This type of harp was patented by Pierre-Orphée Érard (1794-1855) in London in 1836. The instrument is bigger and heavier than the double-action pedal harp patented and produced by his uncle, Sebastian Érard1 (1752-1831).
The ‘Gothic’ model (named after the ‘Gothic’ style of column decoration) has 46 or 47 strings (rather than 43) – the number used to the present day on concert or pedal harps. This type was made both in London and in Paris, albeit with minor differences, such as the two lions on the foot of the French version, rather than the winged dragons on the foot of the English model. Moreover, other versions of the instrument are known to have been produced as well, including a variant that took its style from harps dating from the 18th century.
The soundboard that Pierre-Orphée Érard – just like his uncle – built into these harps consists of a single layer of wood. The grain is horizontal, so that every string has its own grains to vibrate and therefore has its own specific sound. The soundscape as a whole, as a consequence, is particularly clear: all the individual tones can be distinctly heard.
The Érard Gothic soon became used throughout the world, both by soloists and in orchestras. Famous fans of this harp include Alphonse Hasselmans, Elias Parish-Alvars, Lily Laskine and Marielle Nordmann. A great many playable historic examples can luckily still be found today, although over the years it appears that the mechanics of these instruments have often become impure. Unfortunately, restoring them is an expensive business…
I have already been able to perform many orchestral pieces with Anima Eterna Brugge on this amazing instrument (including Franz Liszt and Maurice Ravel), as well as making various recordings (Debussy – ZZT 313 and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov & Alexander Borodin – ZZT 050502, among others). One of the moments that stays with me most is an Anima concert in Nurnberg in the spring of 2015, where the Érard Gothic No 4623 was heard in all its splendour in Debussy’s Danse sacrée – Danse profane (1904). So I’m delighted to be playing it again for the brand-new programme Por favor!
Marjan de Haer
1 Sebastian Érard gained great renown as a harp builder, as he changed the mechanics and the structure of the instrument. In 1821, Pierre-Orphée Érard wrote a book about the innovations carried out by his uncle: The harp in its present improved state compared with the original pedal harp.