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The Popular History of the Harp

The Popular History of the Harp

The history of the harp dates back to that of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt and along the way it has become a symbol of the gods and features on the emblems of many countries. Hardly any other instrument is as famous as the harp, and we look into why this is.

Heaven and the Angels

Walking around any cathedral or church you are bound to spot many images and sculptures that feature a harp. Be it as angels sitting on a cloud playing harps in the heavens, or cherubs looking down at earth plucking away on the strings. The origins of the harp as an instrument of the heavens seems to have come from the Book of Revelations which describes angels holding harps. This could be associated with the Greek lyre which was commonly pictured as an instrument at regal events such as deaths and weddings.

Famous Harpists

One of the most famous harpists on film has to be Harpo Marx, he was even nicknamed after his favorite instrument. Harpo was completely self-taught and actually could not read music. Some of the most famous films that features the wonderful playing of Harpo Marx are, Go West, The Big Store, and At the Circus. Another more historical figure that was renowned for being an excellent harpist was Marie Antoinette, and her passion for the harp made it highly popular with the ladies of the French nobility who considered it acceptable as a ladies’ instrument.

Ireland & Guinness

The harp appears on the coat of arms of Ireland, and it has become a symbol of Irish pride and character. That is why the brewing giant Arthur Guinness chose the harp as a symbol to represent their brewery. It was actually registered as an official trademark for Guinness in 1876. There was some confusion over the copyright as the harp of Guinness was actually identical to that of the Irish coat of arms. And in 1922 Guinness won the argument and the Irish state harp was turned around to face the opposite direction.


The Ancient and the Modern

There is no doubt about it, the harp has got to be one of the most beautiful instruments in the world, and it also produces a stunning sound. All of this beauty had humble origins as the harp was meant to have inspiration from a hunting bow. Early Egyptian drawings picture a weapon that closely resembles a harp and there are similar drawings that appear in Mexico, Persia, and other parts of South America. Mostly used as a solo instrument the harp did feature in musical ensembles during the Baroque period and was a favorite of Classical composers such as, Spohr, Dussek, Schenk, Albrechtsberger, Mozart and Handel. One of its more famous inclusions was in the Nutcracker Suite and the Waltz of the Flowers. Today the harp has forty-seven strings and seven pedals, which means it is a fairly complicated job tuning the instrument up. This along with the transportation of the instrument make harpists some of the most passionate musicians around.