History of the Harp
The harp is one of the
oldest instruments known to humankind, dating back to at least 3000
B.C. The ancient Egyptians had elaborate golden harps that were used in
harp ensembles and temple worship. During the middle ages, itinerant
European harpers earned their living by moving from town to town, using
harps for self-accompanied singing, storytelling, and in instrumental
consorts. The harp had such mystical significance that many kings or
had harpers in their employ, believing the instrument to possess
powers. It was not unusual for a harper to remain unharmed during
being respected by the enemy and considered immune from attack. The
orchestral harp was not perfected until the 19th century.
The Pedal or Concert
|This is the large harp seen
playing with orchestras, in formal recitals and in jazz ensembles. It
has a system of seven foot-operated pedals which allows the harp to
change keys or pitches rapidly. It is very impressive in both size and
appearance and is capable of more volume than most stringed
It is very expensive to own, cumbersome to move and difficult to play
Today's concert pedal harps have 44 to 47 strings and encompass over
The Lever or Folk Harp
This smaller, less imposing
harp, is ideally suited for use in museums, boutiques, floral gardens
and a variety of historical settings. It employs a system of
hand-operated levers on the strings to change individual pitches;
therefore, it is best suited for performing mostly diatonic music.
Persons who play this harp are called "harpers" rather than "harpists."
The range of
a lever harp varies from 3-5 octaves, depending on the
model and size.