Buerger way, how sweet the sound is instrumental

The Aeolian Harp

See the German version

Once upon a time, when there was no surrounding noise in the world and man still had time for patient listening, he / she (?) invented the aeolian harp. To most of the readers it might be well known from literature but not by its sound.

Legends tell us from gut strings, drying in the air, which suddenly began to give sounds in the wind thus attracting the attention of the early "homo ludens".

It may have been like described by Dan Laske in the following mail he sent me ...:

When I was a teenager, my family spent summers by a lake in Minnesota (United States). There in the Midwest, we would have great thunderstorms which usually started with strong winds. One day, I was preparing for a coming storm by putting away some fishing poles that were sitting in our boat. The fishing line was taut as the hook was attached to the pole and the reel was wound tight to keep the line from getting tangled.
As I was moving the fishing pole, I held it up in the wind, which played the string and made it hum an eerie, haunting sound. I ended up ducking down so that the edge of the boat kept the wind from blowing in my ear, but held the pole up in the air and just listened to the changing song. I found that by pulling on the string, I could alter the pitch slightly. It sounded like a ghost moaning and I was captivated, listening until the rain started falling and the sound died.
That was over 25 years ago, and the memory of it has stuck with me ...

In Asia and Abyssinia aeolian harps together with its strings are still made of one single piece of bamboo (!!) (see literature).

King David tells us in an ancient midrash, that his harp or "Kinnor" sometimes began to sound: "Other kings slumber soundly through the entire night and are wakened up by the sunrise's rays of light; but I wake up at dawn. My harp is standing over my bed. At midnight the north wind, blowing through my chambers , causes the harp to sound by itself. These sounds awaken me and I spend the rest of the night singing psalms and hymns to praise God. "

Not being the first to discover the phenomenon of aeolian tones, i.e. self-sounding stringed instruments, the first exact description of the "modern" aeolian harp was made by the Jesuit and scientistAthanasius Kircher born in 1602 near Fulda / Germany; see his biography), who published in 1650 in Rome his "Musurgia Universalis" (see a German excerpt-translation of "Musurgia Universalis" from AD1662) and "Phonurgia nova" in 1973 (see a German excerpt translation also), both written in Latin originally. Here, he wrote very detailed about his experiences and developments concerning his new instrument.
By the way; unfortunately the scientific cabinet Kircher built up in Rome "Musaeo Kircheriani"(see short description)doesn't exist any more. Only little parts of it survived the centuries and can be seen in other museums in Rome.


The first Aeolian Harp
Kircher's "Machinamentum No.10" in his Musurgia Universalis

The due, having crafted the first instrument for the special purpose of generating aeolian tones, owes to Athanasius Kircher.
Therefore we can be sure he really is the inventor of the "machinamentum No.10" or "machina harmonica automata" as he called it and he surely spent a lot of time in listening and optimizing his "machine". For example he added wooden doors for directing / funneling the airstream onto the strings, discovering also that several tones can be heard on one single string at the same time etc.
Johann Jacob Hofmannwhat the first to give the name "Aeolium instrumentum"to this instrument in his of 1677.(see the original text)

The simple shape of the Aeolian Harp,
re-invented in England ...

... and the "sash window", being responsible for the instrument's form.
the harp was laid flat into the draft through the window's slit.

Now, please hear a sound example of an Aeolian Harp with Nylon-strings tuned in unison, the "classic" tuning method.

The aeolian harp is situated somewhere between music, physics, philosophy and romantic literature and it is difficult to decide whether it has to be considered as a real musical instrumentor just a simple automatic musical machineFor its charming melodies are a random music played by nothing else but the wind. It is the only string instrument made by man which is sounded directly by one of the four "elements" water, earth, fire and air.

"Sleeps a song in all things
Those who dream on and on
And the world begins to sing
Do you just hit the magic word "

(Joseph von Eichendorff)

"There sleeps a song inside all things
Dreaming therein forth and forth
And the world begins to sing
Can you guess the magic word ... "

(Joseph von Eichendorff)

(Joseph von Eichendorff)

By the way: there exists one unique instrument belonging to the "musical bow" group of musical instruments, where the
flat stringis BLOWNwith the mouth. The South-African "Goura", belonging to the family of musical bows ...

Due to the lack of an explanation concerning the way of how the aeolian harp generates a tone, the instrument was considered as an "acoustic prism" in analogy to the optical prism, dissecting the white light in its spectral colors. In a similar way, so it was thought, the aeolian harp can make audible the sounds normally being hidden in the wind ... (read the original text in English)

A charming way of explanation: The aeolian harp as a mediator between nature and man ...

The "Romantics", taking special care of the instrument, being sharp contradictors against a world being ruled exclusively by human ratio, complaint the increasing disenchanting of nature by the cold techniques of upcoming industrialization.
So Justinus Kerner is admonishing in a drastic manner the loss of sense of "nature-blindness" causing technique; it is time for keeping within and reflecting in our technique-depending on the world of 21st century ...:

In the railway station
Justinus Kerner 1824

At the railway station
Justinus Kerner 1824

No wanderer soon in high places,
To see God's world, stay longer
Soon everything with the speed of lightning
Rushes past nature.
Drive up, oh man! Drive it to extremes
From the steamship to the ship of the air:
Fly with the Aar, fly with the lightning,
Don't get any further than the crypt!

