Old images

Given the number that survive it seems curious that there are very few woodcuts, engravings or paintings showing a spitzharfe.

E.270 Musee de la musique, Paris, E.270 is a very lavishly decorated spitzharfe. On the right (treble) side is painted a chubby naked figure wearing a green-blue shoulder cape, and seated on a low stool or cushion. He is playing a spitzharfe. There are also two women, one of whom is playing a traverse flute, and the other is singing (or possibly expiring, it’s not quite clear); above their heads in the sky are two more of the naked chubby little putti, wearing shoulder capes, one blue-green like the player, one red. The spitzharfe is well drawn, with the tuning pins and the two bridges of the treble side clearly visible. There is a circular object with a straight projection lying on the ground in front of him, but I am not sure what it is. Perhaps it is a fan.
Image © Musée de la musique / Claude Germain, reproduced here by kind permission.

Majer 1732J.F.B.C. Majer, Museum musicum theoretico practicum, 1732, inlcudes a drawing of a spitzharfe as part of an explanation of how it is tuned and played. The drawing shows the left (bass) side of the instrument, with a finial shaped like a pineapple. This instrument is well-proportioned, with its little feet; the tuning pins and the nut, though not shown in great detail, are well positioned. The strings pass over the upper bridge and are hitched to a seperate rail at the upper edge of the instrument along the bentside, which I think is unusual - usually the bass side strings are hitched to the upper side of the bridge itself. The semitone strings are not shown.

Eisel 1738 A teach-yourself-music book by Johann Philipp Eisel, Musicus αυτοδιδακτος, oder der sich selbst informirende Musicus, published in Erfurt in 1738, includes details of how to play the spitzharfe. Two illustrations are included, showing the disposition of strings on each side of the instrument, labelling each string with its note name. Because this is a diagrammatic picture, all the strings are clearly shown, but I think the rest of the instrument is not accurately drawn. It stands on a plinth rather than on feet; and the treble side middle bridge is very close to the top oif the instrument with only the shortest possible secondary lengths of strings above.

Elementarwerke1774.jpgThis picture is from Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde, Berlin 1774. The caption says “...und die Spitzharfe (26), deren aller Saiten mit den Fingern geruhrt werden.” There is very little detail in this picture, but is is a well-proportioned outline of the bass side of a spitzharfe. The instrument has a plinth rather than feet. The finial is obscured by the end of a bassoon that is drawn above. I am particularly interested in the way that the back end of the instrument, Reynvaan 1795.jpg the short end beneath the bentside, rises higher than is necessary for the string lengths. Some extant instruments show this feature.

This picture (left) is from Muzijkaal Kunst Wordenboek, Amsterdam 1795. There is also a staff showing the notes, and a text which I have not seen. Archiv des Hennebergischen Alterthumsforschenden Vereins taf III 1834 The instrument shown is similar to Majer’s 1732 illustration, but with a lot more detail including labels for the note names and octaves. The strange pineapple finial remains and there is also carved leaves at the treble end of the bentside.

This final picture (right) is from Beiträge zur Geschichte deutschen Alterthums, Meiningen, 1834. Really this is after the end of the spitzharfe playting tradition, and the instrument is exhibited as an antiquity, but they do say it can still be heard in remote villages.

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Simon Chadwick, St Andrews, Scotland.
June 2013, last updated April 2015