“The harp occupies a position unique in the history of music. It is the oldest known instrument, having existed in one form or another, in every land and every age.” – Lyon & Healy Counter Sales Book, 1925
The earliest evidence of the harp is found in Ancient Egypt around 2500 BC. Back then, the instrument was shaped like a bow and had very few strings. Without the column seen on modern harps, they could not support much string tension.
Between 700-1000 AD, frame harps appeared in western Europe, which had between 10 and 11 strings. They were followed in the 14th century by Irish harps, which were the first version of the instrument to have a hollowed sound box which amplified the sound.
In 1800, diatonic harps – also known as Renaissance harps – were invented. They had 24 or more gut strings, which were fixed to a soundboard with wooden pegs.
Fast forward ten years, and the double-action pedal harp was patented. This harp had seven pedals, which could be depressed twice and each string passed through two pronged discs.
It was then that the harp was introduced into orchestral music. The pedalling system, which made the instrument completely chromatic, meant that composers found the instrument much more flexible to write for.
You won’t find any harps in Mozart or Beethoven’s scores, but Berlioz, Ravel and Debussy wrote some beautiful solo and orchestral music for the instrument.”