Musical Instruments

New article on the history of the autoharp

I am pleased to announce that my article “Northern European Contributions to the Development of the Autoharp” will appear in the next issue of The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 76 (2023). As noted in an earlier post, that is where my first research article was published fully fifty years ago and I contributed to the journal regularly for a long while thereafter. Readers of this blog who are interested in the history of musical instruments but are unfamiliar with that publication will find it worthwhile to visit the website of The Galpin Society.

Here is the abstract of the forthcoming article.

Several means for simplifying the playing technique of the concert zither were devised during the latter decades of the nineteenth century, some significantly changing its physical design. The autoharp has its roots in that process and was greeted by the zither establishment with particular scepticism. It was a popular success notwithstanding and numerous patented variations on its definitive system of damping bars appeared in rapid succession. There are blurred lines between original invention and plagiarism, and assigning priority for the seminal innovation is itself problematic. The contending instrument makers were Charles Friedrich Zimmermann and Karl August Gütter. Both were born and trained in Germany but Zimmermann subsequently relocated to the US and became a naturalized citizen. They appear to have tracked each other’s work closely. This article reviews the basis for the uncertainty and attempts to clarify it. The persisting popularity of the autoharp in the US has diverted attention from European involvement in its development. Although Gütter’s initial role has been recognized, his engagement in the instrument’s subsequent development is less well known, as is that of other autoharp makers known only for their production. Swedish contributions are discussed as a case study in the broader northern European participation.

The volume of The Galpin Society Journal that includes it will be distributed to the members of that organization early in 2023 and will become available in digital format via JStor at a later date. This post will be updated to reflect changes in the publication status and further information can be requested directly from the author.

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