Stewart Upright Harp 1843

Stewart upright harp 1843

Stewart upright harp 1843

The Met Museum on 5th Avenue in New York has an astounding collection of instruments. This one caught my eye.

It’s an ‘upright harp’, or more technically a chordophone-zither; though I really doubt if I could have visualised it from such a description. Even more mysterious is London inventor John Stewart’s chosen name for his creation: the Euphonicon.

It has 82 double-strung notes, the top 23 of which vibrate sympathetically. Like a piano, the notes are struck with soft felt hammers, and it has damper as well as ‘una corda’ pedals — which moves the keyboard slightly so only one string is sounded rather than two.

The case is Macassar ebony and is intricately decorated all over with hand-painted designs, gilding, and carved scrollwork. It also weighs a ton (not sure exactly).

We are left to imagine how it sounds. My guess is that it makes noises that are pleasant but boring. The public lost interest in these within a few years as standard uprights became the norm.

It has a hammer-action keyboard, sustain pedal, chromatic notes, and a sire strung frame. So what exactly is it about this ‘chordophone-zither’ that distinguishes it from a ‘real’ piano? Well, I’m looking into that.