From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A medieval harp (left) and modern pedal harp
|Hornbostel-Sachs classification||322-5 |
(Composite chordophone sounded by the bare fingers)
(modern pedal harp)
A harp is a stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicular to the soundboard. It is classified as a chordophone by the Harvard Dictionary of Music and only types of harps are in that class of instruments with plucked strings. All harps have a neck, resonator, and strings. Some, known as frame harps, also have a forepillar; those lacking the forepillar are referred to as open harps. Depending on its size (which varies considerably), a harp may be played while held in the lap or while it stands on the floor. Harp strings are made of nylon, gut, wire, or silk on certain instruments. A person who plays the harp is called a harpist or harper. Folk musicians often use the term "harper", whereas classical musicians use "harpist".
Various types of harps are found in Africa, Europe, North, and South America, and in Asia. In antiquity, harps and the closely related lyres were very prominent in nearly all cultures. The oldest harps found thus far have been uncovered in ruins from ancient Sumer. The harp also predominant in the hands of medieval bards, troubadors and minnesingers, as well as throughout the Spanish Empire. Harps continued to grow in popularity through improvements in their design and construction through the beginning of the twentieth century.
The aeolian harp (wind harp), the autoharp, and all forms of the lyre and Kithara are not harps because their strings are not perpendicular to the soundboard; they are part of the zither family of instruments along with the piano and harpsichord. In blues music, the harmonica is called a "Blues harp" or "harp", but it is a free reed wind instrument, not a stringed instrument, and is therefore not an actual harp.
Harps were most likely independently invented in many parts of the world in remote prehistory.[clarification needed] It is self-evident that the harp's origins may lie in the sound of a plucked hunter's bow string or the strings of a loom.
A type of harp called a 'bow harp' is nothing more than a bow like a hunter's, with a resonating vessel such as a gourd fixed somewhere along its length. To allow a greater number of strings, harps were later made from two pieces of wood attached at the ends: this type is known as the 'angle harp'.
The oldest depictions of harps without a forepillar are from 4000 BC in Egypt(see Music of Egypt) and 3000 BCE in Persia (see Music of Iran). While most English translations of the Bible feature the word 'harp', especially in connection with King David, the Hebrew word is nevel, a type of lyre with 10 strings and not a harp at all. The Hebrew word for one kind of harp is kinnor. Other ancient names for harps include magadis and sambuka. The kanun is a descendant of the ancient Egyptian harp and was introduced to Europe by the Moors during the Middle Ages.
Structure and mechanism
Harps are roughly triangular and are usually made primarily of wood. The lower ends of the strings are fastened to the inside of the sounding-board, which is the outer surface of the resonating cavity. The body is hollow and resonates, projecting sound both toward the player through openings, and outward through the highly flexible sounding board. The crossbar, or neck, contains the mechanism or levers which determine the pitch alteration (sharps and flats) for each string. The upper ends of the strings are attached to pins in holes drilled through the neck. The longest side, the column, encloses the rods controlling the mechanism of a pedal harp. At the base are seven pedals, which activate the rods when they are downwardly pressed. The modern sophisticated instrument spanning 6½ octaves in virtually all keys was perfected by the 19th-century French maker Sébastien Érard.
Lever harps do not have pedals or rods. Instead they use a shortening lever on the neck for each individual string which must be activated manually in order to shorten the string and raise the tone a half step. Thus, a string tuned to natural may be played in sharp, but not flat. A string tuned to flat may be played in natural, but not sharp. Lever harps are considerably lighter in weight than pedal harps and are smaller in size and number of strings. Lever harps are popular for playing folk music and are most commonly called folk harps.