Harp Makers of the 19th Century
Sébastien Erard (born Strasbourg 5th April 1752 died 5th August 1831)
Erard started life as an apprentice at a harpsichord makers, but got fired for being "too inquisitive" - and given his later prolific creativity in the field of instrument design one can guess that he was probably drawing up plans to copy his employers design!
In 1777 he made his first piano, and soon (1780) went into partnership with his brother Jean-Baptiste.
The firm opened a branch in London soon after the French Revolution and the first grand piano was made in about 1796. Erard was innovative in piano design and in 1821 was granted a patent for (among other things), the double escapement action - an innovation which permitted a faster repetition of a single note. The best known address for the London operation is Great Marlborough street.
Patrons included Marie-Antoinette, Napoleon and King George IVth in England. The Erards were joined by nephew Pierre Erard around 1796 who helped expand the business.
In the early 1790s JB Krumpholz asked Erard if he could improve the single-action harp, which at that time suffered from instability of pitch and a tendency to break strings. In 1794 a patent was granted to Erard in London for a single action harp. He strengthened the design by laminating the wood of the neck, and designed the now familiar round-back soundbox for strength. The tuning action was all contained in the neck between brass plates, which added to the strength and stability. The now familiar fork mechanism was also introduced at this stage, which was activated by means of foot pedals and constituted a major improvement over the older system of hooks. The single action instrument could, when tuned to Eb play 8 major and 5 minor keys.
The double action was patented in 1811, and 3500 "Grecian" 43 string instruments were made before 1820. Pierre, the nephew developed a 46 string version in 1835 - the "Gothic".
The London and Paris companies became separate entities in about 1900, and the remaining stock and goodwill were bought by Morleys in the 1930s.
It is said that the men who worked at Erards used to make a complete harp at a time - in other words, they followed it from start to finish. The inevitable result of this, coupled with the great demand was that several other firms were spawned, who in effect made almost exact copies of the Grecian. Other makers include Dodd, John Erat, Haarken and Delveau.
For instance, the neck of an Erat will fit on an Erard exactly. (By the way, Erat actually was his name - it wasn't to fool people into thinking it was Erard)
International Erard society: Database of Erards
Thomas Dodd came from a family of instrument makers - Dodd violin bows had been famous since the mid 1700. His father Edward died in 1810 at the very respectable age of 95.
Dodd was mainly a dealer in instruments from 1809 to 1823, when he moved to Berners Street and then got interested in harps. He was also at Berwick Street in 1827 before returning to Berners Street. Thomas died in about 1830, and the business carried on until 1846 - presumably by means of his 2 sons.
There is an 1822 patent for a laminated neck.
John Erat was reputed to have worked at Erard, and would therefore have learnt to make a complete harp. His Grecians are virtually identical to the Erard, and it is possible that he paid a royalty to Erard for the design. At one stage the instrument was so popular that Erard had his hands full just fulfilling orders.
The Erat harps are considered to be good quality instruments.
There were several generations of Haarnack dating up to the mid 1920s. The business was at Charlotte Street and there was a showroom in Fitzroy Square. For a time they were also at 53 Berners Street down the road from Dodds. The first of the line was chief mechanic at Erards in 1808.
Haarnack were one of the last makers to continue trading and also had a thriving repair business. Marie Goosens mentions meeting 3 generations at their shop in her book "Life on a Harpstring".
The old Haarnack shop: - click here for other images (120K page)
Link to Haarnack family site
Sources for this page:
Groves Music Dictionary, private conversations with Bob Pacey, Jack Hayward and John Hoare, information and photos of Haarnack kindly donated by Mr Haarnack's great great grandaughter - Moira Bonnington.
If you have any interesting information on these or other makers, please let me know - I'll add it to the site.
This page updated: 16th April 2004