The harp is one of the oldest musical instruments, and was developed from the hunting bow. Harps were played in Egypt and Mesopotamia from around 3000 B.C. 

The frame harp had a straight column, and appeared in Western Europe in early medieval times. Over the next ten centuries, the harp evolved to include more strings, and pedals were added to enable the harpist to play in all musical keys.

In 1810, a double-action pedal harp was invented with seven pedals, and this style of harp is used most often in orchestras today.

Facts and Features

  1. A modern harpist only uses the first four fingers on each hand. The little fingers are not used.
  2. An orchestral pedal harp has 46 or 47 strings. The strings are plucked near the middle of the instrument.
  3. As many as eight woods including willow, birch, pine, spruce, and maple, are used to make a pedal harp. 
  4. Some harp strings are coloured to help harpists quickly identify the notes. Red strings are the note ‘C’ and black or blue strings are the note ‘F’.
  5. The pedal harp weighs between 70 and 90 lbs and has around 1400 moving parts.

Famous Players

Juan Hildago  - (1614-1685)
Carlos Salzedo – (1885 -1961)
Nicanor Zabaleta – (1907-1993)
Victor Salvi – (1920-2015)
Jana Bouskova – (1970-)

Music to Listen to

Mozart – Concerto for Flute and Harp
Saint-Seans  - Fantasie for Violin and Harp
Francesco Petrini – Duo for two harps (Op. 7)
C.P.E. Bach – Sonata for Harp in G major
Britten – Suite for Harp

Find Out

  1. Which country has used the harp as its national symbol since the 13th century?
  2. What are harp strings made of?