If one was anyone and I presume we can call our Miss Crawford “A Somebody” in London given the social circles in which she moved(!) she would ,IMO, have owned a harp made by Sebastien Erard, the premier harp manufacturer in London in our period.

The double action pedal mechanism that we know today was first devisedand patented in 1810 by Sébastien Érard who modified the single action pedal mechanism created by Georg Hochbrucker in 1720 in 1794. With such a device each individual note can be raised simultaneously by a semitone,and makes the harp a more flexible instrument to play.

Sébastien Erard aws born in Strasbourg 5 April 1752, the fourth son of the church furniture maker Louis-Antoine Erard As Sébastien Erard was only six years old when his father died, accounts of his having acquired his woodworking skills in his father’s workshop cannot be substantiated. He was, however, brought up within a community of skilled artisans, with uncles, cousins, his godfather and older brother all being employed as joiners, cabinetmakers and gilders, for the most part in an ecclesiastical context. He may have known and worked with the younger Strasbourg-based members of the Silbermann dynasty.

Erard most probably arrived in Paris in 1768. The Duchesse de Villeroy was an early patron, providing him with workshop premises at her mansion in the rue de Bourbon, and in 1777 he made for her an impressive five-octave bichord piano modelled on a Zumpe square. In 1779 he built his only known harpsichord, the clavecin mécanique (now in the Musée de la Musique, Paris). Thereafter he began to exploit the new market for five-octave pianos, so successfully overcoming the fashionable aristocratic preference for ‘pianos anglais’ that he was obliged to call on the help of an older brother, Jean-Baptiste Erard .Together they moved first to 109 rue de Bourbon, and in November 1781 to 13 rue de Mail, which remained the headquarters of the firm until its eventual closure. Attempts by the jealously conservative guild of Parisian luthiers to stem the Erard enterprise in 1784 were overcome by the personal intervention of Louis XVI, who awarded Sébastien Erard a special dispensation dated 5 February 1785.

Royal commissions followed. Erard’s special transposing piano designed for Marie Antoinette has not survived, but the instrument he made for her in 1786–7 is, without doubt, the finest extant French 18th-century piano (now in the Cobbe Collection, Hatchlands, Surrey). The form and action are exactly those of an English square piano, but the cabinet work is of a sophistication not encountered on any surviving contemporary English instrument. The brothers formed an enormously successful business partnership in January 1788, operating henceforth as Erard Frères, and in January 1791 they became proprietors of the rue du Mail premises they had previously rented. Registers for 1788 and 1789 record 254 and 410 pianos respectively.

However, the French Revolution dramatically affected sales, and in 1790 only 76 instruments were produced.

Sébastien Erard’s achievements in the improvement of the piano are paralleled by those he made in the construction and mechanism of harps. He does not appear to have made many harps before being obliged to leave revolutionary France for London, but he had already observed in a letter that ‘the mechanism of this instrument is too complicated; I have changed and much simplified it; this means it doesn’t break strings like before. Once I have obtained the right to show my discovery, I will bring out my harps’.

Although he probably first visited London as early as 1779 it was not until 1790 or 1791 that he finally settled there, founding an establishment at 18 Great Marlborough Street in 1792. There he concentrated on the manufacture of harps, which previously had almost all been imported from France, and it was there too that in November 1794 he acknowledged the first ever British patent for a harp (Improvements in Pianofortes and Harps, patent no.2016).

He strengthened the neck by laminating the wood with the grain running in the same direction, and his new rounded soundbox replaced the previous staved construction. The tuning mechanism, instead of being enclosed within the neck, was placed between two brass plates and attached to it, thus giving the instrument additional rigidity. Most remarkable was the new fork mechanism, which, when engaged by the pedal, brought two forked pins into contact with the strings, thus shortening them the degree of a semitone; the sharpened strings remained parallel with the others, causing fewer breakages, and accuracy of intonation was greatly improved . The harp was tuned in E, and could be played in eight major and five minor keys. Erard introduced his new single-action harp to Paris on his return to France in 1795; his first French harp patent, however, dates only from 1798.

In London the harp had remarkable success. Sales took off from November 1800, when the Princess of Wales paid £75 12s. for harp no.357. The decoration, which appears to have been standardized early, comprised a circle of rams’ heads around the capital of the fluted column, and the most popular model of harp, as noted in the London Order Books (RCM, London), was ‘noire, bordures etrusques’. The brass plate was engraved with the serial number, address and anglicized form of the maker’s forename. Between 2 February 1807 and 24 April 1809 single-action harps amounting to £20,152 14s. 8d. were sold. By September 1810 Erard’s London outlet had sold 1374 harps.

In Paris, under the Consulate (1799–1804), pianos continued to be the firm’s prime concern. Two main models of grand piano, still known as forte-pianos en forme de clavecin, were produced (with compasses of five and a half, and six octaves respectively), in addition to squares. An Erard piano completed in November 1800 was presented to Haydn in 1801, and in 1803 an almost identical one was given to Beethoven (Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Linz). These pianos were trichord, equipped with an English mechanism, and, like the pre-revolutionary ones, had four pedals. The last two movements of Beethoven’s Concerto in C minor op.37 were rewritten for this piano, and it also inspired the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas.

In 1807 Sébastien Erard returned to London where he spent five years concentrating on developing the harp. By that time its only remaining defect was that it lacked adequate means of modulation, owing to the single-action mechanism. Although Erard took out several successive patents in England and France between 1801 and 1808, it was not until 1810 that he perfected the first double-action mechanism based on the fork principle (patent no.3332). Tuned in C this harp could be played in 15 major keys and 12 minor ones, and with little modification Erard’s principles are still used by modern pedal-harp makers. 3500 of the 43-string ‘Grecian’ model, so-called because of its ornamentation, were sold between 1811 and 1820. (See Harp, §V, 2(ii) for a more detailed technical description).

In the meantime, Sébastien Erard’s Paris concern was seriously compromised by the imposition of trade and industrial restrictions due to the Napoleonic wars, and in 1813 it was declared bankrupt; business was allowed to continue, however, and all debts incurred by the Paris enterprise were reimbursed by 1824 thanks to the profits made in England. Direction of the London establishment from May 1814 until 1829 was taken over by the son of Jean-Baptiste, Pierre [Orphée] Erard (b 10 March 1794; d 15 Aug 1855), who took out his own patent for harp improvements in 1822.

In Paris, Sébastien successfully subjected his inventions to examination by a Commission drawn jointly from the Académie des Sciences and the Académie des Beaux-Arts in April 1815. From 1815 to 1820 he worked at combining the expressive touch of the English-type escapement action with a more facile repetition, and eventually achieved this with his repetition mechanism, for which Pierre took out a London patent on 24 October 1822 (see Pianoforte, §I, 6, fig.20). A seven-octave piano with the new mechanism was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1823, and the 12-year-old Franz Liszt made his sensational Paris début on one of Erard’s new instruments, following it up with his first London appearance on 21 June 1824. Liszt was so impressed by the precision, speed, vigour, clarity and sensitivity of touch made possible by the new instrument’s repetitition action, that he was inspired to compose his Huit variations op.1, dedicating them to Sébastien Erard. Sébastien was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1824, and an Officer in 1827.

See:Ann Gritthis :”Sebastien Erard”, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001),

The Royal College of Music has its own Erard harp which was owned by the Duke of Wellingtons family,and the link below takes you to a picture of it and also to more information about Erard and his firm.