Instruments | Harp | Late Romantic | Classical
By the early eighteenth century, a harp furnished with pedals had been developed in Bavaria. In this instrument, each of the foot-operated pedals directed a mechanism that could sharpen every string playing notes of the same name. Initially there were five such pedals, controlling C, D, F, G and A.
By the end of the eighteenth century, harps could play in all keys, using a two-level set of pedals. The Paris-based firm of Erard patented the double-action harp in 1810. This instrument has 43 strings and seven pedals. Each pedal can be pressed to two different depths, allowing each string to be sharpened by two semitones. Although the material of the strings has changed, the basic action of the harp has changed little since this development. In addition to Erard, the outstanding name in the early history of the double-action harp is Elias Parish Alvars, who was both a composer and a virtuoso.
Paris had been a centre of harp manufacture and performance at least since Marie Antoinette popularized the single-action pedal harp. Notable French harp music includes a concerto by Boieldieu. Debussy’s Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune (1892–94) features a famous role for two harps, while Ravel’s Introduction et allegro (1905) for string quartet, clarinet, flute and harp is among the most famous works in the harp repertory.
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