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Design influences and the harp

Where the form of the eighteenth-century French harp was heavily influenced by rococo architecture and design, nineteenth-century English-made instruments were the product of the classical revival. Most makers adopted and adapted the Doric column and applied it to their harps, though a few, such as François-Joseph Dizi, opted for ionic and Corinthian ones. Classical revival architecture was popular in London and was adopted in post-revolutionary France – an effort to brand Paris anew.

The harp was more, however, than a musical tool. Popular amongst the upper-classes, the English-made instrument was an expression of wealth and fashionability, and an adjunct to ladies’ fashions. It afforded harpists with musical skill and was a desired skill for young women on the marriage market. Whilst some contemporary commentators lent female players a demure and passive attitude, others sexualised those who were overly expressive, ‘Their bosoms heave, their shoulders shrug, their heads swing to the right and left, their lips quiver, their eyes roll; they sigh, they pant…’

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