What is an aeolian harp – This simple little musical instrument derives its name from Aeolus, god of the winds, who is said to have lived at Stromboli, then called Strongyle, while he reigned over the Aeolian islands, just north of Sicily.
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Excerpt from: How? or, Spare hours made profitable for boys and girls by Holbrook, Kennedy Published 1887
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His island was entirely surrounded by a wall of brass, and by perfectly smooth precipitous rocks. Here he dwelt in continual joy and festivity with his wife and children ; the latter, six sons and as many daughters, are said to be a poetic type of the twelve months of the year.
And here he kept the winds, tied up in bags, in perfect subjection, only letting them out when called upon to do so by Neptune, god of the sea.
As the winds served Aeolus on his little isle, so we force them to serve us in our far-away western homes, by operating upon our instrument and making music to soothe and calm us when we are too tired or indolent to make it for ourselves.
The simplest form this instrument can have is a single string of strong waxed silk, stretched between two bits of wood, inserted under the lower window-sash, sufficient space being allowed between the window-sill and the sash for the vibration of the string.
The other and more satisfactory harp is made like that in the engraving, and is not so difficult an undertaking, that any boy who can handle carpenter’s tools need fear to try it.
Take two long strips of thin, soft pine wood, four and five inches wide respectively, and a little shorter than the sash is wide, to allow for the length of the pegs at one end ; then from common seven-eighths of an inch board make two other pieces in shape like b, six inches wide, six high, on the narrower, and seven on the back or longer side.
With a small gimlet make in both ends a row of eight or nine holes, at equal distances from each other, and half an inch from the edge of the slanting top, for the strings to pass through ; then with a larger gimlet bore in one end only, the second row of holes, h i, to hold the pegs upon which the ends of the strings are to be wound.
Nail the parts together as in the cut, making the lower edges of the pieces meet at the bottom ; then from the outside of d e draw through as many pieces of violin string (the smallest or E string) as you have holes in your wood.
Hold these by knots on the outside, and having brought them across the box pass them through the corresponding holes in the other end, and twist them around the pegs below, in the same manner that the strings are fastened in the violin itself.
Unlike the violin, however, these should not be drawn too tight, simply stretched evenly across, and must all be tuned in unison.
That is, having drawn one as tight as you think best, draw the others, one at a time, till they give forth the same musical note when snapped with the linger. Now put another thin piece of board across the top which shall just cover it like the lid of a desk.
This was purposely left out in the illustration, that the arrangement of the strings might be more fully seen, but is necessary in the complete instrument. If catgut cannot be readily obtained, strong pieces of sadlers’ silk, well waxed, may be used in its place, although the tones resulting are not as musical, or the strains as soft and lulling in character, as those produced by the former.
After the instrument is properly tuned, place it upon the ledge of an open window, and let the sash down upon it, when, if there is any breeze stirring, it will pour forth strains of sweet, drowsy music, beautifully described by the poet Thomson, as supplying the most suitable harmonies for the Castle of Indolence.