Trip to Scotland (June 2000)

My wife, Dr. Penny Schwarze, was invited to deliver a paper at a symposium held at the University of Edinburgh, June 1, 2000. As a lapsed viol builder, I was delighted to accompany her to attend these interesting sessions exploring current scholarship in the bowed string field. Not only that, but two of the most important extant wire harps are held by the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

I contacted the Museum of Scotland well in advance, presenting my credentials and motives, and they were very accomodating. On the appointed day, they had removed both harps from public display and set aside space in a workroom upstairs for me. With the assistance of assistant curator Jackie Moran, I spent nearly three hours with the harps, examining, collecting measurements, and photographing details of construction. I am most appreciative for the generous way they shared these treasures with me.

My findings- The Lamont appears to be entirely of one species of wood, a hardwood. It appears to me that the wood is English walnut. I immediately thought "walnut" when I had the harp in front of me, but the color did not seem quite right. (I am most familiar with American black walnut.) Later in the day, I visited the Russell Collection of Keyboards Instruments at the University of Edinburgh. There in front of me was a great deal of this same wood. The lid of one early harpsichord in particular (English, about 1720) looked as though it could have been from the same log as the Lamont. The Curator there informed me that the wood in question is walnut, meaning, of course, English walnut.

The other curious thing about the Lamont harp is an inscription, apparently previously not noted, on the harp. Robert Bruce Armstrong, in his exhaustive description of this harp around 1900, does not mention it, because the harp was covered with a heavy red paint then. It is scratched unceremoniously into the side of the soundbox, and says, Al. Stewart of Clunie his harp 1650.

The Queen Mary held no surprises, but I found her elegant and a joy. The harp appears to be made of three different woods.. The soundbox appears to be of willow. The pillar is of a very different style of decoration than the rest of the harp, and has a yellowish color to the wood. The neck, or harmonic curve, is of a dark red-brown wood.