In an earlier post, I announced the impending publication of my article “Northern European Contributions to the Development of the Autoharp” in The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 76 (2023). That issue has now been distributed to the organization’s members and its contents will become available in digital format via JStor at a later date. An abstract of the autoharp article is included with the initial announcement and information about obtaining an offprint has now been added to it, here.
In the briefest review, it is true that Charles Zimmermann misrepresented the scope of his US patent for a “Harp” with a mechanical damping mechanism when he began producing autoharps in the now familiar wing shape. However, there is no evidence that erodes his claim of having invented chord bars or coining the term “autoharp” as a designation for a zither to which they are applied. He also made and exhibited such instruments in a trapezoidal form before contention about the wing-shaped design arose.
The starting point for the article is the wave of activity that began in German-speaking Europe in the 1870s with the intention of rendering the concert zither more amenable to use by players with little or no prior musical experience. It does not discuss earlier types of zithers or their playing techniques that might have inspired the late-19th-century innovations. The principle of producing a chord on a zither by damping the strings that do not belong to it predates that effort by far. Continue reading “The Baltic psaltery and the autoharp”