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Italian: arpa , French: harpe , English: harp , port .: harpa
Harp Museum for Arts and Crafts Hamburg-1995.245.tif
Harp by Sébastien Érard, 1826.
classification Chordophone
plucked instrument
range Range harp.svg (Concert harp)
Template: Infobox musical instrument / maintenance / sound sample parameters missing

Schematic structure of a concert harp
Glissando Imprecision for two harps by Tudor Tulok

The harp is a stringed instrument and, according to the tone production, a plucked instrument . Among the three basic types of stringed instruments, which in the Hornbostel-Sachs system are divided into harps, zithers and lutes according to the arrangement of the strings on the string carrier , the harp is characterized as an instrument in which the string plane runs perpendicular to the soundboard . The concert harp, the largest of its kind, is 175–190 cm high and usually 34–42 kg in weight, making it one of the largest and heaviest orchestral instruments.

The harp is one of the oldest musical instruments known to man and came about as early as 3000 BC. BC in Mesopotamia and Egypt .

Structure and technology

The harp column forms the backbone of the instrument. Above is the head, which can be artistically decorated, below is the foot. The neck leads from the head to the knee as a connection to the downward sloping corpus, the resonance body, which in turn ends in the foot.

The upper part of the resonance body forms the soundboard on which the holes for the strings are located. The top is often reinforced by a strip on the inside or outside of the string ducts. The harp's tuning pegs are located in the neck, and depending on the type of harp, there are also mechanisms. In pedal harps, this mechanism is connected to the pedals in the foot via pedal rods that run either in the column or in the body.

In the simplest harps, each string is responsible for only one note. With the hook harp, each string can be tuned a semitone higher as required by means of a hook, often also called a semitone key. With the pedal harp all tones of the same name of the instrument can be increased by a semitone with one pedal, with the double pedal harp by a further semitone.

The expression “concert harp” today always refers to a double pedal harp (basic tuning C flat major ), which can be played in all keys ; the term “Volksharfe” or “Tiroler Volksharfe”, which is common in the Alpine region, describes a single pedal harp (basic tuning in E flat major ) for keys up to three Bb and four sharps including C major .

See also: playing technique of the harp .

Harp types

Diatonic tuned harps

Single pedal harp

In the 18th century, pedal harps were designed to set the keys and are still in use today. In the pedal harp, the strings are shortened by an elaborate mechanism with up to 2500 components using pedals, i.e. also while playing.

Originally, a pedal arrangement was in use, which offered the possibility to tune the tone of a string by a semitone higher. According to the effort involved in building the harps, there were few, often five, later seven pedals. The hooks, which were originally to be turned by hand, were later connected to a pedal on the lower part of the harp's resonance body by means of pull cords, in order to produce the semitone by stepping on this pedal.

In the middle to the end of the 18th century "pull crutch mechanisms" were widespread: These were mechanized hooks that pressed the strings onto a bridge attached to the neck across the string plane. (Construction by Naderman Paris). A mechanism with several rotating hooks was rarer. (Cosineau Paris).

At the end of the 18th century, the fork disc mechanism commonly used in today's concert harps was developed (Nadermann Paris and Erard London). Function: A rotating disk, the axis of which is arranged across the neck, was provided with two small pins between which the string runs. If you step on the pedal, the disc rotates and the two pins press the string so that it sounds a semitone higher in shortened form.

The pull rods operated by the pedals were guided exclusively through the column with a deflection in the head of the connection between the column and the neck. Exotic constructions such as the retuning of the strings by stretching them with rotating pegs from Cosineau at the turn of the 19th century could not gain acceptance. In contrast to the hook harp, the single pedal harps achieve a significant expansion of the keys that can be reached within a piece of music.

Tyrolean folk harps

A special type of single-pedal harp is the Tyrolean folk harp or Tyrolean song harp, which appeared in the late 19th century and enables the required retuning for the typical key change in Alpine folk music simply by stepping on the pedals. It is tuned in E flat major with the pedals not pressed and thus reaches the keys of E flat to E major.

Probably because of the curved top it is a further development of the Bohemian harp . The name derives from the distribution area of ​​today's Tyrol and South Tyrol . It's a fairly simple construction. The static parts of the neck including the bearings for the retuning devices are made of wood. The arrangement of the pedals was different depending on the instrument maker.

