About the Barberini Harp

Mara Galassi / Dario Pontiggia

Synopsis: Pioneering harpist Mara Galassi and master historical harp builder Dario Pontiggia discuss various considerations affecting any attempt to produce a facsimile of a historical instrument, especially one as old and enigmatic as the Barberini Harp. Pontiggia points out technical issues arising out of insufficient understanding of the original Barberini Harp, such as changes to the neck, column and soundbox, as well as inconsistencies in the number of pinholes and problems with stringing. Should we build authentic copies of the Barberini Harp and other historical instruments? Galassi and Pontiggia offer views from their respective fields. As a luthier working today, Pontiggia believes that an authentic copy of the Barberini Harp would not strictly be fit for music performance. Galassi disagrees: in her view, making compromises to accommodate contemporary performance practice would present a great loss, not just in terms of historical performance practice and musicology, but for music itself. In Galassi’s view, being able to play an exact replica of the harp would offer invaluable insights into historical harp practice. Galassi also offers a hypothesis that the Barberini Harp’s perceived shortcomings may be due to the harp having been constructed from parts built separately and then put together. This conversation demonstrates the importance of cross- and inter-disciplinary methodologies in historical harp research.


Harpist and researcher Mara Galassi and master luthier Dario Pontiggia are in Pontiggia’s workshop in Milano, with a copy of the Barberini Harp he built for Galassi, discussing some of the finer points in making copies of historical harps. As one of the pioneers in the field of organological research into the historical harp, Galassi commissioned the luthier David Brown to make the first copy ever of the Barberini Harp. Galassi and Pontiggia have since collaborated on several replicas of the harp, affording deep consideration to various issues affecting any attempt to produce a facsimile of a historical instrument. Galassi and Pontiggia live in the same city and their collaboration has influenced their respective approaches to their own disciplines. In this interview, a disagreement over aspects of the Barberini Harp produces an insight into how building copies as close to the original as possible could yield additional knowledge of historical performance practice, harp technique and buon gusto of the period. Chiara Granata provides a commentary on the ensuing debate in “My Hands are Armed with Nought but Sweet-toned Strings?" Different ways to use the same instrument.

© Armin Linke / Harfenlabor 2020
All rights reserved

Cite:&&Mara Galassi and Dario Pontiggia, <i>About the Barberini Harp</i>, Barberini Harp Project / Interviews, by Studio Armin Linke / Harfenlabor, May 13, 2022,, MP4, 10:15,