The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers

By Arthur Elson | Go to book overview
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XLVI
PLUCKED-STRING INSTRUMENTS

OF those instruments whose strings are plucked instead of being rubbed by a bow, the most important by far is the harp (German, Harfe; French, harpe; Italian, arpa). It undoubtedly originated from the twanging bow-string of early savages; and the nanga, a modern form of negro harp, is practically a bow with five strings instead of one. Nearly all the ancient races had harps of some form; and as the harp was the best instrument known in old times, its use was ascribed to celestial beings as well as mortals. The ancient harps varied in size and number of strings; but as they lacked the vertical pillar that makes our harp a triangle, they must have been hard to keep in tune. The Hebrew harp, or Kinnor, was probably copied from the Egyptian instrument; while the Greek word kithara has been translated indifferently as harp, lyre, lute, or guitar.

The Irish claim to have originated the harp. Undoubtedly the oriental harps were earlier, though the Roman legions brought the Irish harp back from Britain. Its use in the Apulian city of Arpi may have given the instrument its name, though Max Müller claims a Teutonic origin for the term. The ancient races of the east gave the instrument various names, while the Germanic tribes knew it under its present appellation.

The old Irish harp, in its largest form, bad three rows of strings, two outer rows of twenty-nine each giving diatonic tones, while the middle row of twenty gave the chromatic intervals. The instrument existed in other forms, and as late as 1608 we find Monteverde calling for a "double harp," evidently with two rows of strings. The triple form lasted until nearly 1800.

The old laws of Wales mention the use of the harp as one of three points that distinguished the freeman from the slave; and pretenders were often discovered by their unskilful use of it. Only the king, his musicians, and the gentlemen of the realm could own a harp; and

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The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers
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