Single-action harp, Walters, Paris 1785
Single-action harp, F.J. Naderman, Paris 1815
Detail, F.J. Naderman, Paris 1815
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Harps from the Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism
The Single-action Harp was introduced in France around 1740. It soon became a fashionable and one of the most enchanting instruments in France through the Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism. It was loved and played by ladies of the aristocracy such as Mme. Pompadour, Marie-Antoinette and the Empress Josephine of France.
For the harp, this period is one of the richest and most remarkable periods. Harps had never been received with such enthusiasm in the salons and courts of France. The best skilled artisans were commissioned to do the refined decorations adorning these harps. Sixteen harp builders and fifty-eight harp teachers worked in Paris alone during this period. With so much competition, new inventions and techniques were constantly introduced. Naderman, Cousineau and Erard were among these builders.
Single-action Harps are lightly strung and have a sweet melancholic yet powerful silvery resonance. A wider dynamic range gave greater possibility as a solo instrument. The Single-action Harp brings out the delicate flavours of compositions from this period as well as giving them an added brilliance.
Important repertoire for the Single-action Harp includes Flute and Harp concerto K.299 by W.A.Mozart, Harp concerto by F.A. Boieldieu, and Concertante Nr.1 & 2 for Harp and Violin by L. Spohr. In addition, an immense quantity of solo pieces and ensemble pieces were composed for this type of harp. It was also quite customary to share keyboard music in this period. Most of the time it required acrobatic playing by the harpist, since harps still had limitations in certain tonalities. Although many of these pieces were forgotten for a long time, recent interest in period instruments has allowed a revival of this charming repertoire.
In 1810, Sebastian Erard presented his new "Double-action Harp" in London. This harp was able to achieve all tonalities. This mechanism remains in use today. The stringing became heavier and the structure of the harps became more solid. Although the Single-action Harp was still played for a while, its use was gradually taken over by the Double-action Harp. The demands on the instrument and the taste in sound had changed, and a new period for the harp and its audience was beginning.