The instruments of the harp maker Franz Bradl (1882–1963) from Brixlegg helped the construction, which is still valid today, to achieve a breakthrough. The folk harp player Berta Höller (1923-2014) from Vöcklabruck in Upper Austria was significantly involved (analogous quote: I first had to make it clear to the wooden heads that the pedals had to be arranged like the concert harp so that the harp prevailed ).

The wire hooks that were no longer used by Franz Bradl continued to be used by the harp maker Kammel ( Schneizlreuth , Upper Bavaria) for a long time . The instruments still built by the well-known people's harp makers (Mürnseer, Kitzbühel , Petutschnigg, Lienz , Kröll, Zangerle, both Tyrol and Fischer, Traunstein in Upper Bavaria) are equipped with forked disc mechanisms. The construction feature with the tie rods in the soundboard and deflection in the knee has been preserved in the folk harps. These harps are characterized by a clear sound and a strong knee.

Double pedal harp

Salvi concert harp with pear-shaped soundboard .
Two of the usual seven double pedals

On May 2, 1810, Sébastien Érard received the patent for a harp with a turntable mechanism and double resolution, so that each pedal could be stepped by two instead of just one step (small picture). This made it possible to increase by two semitones and thus a whole tone . 3500 copies sold led to the standardization of the harp, which is strung with 46 or 47 strings and is used in this form by concert harp makers almost unchanged to this day.

The double pedal harp thus became the concert harp commonly used today . It usually has (45 to) 47 strings of different lengths (7 to 150 cm), which are tuned diatonic , and covers a range of six and a half octaves . It usually has seven pedals, one for each root note . The pedals are connected by metal rods in the column of the harp to a pulling mechanism that, with the help of small forks, allows the length of the vibrating part of the strings to be shortened while playing and to increase their tuning by half a tone or a whole tone. In the top of the three possible positions (starting position) each tone has a -sign.

In the 1970s, models with widened resonance tops in the bass range came onto the market. In the front view, the ceiling appears in the shape of a pear (large picture). The double pedal harp greatly expanded the playing possibilities, for example playing a glissando over a diminished seventh chord . After the Arpa Tripla ( Arpa Doppia ) of the 17th century, the harp once again became an integral part of the “classical orchestra” as a double-pedal harp.

Due to the standardization, double-pedal harps reach a height of up to 1.80 meters and a weight of up to 50 kilograms, which can also be significantly lower depending on the design and the materials used. The string tension increased significantly with the further development of the concert harp and requires harpists to develop strong training, build up the cornea and special techniques to relax the hand (fingers pointing downwards pluck the strings and are articulated in the palm of the hand to relax the hand).

Hook harp

Hooks or halftone keys on a modern Irish harp

A hook harp is a type of harp named after its retuning devices. The harp is traditionally a diatonic instrument that is tuned to one key (usually E flat major ). Probably with the spread of the tempered tuning and in order to be able to change the key quickly, hooks were attached below the tuning pegs from the 18th century, with which the individual strings could be shortened and raised by a semitone . At the top of the string there is a hook or lever that can be operated by hand and shortens the string. So the string can be raised by half a tone. Not all strings have to be hooked. Usually the key is set before each piece. However, it is also possible to operate the changers during the game, usually with the left hand.

Hook harps have been known since the 17th century, at the beginning of the 18th century pedal mechanisms were developed to control the hooks. Along with pedal harps, hook harps were widespread in art music well into the 19th century. The best known, however, are those instruments that were often played by Bohemian and Thuringian traveling musicians well into the 1950s. These are therefore known as Bohemian hook harps and are now popular again in Franconia and southern Germany . In addition, many of the so-called Irish or Celtic harps are hook harps. In today's common hook harps, the original simple hooks have been replaced by semitone keys ("Levers" in English), but the name has remained. The types in use today are the Celtic harp and the Bohemian harp .

Latin American harps

The Arpa Dos Ordenes , which is widespread in Spain , was introduced by the Spanish in Latin America in the 16th century - it was a fashion instrument in Europe at the time. The instrument lost the pentatonic string row in the course of its development and is today a diatonic instrument without retuning devices and strung with nylon strings. The harp is widespread in South America today, and harp music is part of folklore in various Latin American countries.

