Arts Global


12 December 2002

About and Around the Harp

Three Centuries of Harpmaking

Address by Ana Salvi

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for being here with us on this wonderful evening organized by the Anglo-Suisse Artistic Foundation [now Swiss Global Artistic Foundation].

My name is Ana Salvi and I am the daughter of Victor Salvi, the man whom we have to thank for making possible this evening's exhibition of harps. It forms a part of the harp collection of the Victor Salvi Foundation, at present the largest and most precious collection of harps in the world. Unfortunately we were not able to show you all of it tonight, but we have brought a selection which should give you a good idea of three centuries of harp making.

Every harp, like every antique object, has a story to tell, from when it was made to when it entered into the Foundation's hands; this is part of what makes them fascinating. It has been difficult to reconstruct the story of each and every instrument, and for some it has been impossible, but we do not give up.

Every harp we have here with us tonight is particular to its era.

The first harp I would like to present to you this evening was created by the Irishman John Egan who advertised himself as "Portable harp maker to the King". With this harp Mr Egan broke many musical barriers for the non-pedal harp. He adopted the use of "forks" used by Erard (a prominent pedal harp maker in Paris) and, using his ingenuity, he created the Dital system. By moving the levers on the column of the harp which are connected to the mechanism you could raise the strings by a semitone.

This Egan harp was used by Lady Elizabeth Conyngham, who was the mistress of King George the IVth of England; we can see her playing the instrument in a painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence, which is on show at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon.

The second harp to be shown was created by Jean Henri Naderman, one of the harp makers to the French royal household, and is said to have been one of Marie Antoinette's many harps. The beauty in this instrument is in its decorations. When my father found this harp it was all gilded but his intuition told him this could not be right, so he had it restored. It was in the restoration process that the beauty of this harp came to light. The symbolism used is very interesting: on the column we can see two doves which are a sign of peace, but on the soundboard, we see military designs.

This third harp is one of my favourites, in part because of the way father found it, in various plastic bags at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Bit by bit he put it back together again. It is also one of the most beautiful examples of Naderman's work. The putti on the column were used on this very elaborate harp; another example of this type of harp can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The flowers nestled at the base of the column look like a small garden, with every flower and leaf growing from the base.

The next harp, though it may be the least decorative, is one of the most important in the history of the harp. In 1810 the harp maker Sebastian Erard created the first double action harp. This new system allowed each string to expand its tonal range from flat to natural to sharp. This style harp was called Grecian harp due to maidens dressed in a classical Greek style on the column. Some of the harps made in this style are still in use today. With this harp we begin to see a definite shift in the size of the harps, resembling a more modern harp. But for the decoration, Erard looked back in time, basing the intricate carvings on the style of Louis the XVI, which are truly breathtaking. One similar to this was housed in the palace of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.

Historically, the next harp is one of the most important of the 19th century. It was the first ever harp made by Lyon and Healy--the only harp maker in this collection to still be in existence today. In 1864, Lyon and Healy started importing and restoring harps from Europe in America. When they saw how popular the instrument was, in 1889 they decided to make one themselves, and here it is. Mechanically they have made many changes, the most obvious being that they have separated the discs, making the mechanism more reliable.

The last harp we have brought to show you is another Lyon and Healy. This harp has wonderful carving on it and is unique. The Mexican Vice-President commissioned it in 1904 for his daughter. The Vice-President asked for the Mexican emblem to be inserted somewhere on the harp although he wanted the harp to also have a Japanese motif. So, on the soundboard there is the painting of a Mexican sun, and also that of Mount Fujiyama. This Japanese style was very much in vogue at the time.

This collection is a work in progress and we are always on the search for new instruments which are historically important, to place in the collection. We are currently building a home for the collection, which will be open to the public.

I hope that you enjoy the rest of the evening.

Lady Smithers

Victor Salvi

La Marchesa Madeda, Mina di Sospiro, Julia Salvi, Gwyneth Wentink, Victor Salvi, Mme Deborah Haschke, Lady Smithers, Victor Salvi, Sir Peter Smithers

In rehearsal: Simon Dinningan and Gwyneth Wentink

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