The Aeolian Harp

»A yearning long unfelt, each impulse swaying,
To yon calm spirit-realm uplifts my soul;
In faltering cadence, as when Zephyr playing,
Fans the Aeolian harp, my numbers roll;«

For many, the Aeolian harp is an instrument that only belongs to the above mentioned realm of spirits, but it exists indeed. This stringed instrument, which has similarities to a zither, has been recognized since the 17th century. The strings are »played« by the wind and resonate all together.

All strings are tuned to the same note but are of differing thicknesses. The instrument that is on display at the museum has ten gut and two brass wire strings. Depending on the wind speed, the intensity of the harmonics changes. Since the strings are of varying thickness, they generate different harmonics. If the wind is strong enough, the thinner strings sound up to the eighth partial. When the harmonics are a halftone apart, the characteristic sound effect of the Aeolian harp occurs.

The Aeolian harp in the museum was made around 1800 in the shape of a equilateral triangular prism. The soundboards are of spruce wood and framed with mahogany. The instrument is pivoted on a tripod. These kinds of Aeolian harps were put up at an open window where the draught arranged for varying sounds and a meditative atmosphere.

Aeolian Harp, Cat.-No. 2642 (Flash)