Antique harp makes its Australian debut at the 2018 Festival

Celebrated harp soloist Alice Giles AM has received her antique 18th century harp just in time for its Australian debut at the Canberra International Music Festival. The harp was made in Paris by Godefroi Holzman around 1785. Decorated with ebonised lacquer and guilt Chinoiserie and a painted soundboard after the style of Watteau, it has been lovingly restored to perfect playing condition by the London based antique harp expert Michael Parfett.

The acclaimed musician is delighted with the instrument restoration. “The harp sounds so beautiful I just want to sit and play it all day,” says Alice Giles. “It was a risk because I bought it at online auction in the UK with only Michael’s evaluation of it in an unrestored condition. It’s rare to find such an even sounding fullness of tone - it surpasses reproduction instruments in this way as you can hear the maturity of the centuries.

“Basically the whole harp had to be taken apart: woodworm holes filled, soundboard re-set and the mechanism repaired. It has all been brought back into great shape. I didn’t want it re-gilded though, because I want to cherish its venerable age as a working instrument, not as an antique.”

 Seven Harp Ensemble

Seven Harp Ensemble

String players are used to the idea of playing on an instrument with history, but it is a special feeling for a harpist. The ‘touch’ is completely different from a modern harp as the tension is much looser. The tone is quite different also - clear and bell-like.

“In general the French harps from this period have a very particular sound quality, which I just really love,” enthuses Giles.

The instrument is typical of a kind of renaissance of harp making in Paris. As well as becoming the instrument of choice for elegant and educated young women, many accomplished harpists were developing a new technique at the instrument, writing methods and performing solo works. It is worth noting that Mozart wrote his flute and harp concerto in Paris at exactly this time.

The harp will see its Australian debut in an interlude as part of Handel’s ‘Saul’ during Concert 1: Opening Gala on Friday 27 April, 7:30pm in the Fitters’ Workshop.

Alice Giles will also be appearing with the Seven Harp Ensemble (SHE) as part of Concert 4: Four Seasons on Saturday 28 April, 8:00pm in the Fitters’ Workshop.

For more information, or to buy tickets, visit