Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/697
melodies, through the treatment of the progressions of which the limits of combination become practically co-extensive with the number of notes in the musical system.
[ C. H. H. P. ]
[ G. ]
HARP (Fr. Harpe; Ital. Arpa; Germ. Harfe). A musical instrument of great antiquity; in its modern development, by means of the ingenious mechanism of the double action, distinguished as the only instrument with fixed tones not formed by the ear and touch of the player, that has separate notes for sharps, flats, and naturals, thus approaching written music more nearly than any other.
The harp presents a triangular form of singular beauty, the graceful curve of the neck adding to the elegance of its appearance Although the outline has varied at different epochs and in different countries, the relation of its proportions to the musical scale—a condition of symmetry in musical instruments—is in the harp very close; so that whether it be Egyptian, Persian, Mediæval, or Keltic, it is always fashioned in beauty of line, and often characteristically adorned.
In looking at a harp we recognise at once the varied functions of its structure. The resonant instrument is the soundboard, forming with its body the angle next the player. The opposite angle is the pillar. Both support the neck, a curved bracket between which and the soundboard the strings are stretched. In modern harps the neck includes the 'comb' containing the mechanism for raising the pitch of the strings one half tone by the single action, or two half tones by the double action. The pillar is hollow to include the rods working the mechanism. The pedestal, where pillar and soundboard unite, is the frame for the pedals, levers acted upon by the feet and moving the rods in the pillar.
The wood used in a harp is chiefly sycamore, but the soundboard is of pine, and in old harps was frequently ornamented with painted devices. The dimensions of soundboard and body increase downwards. Along the centre of the soundboard is glued a strip of beech, or other hard wood, in which are inserted the pegs that hold the lower ends of the strings, the upper ends being wound round tuning-pins piercing the wrestplank which forms the upper part of the neck. The soundboard is ribbed underneath by two narrow bars, crossing the grain of the pine, their duty being to drive the soundboard into nodes and figures of vibration. The strings are of catgut, coloured to facilitate the recognition of the notes by the player, the lowest eight being spun over, wire upon silk or wire upon wire. The compass of an Erard double-action harp is 6½ octaves.
The apparently slight resistance offered by the bridge to the tension of the strings, inadequate if their drawing power were perpendicular, is sufficient because they are placed at an angle. There is also a lateral angle in the position of the neck and strings, to allow for the strain on the side the strings are attached to.
The origin of the harp must be put back anterior to the earliest records of civilisation. It was possibly suggested by the stretched string of the bow. The addition of several strings would be analogous to binding several reeds or whistles together to form a syrinx, both contrivances apparently preceding the shortening to different lengths by the finger of a single vibrating string, as in a lute, or the shortening of the vibrating column of air in a pipe by means of holes perforated in it to be stopped also by the fingers. The oldest monuments of the harp are Egyptian. Those first seen by Bruce, painted on the wall of a burying-place at Thebes, are supposed to be as old as the 13th century b.c. These are very large harps, richly ornamented, and standing, to judge from the players, more than six feet high. These instruments, which have been often described, having no front pillar, could have had no great tension, and were probably of a low and sweet tone. But while all Egyptian harps wanted this important member for support, they were not limited to one size. There seems to have been a great variety in dimensions, number of strings, and amount of ornament. Some, like Bruce's, were placed upon the ground; others were upon rests or stools, to admit of the player's standing. Those held by seated players were more like the Greek trigonon, a link between the harp and lyre.The Assyrian harps resembled the Egyptian in having no front pillar, but differed in the soundboard being uppermost, the lower angle being a simple bar for the attachment of the strings. Mr. Engel ('Music of the most Ancient Nations,' London, 1864) regards the absence or presence of the front pillar as distinguishing the Eastern harp from the Western, but it may be that the distinction is rather that of ancient and modern, for the very earliest Western harp of which a representation exists, that in Bunting's 'Ancient Music of Ireland,' attributed by him to an earlier