This instrument is particularly popular in Paraguay and Venezuela . The typical Paraguay harp has 36 strings and is about 150 cm high, the distance between the strings is about one centimeter. The sound openings are on the back of the instrument. The Venezuelan Arpa llanera is larger, on average about 160 cm, has 32 strings, the string spacing is 1.4 cm and the sound openings are on the front of the instrument, on the soundboard. The arpa llanera is also played in Colombia . The harp, which is widespread in the Andes , the mountains of South America, has a very wide resonance body and 34 strings. The Peruvian harp is particularly popular in the Ayacucho region . The harp is not unknown in Chile , Ecuador and Bolivia , but it is becoming less and less important. In Mexico , the harp is popular in the state of Veracruz , but there it is used more for accompaniment and not as a solo instrument. The famous song La Bamba is originally a harp song.

Due to the widespread use of this instrument in South America, there are many styles of music that can be played with the harp (e.g. the joropo ). Venezuelan-Colombian harp music is very rhythmic and influenced by the hot climate of the tropical lowlands. Traditionally, there is also singing (sometimes spoken chant ) and the harp is accompanied by the cuatro , the maracas (rumba ball) and a bass. Paraguayan harp music is melodious and melancholy. It is accompanied by guitar , requinto (small guitar) and sometimes with accordion . Andean music is based on the pentatonic scale of the Incas , is often moody and will of Europeans with their constant changes of minor - to major -Klängen felt sad but easy.

South American harps are plucked with the fingernails.

Chromatically tuned harps

In the 15th or 16th centuries, chromatic harps , especially the double harps , emerged in Spain and Italy . The following types of chromatic harp are known today:

Modern special cases

The experimental art in harp building has not died down, so modern forms of the pleyel harp and smaller chromatic harps with twelve strings in a row could be seen at the 1999 Harp Congress in Prague . These models were already present on a smaller scale in the Renaissance and Baroque periods , without ever finding any wider distribution.

Around 1900 the chromatic harp experienced a brief revival. Due to the increasingly chromatic art music, some considered the diatonic pedal harp unsatisfactory or unsuitable for modern music. The most famous composer who composed for this instrument was Claude Debussy .

Based on a construction of a chromatic harp that already existed in the 19th century, the harpist Christoph Pampuch made a new attempt at the end of the 20th century. Based on the Bohemian harp, he developed a double-row crossed, also handy model that offers the entire chromatic spectrum with its own playing technique and without error-prone mechanics. The special feature is the tuning of the instrument, the strings of a string row are always tuned in large seconds (analogous to the Salzburg dulcimer ), i.e. in two parallel whole-tone scales. This harp is one of the 6 plus 6 instruments . For a triad, the musician picks up two strings from one level and one string from the second level. Since 2005 there has been an annual meeting of chromatic harpists.



The word harp ( ahd . Harpha, harpfa, harfa, harf , mhd . Harpfe, härpfe, herpfe ) is Common Germanic word collection (germ. * Harpo ) and is similar in all Western and North Germanic languages ( aengl . Hearpe , asächs . Harpa , nl. and engl. harp ; anord . and swedish. harpa , dan. and norw. harpe ). A lemma * harpa was adopted for the Gothic . At the time of migration of peoples , the word came into the late Latin ( ARPA , also harpa ), especially well into the vulgar Latin soldiers language and can be found as always in all the Romance languages ( Span. , Cat. , Prov. And it. Arpa , port. harpa , French harpe , Rum. harpă ), which led Adelung to the erroneous assumption that the instrument and its name came to Germany from the Romansh region. That the opposite is the case is shown by Venantius Fortunatus , who glosses the harpa in one of the oldest written records of all (around 580) as a “ barbaric ” instrument and contrasts it with the Roman lyre and the British, i.e. Celtic, chrotta . The Slavic languages borrowed the word from German much later. In Polish, for example, harfa is only recorded in 1532, in Russian арфа even not until 1698.

The further derivation of the root word is controversial. The assumption that the Germanic word is a very old borrowing or even a primordial relative of the Greek ἅρπη ( árpē ) "sickle, harpe " and that the name of the instrument owes its shape, finds few supporters. Another hypothesis, which was elaborated in detail by Rudolf Meringer and Hans Sperber and is currently the only one to be considered in the current edition of the Etymological Dictionary of the German Language for which Elmar Seebold is responsible , leads the name back to the type of sound generation and interprets it as Substantivierung a germ. Verbs * harpon "pluck", which is demonstrated in this sense, although in any language, but with icelandic harpa "pinch" as well as the from the Altfränkische originating Old French harper "grab, grab" and harpe "claw, claw "(Cf. harpoon ), and perhaps also with the Latin carpere " pick ", which in turn is probably originally related to the English harvest " harvest time "and German autumn .

