1888: A musical alliance

Engineers aren’t often celebrated for having particular musical talents. But it’s probably fair to say that without the talent of engineers there would be no musical instruments.

In an 1888 article published by The Engineer, an invention by M Dietz of Brussels is highlighted as ’a triumph of mechanical skill applied to the art of music’.

The instrument was a harp attached to a keyboard also known as a ’clavi harp’. When a key is pressed on the keyboard, a string on the harp is pulled rather than struck, in a similar manner to the fingers of a harpist.

’The mechanism answers its purpose so effectually that the harp is rendered as facile an instrument as the piano,’ said The Engineer. ’The tone is rich and powerful, and what may be termed the physical difficulties of harp playing are entirely overcome.’

Much interest is being excited in this newly devised instrument

At the time, harps used catgut strings, which required frequent tuning, making it difficult to achieve equality in sound.

’As still further showing the alliance between music and the engineering profession in this instance, it may be mentioned that the introduction of the clavi harp to the notice of the English musical public is mainly due to Mr William Webster, the inventor of the electrical treatment of sewage,’ said The Engineer.

It continued: ’Much interest is being excited in this newly devised instrument both in England and on the Continent… .’

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last and the clavi harp lost its charm. But with harps making a comeback in today’s music scene, perhaps