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the wire cross strung harp

A wire cross-strung chromatic harp played concerts of J.S.Bach and Richard Wagner music. It was called the "Lute-harp"; it was designed by Gustave Lyon around 1899 and built by Pleyel as a "special" instrument. It retained most of the characteristics of the "Harpe Chromatique", that is the cross-stringing configuration and the absence of mechanical devices such as pedals, hooks or levers. Its soundboard was however modified (hardwood). For some reason, Pleyel gave it a twin column, although this instrument was also built with one single column (Roslyn Rensch makes reference (in "Harps and Harpists") to a picture of Johannes Snoer, harpist in Leipzig, holding a small straight column wire cross-strung harp set on a legged stand). These instruments were built much smaller than the other Pleyel "harpes Chromatiques" and featured up to 5 octaves.

The main characteristic of the Lute-harp was that it was strung with wire (steel) and that this feature according to its designer was meant to provide an alternative to other string instruments such as the harpsichord and the spinet. Gustave Lyon's idea was that the Lute-harp would be a desirable instrument to play the harpsichord's large musical r pertoire; work such as that of Rameau, Daquin, Scarlatti, H ndle, Bach, etc. The Lute-harp would allow a more subtle interpretation of this music, and in fact, would give a complete new life to this music. In "La harpe chromatique et sa facture" , Paris 1927, and in "La Revue Musicale", 1907, (p. 360-362). Gustave Lyon wrote that J.S Bach's unhappiness with the harpsichord was caused by the frail and dry sound of this instrument. Lyon suggested that a wire strung instrument on which the strings would be plucked from the pad (not the nail) of the finger would provide a more melodious sound. According to Lyon's communication in "La Revue Musicale", the first lute-harp built by pleyel was handed out to a famous harpist called Miss Ren e L nard , who was already playing the gut strung chromatic harp and she performed publicly four days later. The instrument was received warmly by a prestigious audience. One of these Lute-harps was built at the request of Richard Wagner to accompany Beckmesser's serenade in "Die Meister-Singer". According to R. Rensch (op.cit. p 138) harpists in this opera orchestra often threaded paper or cloth strips through the harp strings in an attempt to achieve the desired "cracked lute effect". According to the correspondence addressed in 1899 by Cosina Wagner to Gustave Lyon, gave complete satisfaction in performances, in Bayreuth, Paris, Mannheim, Amsterdam, The Hague, Venise and Milan. On other stages, the lute-harp took part in several major concert performances, featuring, among others, the music of J.S. Bach.


  Roger Muma, 1157 St. Anthony Rd., London, ON, Canada, N6H 2R2, Ph. (519) 649-0309.