Julius Pokorny, on the other hand, assigned the harp (but not the Greek ἅρπη) to an Indo-European root * (s) kerb, * (s) kreb “(to) bend, to turn”, which therefore also means different words such as it is based on shrink, shrimp, cramp and basket . Wolfgang Pfeifer took up this derivation again in his Etymological Dictionary of German , but added the motif of the naming of the "fingers curved when plucking".

Furthermore, there has been various speculations about a pre- or non-Indo-European origin. More recently, Theo Vennemann took up the assumption made by Hermann Möller in 1907/1911 (and in the meantime universally ignored) that the word was of Semitic origin, and further assumed that "the word with the matter", i.e. the instrument, reached Western Europe from the Ancient Near East in the Copper or Bronze Age . Venneman's theories about the “ Atlantean Semitides ” supposedly responsible for this cultural transfer are highly controversial in the professional world, as are his considerations on a “ Vasconic ” language family that were once widespread throughout Europe, but his derivation of the harp considers the etymological woordenboek van het Nederlands to be probably.


Scene with dancers and harpist (From the burial chamber of the night, Thebes , around 1422–1411 BC)
King David with kinnor (slide 20v from the Egbert Psalter , around 980 AD). The illustration of the so-called David’s harp shows a lyre .

There are references to harps in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia since about 3000 BC. The first images of harps appear in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt around 2400 BC. At the same time as lyres . The oldest Egyptian harp player known by name and on a picture from this period was called Hekenu. She accompanied Iti, who was obviously the most famous singer at the time. Ten marble statuettes with seated harp players have survived from the Cycladic culture , dating from approx. 2600 to 2200 BC. Were created.

These oldest harps were bow harps, which were used around 1900 BC. A new type of harp followed, the neck of which went off the sound box at a right or acute angle. The number of strings in the angle harps could be increased significantly. Depending on the playing position of the sound box, a distinction is made between large vertical angle harps with sometimes more than 20 strings and smaller horizontal angle harps with fewer than ten strings. The latter have changed in the 1st millennium BC. Spread by the Assyrians to Central Asia. A well-preserved find from the Altai is from the 4th century BC. Pasyryk harp dated to BC . The vertical angle harps Tschang were played in Iran until the 17th century and in Ottoman Turkey until the beginning of the 18th century. The disadvantage of the angle harp, its poor stability and poor tunability, overcame the invention of the three-sided closed frame harp, which took place in Europe around 800 AD. All modern concert harps are derived from this.

Archaeologists from Innsbruck have reconstructed a 2000 year old, carved angle harp. The arm of the harp, carved from deer antlers, is richly decorated and bears a Rhaetian inscription. In northern Europe (in contrast to the Mediterranean region ) the first images of harps in Ireland appear around 800 AD. With their characteristics (curved neck, beveled string arrangement), these harps are the basic type of all harps in use worldwide today.

The “biblical harp” or “ David’s harp” and kinnor in the Old Testament , with which the Hebrew king David drove out the evil spirits of his predecessor Saul , was probably a lyre. The terms hearpan in the medieval Anglo-Saxon poetry Beowulf (8th century) and harpha in the German literature of the 9th century meant a harp, a lyre or a stringed instrument in general.

Middle Ages and Modern Times

Harpist with the New York Philharmonic (1917).

Four of the oldest harps have been preserved in Europe: there are three Celtic harps from the 15th or 16th century. The harp, named after the legendary Irish high king Brian Boru , with a body beaded from a single trunk , used willow wood as the resonance wood . This harp can in the College library of Trinity in Dublin be visited. The Brian Boru harp can be seen in the coat of arms of the Republic of Ireland as well as on the flag of the Irish province of Leinster, it is also depicted on the Irish euro coins , and was previously seen on all coins of the Irish pound for a long time . Two very similar specimens, the Queen Mary Harp and the Lamont Harp, are in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh . A fourth harp, the so-called "Wolkenstein harp" or "Eisenach harp" from the end of the 14th / beginning of the 15th century, can be seen today at the Wartburg in Eisenach .

