1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aeolian Harp

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AEOLIAN HARP (Fr. harpe éolienne; Ger. Äolsharfe, Windharfe; Ital. arpa d'Eolo), a stringed musical instrument, whose name is derived from Aeolus, god of the wind. The aeolian harp consists of a sound-box about 3 ft long, 5 in. wide, and 3 in. deep, made of thin deal, or preferably of pine, and having beech ends to hold the tuning-pins and hitch-pins. A dozen or less catgut strings of different thickness, but tuned in exact unison, and left rather slack, are attached to the pins, and stretched over two narrow bridges of hard wood, one at each end of the sound-board, which is generally provided with two rose sound-holes. To ensure a proper passage for the wind, another pine board is placed over the strings, resting on pegs at the ends of the sound-board, or on a continuation of the ends raised from 1 to 3 in. above the strings. Kaufmann of Dresden and Heinrich Christoph Koch, who improved the aeolian harp, introduced this contrivance, which was called by them Windfang and Windflügel; the upper board was prolonged beyond the sound-box in the shape of a funnel, in order to direct the current of air on to the strings. The aeolian harp is placed across a window so that the wind blows obliquely across the strings, causing them to vibrate in aliquot parts, i.e. (the fundamental note not being heard) the half or octave, the third or interval of the twelfth, the second Octave, and the third above it, in fact the upper partials of the strings in regular succession. With the increased pressure of the wind, the dissonances of the 11th and 13th overtones are heard in shrill discords, only to give place to beautiful harmonies as the force of the wind abates. The principle of the natural vibration of strings by the pressure of the wind was recognized in ancient times; King David, we hear from the Rabbinic records, used to hang his kinnor (kithara) over his bed at night, when it sounded in the midnight breeze. The same is related of St Dunstan of Canterbury, who was in consequence charged with sorcery. The Chinese at the present day fly kites of various sizes, having strings stretched across apertures in the paper, which produces the effect of an aerial chorus.

See[edit]

  • Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia Universalis, where the aeolian harp is first described (1602-1608), p. 148
  • Mathew Young, Bishop of Clonfert, Enquiry into the Principal Phenomena of Sounds and Musical Strings pp. 170-182 (London, 1784)
  • Gottingen Pocket Calendar (1792)
  • Mendel's Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon, article "Aeolsharfe."
  • An illustration is given in Rees' Encyclopedia, plates, vol. ii. Misc. pl. xxv
(K. S.)