Harps from the Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism

The single-action pedal harp was introduced in France around 1740. It soon became one of the most popular instruments in Paris through the age of enlightenment and romanticism. These harps were received with such enthusiasm in the salons and courts of France and were played by ladies of the aristocracy, such as Mme. Pompadour, Marie-Antoinette and the Empress Josephine of France.


More than sixteen harp builders were active only in Paris at the time and the best artisans were commissioned to do the refined decorations adorning these harps. With so much competition between the builders, new inventions and techniques were constantly introduced, which Naderman, Cousineau and Erard were amongst them.


Single-action pedal harps are lightly strung and have a sweet melancholic resonance but yet a powerful silvery tone. The sound of the harp was ideal to bring out the delicate nuances of the compositions from the period.


Important repertoires for the single-action pedal harp, which is still performed today include Flute and Harp Concerto KV 299 by W. A. Mozart and Harp Concerto by  F. A. Boieldieu. There are many more concertos written in this period by other composers, such as by F. Petrini, J. B. Krumpholtz and L. Spohr. In addition to these concertos, a substantial quantity of solo and ensemble pieces were composed for the single-action pedal harp. Besides the harp repertoire, it was quite customary to share keyboard music to play as well. Some of these compositions required the harpists to have skilled techniques. In 1810, Sebastian Erard presented the double-action pedal harp in London. This harp was able to achieve twenty-one sounds in an octave. The stringing became heavier and the structure of the harps became more solid. Although the single-action pedal harp was still played until the mid-nineteenth century, its use was gradually taken over by the harps we know today.


The research of mine provides understanding the characteristics and the performing practices of the single-action pedal harp.

I hope that the recognition of the single-action pedal harp as an individual instrument with its capacity of its own will be appreciated in the coming future.