In Central Europe the harp appears as a simple lap harp (often also as a bow harp). Buzzers were widespread, making the instrument sound stronger. The rasping sound suggests its use as an accompanying and rhythm instrument. The pedal harp with pedals attached to the harp foot was invented by Jacob Hochbrucker in 1720 .

The two following pictures show details of a "Gothic" harp based on the MI59 harp in the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg

Other forms of the harp

Manufacturer (selection)

Manufacturers of concert harps include:

Especially for single pedal harps (Tyrolean folk harps) are worth mentioning:


See also

In terms of instruments , the aeolian harp (wind harp), laser harp and children's harp are not known as harps .


Web links

Wiktionary: Harp  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Harp  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Harp. In: Digital dictionary of the German language .  (The etymology given there is identical to the text of the entry in Wolfgang Pfeifer : Etymological Dictionary of German. Second edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1993).
  2. Harp. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 10 : H, I, J - (IV, 2nd division). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1877, Sp. 474-476 ( woerterbuchnetz.de ). The Old High German subsidiary forms harapha, haraffa, harffa are also listed here.
  3. Lemma * harpa in: Gerhard Köbler : Gothic dictionary. Brill, Leiden 1989, p. 260.
  4. Lemma harpa (arfa) in the Lexicon musicum Latinum medii aevi. Publishing house of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Munich 1991–, Volume 2, Sp. 180.
  5. ^ Ernst Gamillscheg : Romania Germanica. Second, revised edition, De Gruyter Berlin, 1970, Volume 1 ( On the oldest contacts between Romans and Teutons; The Franks ), p. 331.
  6. Article Die Harfe in: Grammatical-Critical Dictionary of High German Dialect. Vienna 1811 (first edition: Leipzig 1774–1776), Volume II, Col. 972 f.
  7. Ven. Fort. Carm. 7, 8, 63: "Romanusque Lyra, chats tibi Barbarus Harpa, Græcus Achilliaca, Crotta Britanna canat"
  8. ^ Curt Sachs : The History of Musical Instruments. Dover, Mineola NY 2006 (first edition: Norton, New York 1940), p. 261 f.
  9. Article harfa in: Andrzej de Vincenz, Gerd Hentschel: Dictionary of German loanwords in the Polish written and standard language. Online publication of the Federal Institute for Culture and History of Germans in Eastern Europe in BIS-Verlag of the University of Oldenburg, 2010.
  10. S. Oleg Nikolajewitsch Trubachev's comment in Этимологический словарь русского языка. Volume 1, Moscow 1964, Sp. 90 (commented translation by Max Vasmer : Russian etymological dictionary. Three volumes, Heidelberg 1953–1958).
  11. For example with Johann Leonhard Frisch : Teutsch-Latinisches Wort-Buch. Berlin 1741, p. 417, sv harpfe to read.
  12. ^ With reservations about Gustav Körting : Latin-Romance Dictionary. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 1907, column 508.
  13. ^ Rudolf Meringer: words and things . In: Indo-European Research. Volume 16, pp. 101–196, on the harp pp. 128 ff .; Hans Sperber: German harp and his relatives . In: words and things. Cultural history journal for language and material research. Volume 3, 1909, pp. 68-77.
  14. Etymological dictionary of the German language. Edited by Elmar Seebold . 25th, updated and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin and New York 2012, s. v. Harp and harpoon .
  15. See Anatoly Liberman : Make Music and Carpe Diem , published online May 16, 2007.
  16. Julius Pokorny : Indo-European etymological dictionary. Francke, Bern and Munich 1959, p. 948 f.
  17. ^ Etymological dictionary of German. Developed under the direction of Wolfgang Pfeifer . 2nd Edition. Academy, Berlin 1993, p. v. Harp .
  18. ^ Hermann Möller : Semitic and Indo-European. Hagerup, Copenhagen 1907, p. 231 f.
  19. Theo Venneman: Europe Vasconica - Europe Semitica. De Gruyter, Berlin 2003, p. 258 f.
  20. Lemma harp , in: Marlies Philippa et al .: Etymologically Woordenboek van het Nederlands. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2003-2009.
  21. Description and reviews (Italian, Spanish, English)
  22. Description on the publisher's website
  23. ^ Book description on the website of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis