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Early Harp History

Origin of the Harp

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Early Harp History

The word "harp" is believed to be an Anglo-Saxon word which means "to pluck." Harp, or "harpa," was used to describe the triangular-shaped stringed instruments during the 13th century. The harp is a very old music instrument and its roots is quite difficult to determine. It is believed to have been developed from the hunter's bow. Evidence of harps during Ancient times can be seen in Egypt. Inside the Egyptian tombs are wall paintings of bow-shaped instruments similar to that of a harp. For example, the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III reveals many paintings of bow harps. Bow harps have 19 strings and is more than 6 feet in height.

Angled harps are believed to have originated from Ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia. This type of harp had no pillar and was played upside-down. An image of the angled harp was discovered painted on a vase from a Babylonian temple. It has 12 to 15 strings.

The lyre or vertical harp is believed to have originated from Ancient Sumaria. This type of harp was very popular in Greece and Rome. it is also mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:21} and is believed to be the type of harp King David played as a young man. The lyre is played using only one hand and had fewer strings. Another type of harp that originated from Greece is called the Aeolian harp and is played by the wind.

The triangular harp evolved during the Middle Ages. By then, the pillar was added giving the strings more tension and thus allowing it to have a better tone and volume. Evidence of this type of harps were found in manuscripts such as those found in the Utrecht Psalter dating back to early 9th century. It resembles the Celtic harp of today.

Other Discoveries of Harp in Early History

  • Rock paintings in France dating back 15,000 B.C.
  • Carvings in Phoenicia dating back 2300 to 3000 B.C.
  • Used as vocal accompaniments by monks in Western Europe during 4th century A.D.
  • In England, pieces of a harp were found in a buried ship dating back to the 7th century.
  • In Germany and France, remains of Germanic harps were found in graves dating back from 5th up to 10th century.
  • Stone carvings in Northumberland dating back to the 600's A.D.
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