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Hochbrucker: Gallery





Harp SAM 565.
Virtual reconstruction

The harp of Jacob Hochbrucker



The small single action harp with the slim body appears very elegant and filigree. From its design and construction the harp can be regarded as the work of a gifted instrument maker. The harp is signed and dated only by the manufacturer of the mechanism.
Height 1395 mm; 34 strings G1 to e3; 7 pedals, single-action; 30 turning crutches.





I bought this harp from a private person in 1992. Only in 1997 I was able to make a comparison with the harp SAM 565 of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, with the kind support of Dr. D. Droysen-Reber. That harp is labeled "Hochbrucker, Donauwörth 1720".





The German Jacob Hochbrucker (1673-1763) of Donauwörth has constructed the new invention of the pedal harp in 1699 as one of the first makers. He has started making a five-pedal harp first (after Fétis Biographie universelle...1839), but in 1720 his harp with seven pedals was already well known. Two musicians of the Hochbrucker family have succeeded as composers for harp: Jacob's son, Johann Baptist (> Six Sonates pour la harpe, dedicated to De Rohan, 1762) and the nephew of Jacob, Pater Coelestin (> Six Sonates pour la harpe, dedicated to De la Guiche, c. 1771).


However the invention of the pedal harp was claimed by several makers: J.P. Vetter of Nuremberg; Johann Hausen of Weimar; Goepffert (Gaeffre) and the Italian Petrini.


The restoration


The harp is in very good shape, the body well straight, the soundboard is flat. The mechanism responds easily to pedal action. In the bass there are five thick plain gut strings of modern gauge! The center strip (bridge rail) is ripped off the sound board. Inside the sound box we can clearly observe that somebody has tried to change the bracing.


The sound board: To restore the original design correctly and without compromises, I have decided to take the sound board off the body shell. After the inner bracing has been completed in the original manner, I prepared the gluing process for the soundboard.

The function of the mechanism: The seven pedals - connected by the pedal rods which run through the sound box - are acting the seven linking rods, hidden in the hollowed neck. The inner linkage is connected to the brass levers, whose axles lead through the neck to the left exterior. Here the turning crutches are fixed and so they can grasp the strings by a semitone.

Signatures: On a linking rod of the mechanism I have found the sign with date of execution, probably by a clock maker. It reads best as a "G O' do '1728 L". Another sign "Blakey" refers to the metallurgist William Blakey who was trading on watch springs in France.
The mechanism: In order to be able to clean all parts, I dismantle the whole linkage. The bridge pins and the semitone-pins remain in the wood.

The pedals end as short stumps, which are acted by the shoe tips. To keep the pedals engaged, each pedal has a brass tongue with a spring, screwed at the body shell. If the shoe tip presses the tongue against the body, the pedal can release.

The stringing: I have reconstructed a stringing which comes probable close to original. It has about 1100 N total tension at 415 Hz, tuning in E-flat major (or B-flat major). The lowest four gut strings are silver wound. It seems generally possible that a meantone temperament was intended, so I used the intonation of 6th comma. The very light stringing shall be tuned only for temporarily playing; otherwise, the harp shall stay with the string tension released.


The Hochbrucker harp today


Despite its minimum string tension the harp sounds surprisingly energetic and has a quick response. Generally the sound is very direct, bright and almost silvery. The bass is warm and well marking.


The harp was bought in 2009 by the Musée de la Musique Paris (E.2009.1.1). It is there on display and can be heard with the "audioguide".


» SOUND SAMPLE: Nanja Breedijk playing from: "Musicalische Rüstkammer auff der Harffe"  mp3


The “Vienna harp” SAM 565

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna shows in the collection of early musical instruments one harp signed "Hochbrucker, Donauwörth 1720" (SAM 565). The body shell is made of seven ribs, the spruce sound board runs horizontally, the outline of the head suggests a scroll shape. Thus Hochbrucker’s design anticipated the later Louis XVI style harp. The mechanism is working in the same manner as described above.


Important parallels in essential parts are: - exactly the same design of the adjustable crutches mechanism from the same materials, which refers to the work of a watchmaker - the neck shows the same unusually stepped cross-section - it is equipped with the same tuning pegs made from brass - the same kind of pedal rod joints (and original layout?) - the design of the pillar - the joint of body to soundboard glued with linen strips in place of wooden side-ribs shows relationship, although the sound board of SAM 565 runs horizontally.

The most flashing differences appear to be later additions. The Moor's head is adjusted roughly in shape to fit on the harp's top. I suggest that the heavy pedal box (greetings from Erard) and the foldable pedals are both adaptations of the 19th century. As a proof seven screws have survived at the end of each rib of the sound box, once used to fix the spring mechanism for the original “stubby” pedals. For these pedals a thin board would have been enough to form the base of the harp.

In the last picture of the left column I have tried a "virtual reconstruction" of SAM 565; the small detail pictures are showing the actual state.