrument, or a chordophone if you want to be really fancy!
A resonator (or soundboard) vibrates with the movement of the Harp’s strings, producing its notes. The strings of the Harp can be made up of silk, nylon, wire or sheep’s gut (charming!). A Harp’s strings run perpendicular to its resonator. Each of the Harp’s strings play one note. Longer strings play lower notes and shorter strings play higher notes.
3. The world’s most expensive Harp
One of the world’s most expensive and luxurious Harps was made by Lyon and Healy and is named the Louis XV Concert Grand Harp. Rolls of the tongue, right?
This Harp is as fancy as it sounds and is clad in 23+ carat gold leaf, flaunting a Rococo style, due to its embellishment with flowers, leaves, shell-like shapes and scrolled feet. The impressive neck and kneeblock boast complex carving along the soundboard edges. The side of the soundboard is adorned with a miniature etching of a Lyon and Healy concert Grand Action plate.
This harp will cost you a cool $189,000, (£142,000).
4. The Harp and the orchestra
The Harp is a string instrument, but also holds a class of its own. The Pedal Harp, played in Symphony Orchestras, is a Chordophone. It is the only instrument of its particular type in Symphony Orchestras. There are usually one or two Harps in the orchestra and they play both the melody and harmony.
5. The Harp’s impact on music
The Harp has been used in classical music since the 19th Century.
In the 20th Century the pedal harp found a life outside of classical music. It featured in Jazz with Casper Reardon in 1934, in the Beatles’ 1967 single, ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and several works by Björk, which featured harpist Zeena Parkins.
In the early 1980s, the Concert Harp was exposed to large new audiences by Swizz Harpist Andreas Vollenweider, who produced popular new age and jazz albums, as well as concert performances.
6. The world’s smallest Harp
If we want to get really technical, the Nano-Harp is the world’s smallest stringed instrument. The Nano-Harp was made by Researchers at Cornell University. The tiny instrument is used to measure very small vibrating systems at record high frequencies. This pint-sized instrument was born in the same place as the guitar.
Let’s talk about more familiar small harps. The Lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp and is known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later periods. The Lyre of classical antiquity was played in Ancient Greece with a plectrum to strum the strings, rather than the picking method typical of regular harps.
7. The world’s largest Harp
The world’s largest Harp is called the Earth Harp. Dramatic, huh?
The Earth Harp was invented by part-time musician / part-time inventor William Close in Los Angeles.
“When I first invented the Earth Harp I mounted a series of chambers on one side of a valley or canyon and I ran the strings clear across to the other side, turning that canyon into a giant harp,” Close explains. The Earth Harps’ strings are about 1,000 ft in length.
In 2019 Close became the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s longest string instrument, when he attached the Earth Harps’ strings to a skyscraper in Singapore. Pretty extraordinary, right? This allows you to understand the sheer size and scale of this magnificent instrument.
8. How many strings does a Harp have?
A Folk Harp’s strings can range from less than 20 to more than 40 strings.
A Pedal Harp usually has about 40 strings.
9. What are the notes the Harp plays?
The Folk Harp (also known as the Lever Harp) has no pedals and therefore cannot play flat and sharp versions of notes, unless re-tuned.
The lowest and highest notes on a Pedal Harp are the same as the lowest and highest notes on a standard Piano. The Pedal Harp is tuned much like the white keys on a piano, to a diatonic scale. The Pedal Harp has seven pedals which allow the player to play songs in different musical keys. Each pedal has three places, allowing the player to play flat, normal and sharp notes.
The Cross-Strung Harps’ strings are in the order of the Piano keys (7 plus 5) and play in order of the 6-plus-6 system.
Octaves on Harps run from E-E.
10. How many models of Harps are there?
There are usually three main types of Harp today: Folk Harps, Pedal Harps and Cross-Strung Harps.
Folk Harps, also known as Lever Harps are the older kind of Harp. On a Folk Harp, each string plays one note. Folks Harps can range in size from the smallest at less than 0.5 metres in height, to the largest at 1.5 metres tall. These larger Harps can’t always be lifted by one person.
Pedal Harps are the kind used in Symphony Orchestras. They are usually about 2 metres tall and their frames are usually made out of metal. Pedal Harps are very heavy and usually need more than one person to move them.
Cross-Strung Harps are also popular today. These chromatic Harps consists of two rows of strings which cross near to the middle of the string without touching.
More obscure Harps include the Ethnic Harps, early forms of Pedal Harps (both single and double action), Double and Triple Harps, Chromatic Harps and also Electric and Electro-Acoustic Harps. The Aeolian Harp plays with wind blowing through its strings. Pretty cool!
11. The Harp’s range
A Pedal Harp (or Concert Harp) has a range of more than six octaves, from Cb1 to Gb7.
12. Where does the name come from?
The word ‘Harp’ originates from the German, old Norse and Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘to pluck’. The word ‘harpa’ is a generic term for stringed instruments, first used around the year 600.
13. Celebrity Harpists
Historically, French Harpist Carlos Saldezo (1885-1961), Italian Priest and Composer, Marco Marrazoli (1602-1662) and Czech Composer, John-Baptiste Krumpholz (1742-1790) helped increase interest in the Harp and secure its place in musical culture throughout the years.
Famous contemporary Harpists include Loreena McKennitt, famous singer/songwriter Jon Anderson, and Joanna Caroline Newsom.
14. Famous film soundtracks the Harp features in
The Harp found its way into musical comedy films in 1929, featuring Arthur “Harpo” Marx.
The Harp has continued on to feature in many famous musical soundtracks, many of which you’ll instantly recognise. For example, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic, in Rent’s ‘Seasons of Love’, in the title track of the film ‘Alfie’, in the title track of the film ‘The Notebook’, in all of the Star Wars films’ soundtracks, throughout ‘The Lion King’ and throughout ‘The Sound of Music’, to name just a few of the many famous examples.
15. Harps around the world
Nowhere in the world is there a larger collection of Harps than in Africa. The Harp has a place in the traditions of over 150 African peoples.
In Ireland, the Harp is a national instrument. Consider the Irish Euro and of course, the Guinness logo! The instrument is called cláirseach in Ireland. Rolls off the tongue!
As mentioned above, Lyre Harps are embedded into Greek and Ancient Greek culture and mythology.
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