Soon no wanderer at high spot will tarry
for viewing god's world,
Soon everyone with haste of lightning
will pass by the nature.
Drive on, oh man, and take it to extremes,
From steamer up to the ship of the air,
Fly with the eagle, fly with the lightning,
You won't get further than to the burial vault!


Typical for the nature-linked mood of the "Romantics" is the poem of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" from 1820, it is the poet's desire, nature my play on him like an aeolian harp / lyre ...


Ode to the West Wind

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies ...

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

The aeolian harp's very special tones / tone combinations, resembling to the flageolet-tones of other string-instruments, cannotbe created by man by any "conventional" action on the strings whatever (like bowing, plucking rubbing etc.).

The instruments had its great period at the end of 18th century in England an Germany (but, strange fact, hardly known in other European countries), after the musical instrument was re-discovered around 1748 in London by a group of Scottish poets and musicians around J. Thomson, until the middle of the 19th century, when there was the beginning of industrialization and -the noise- which unfortunately has become an inevitable part of our daily life ...

So, as a contrast program, please hear a typical background "noise" recorded on a nice summer day 16. June 2001 at 14.35 o'clock on Weinsberg castle, where wonderful aeolian harps can be found, mentioned further on in the text. You can imagine the adversity when trying to do good recordings ...

W.hen thinking back to my childhood, I remember our family often standing at the wooden poles of the telephone line leading from the local glider airport to our hometown Weinheim. We were deeply fascinated by those "singing wires" and their random melodies, created by nothing else but a string of copper and the wind. In the last years some more good "wire-sites" with powerline- "aeolian harps" could be located in the neighborhood. But - alas - unfortunately, they disappear step by step due to "progress" bringing the cables under the earth, making them silent forever ...

The mysterious
"Singing Wires"

My first experiences with
aeolian tones at the poles
of telephone lines
Weinheim Airport
Photo of a family "staff-outing" in 1964

In case YOU should discover some good sounding wires in your neighborhood ... could you PLEASE send me a recording ...? Thank you!

To my first tones of a real aeolian harp I could listen, when building by myself the one pictured above, after having read the beautiful book of Christine Armengaud on Aeolian Musics (Musiques Éoliennes) in 1983.

Later I heard of the aeolian harps on the Weibertreu-castle in Weinsberg (motorway / Autobahn # A6 / A81), Southern Germany. The harps were built by order of the doctor poet Justinus Kerner (discovered Botulinus toxin in sausages, the most toxic agent of bacterias - now used for removing the women's nice wrinkles ...) who is still well remembered in Southern Germany. By the way, apparently J. Kern was also a kite addict, as shown by a steel engraving, where Kerner can be seen with a kite. The engraving can be seen in the Weibertreu Museum at Weinsberg.

The Weibertreu-castle is the only place with a 200 years old persisting tradition of aeolian harps, I actually know. In the old house of J. Kerner, a museum actually, two further aeolian harps were discovered in the magazine. We can keep in close attention ...

For the readers especially interested in the aeolian harps of Weibertreu castle lake Zumbroich other Sting (in German)


The aeolian harps were restaurated and re-tuned in winter 200/2001 by Mr. P. Schmidt, so a visit on Weibertreu-Castle at a windy day should be promising for an acoustic / optic enjoyment (direction East to North is best).

The aeolian harp in the ruins

The Aeolian Harp in the Ruin

In the crumbling wall of the tower
Sounds like gliding in the air
With strings almost half broken
A harp still full of sadness ...


(Justinus Kerner, 1839)

In the tower's broken wall
Still sounds by the air's gliding
With strings sometimes demi-torn
A harp full of mourning

(J. Kerner in 1939)

The author with the aeolian harp
of the tower's north side

For listening to the harps in summer, days with good winds from North to East are favorable, in foliage-free seasons you'll find good conditions with winds from North-West to East.

At a warm summer day in early July 2001, I had the pleasure to pass an unforgettable afternoon on Weibertreu castle together with Mr. Schmidt, who is the actual restaurator of the windharps, Mr. Manfred Wiedmann, a member of the Kerner-Verein and the two good spirits of the castle - the fearless castle-guard Mr. Stäbler, who knows all the old castle-stories and the castle's mother with her good cakes (!), Mrs. Betz.


Peter Schmidt (left) and Mr. Wiedmann
in front of the eastern embrasure containing
the instrument ...



Aeolian harp of the
eastern embrasure;
two choirs, 8 strings each;
wind guide on the right side ...


Triangular windharp with three choirs
northern embrasure

Shape: equalsided triangle
Strings: 6 strings / side
Noteworthy: View on the RESONATING STRINGS NOT being touched by the wind, when they sound!


In the middle of the old broken walls
there are some lime trees,
which together with
romantic roses give a fragrance really "sanspareil" ...


Unfortunately the leaves of the trees keep off the winds coming from the west side
commented by the aeolian harps with dignified

- silence -

So, the preferable wind directions in summer are North to East; in seasons without leaves all directions will cause sweet sounds ...



Here's a drawing of the
Woman faithful castle
at Weinsberg / Germany

The 4 aeolian harps are situated
in the walls of the "turret"
or Thick Tower
the castles's canon tower

(Tourist info. Tel .: +49 7134 512-0)

By the way; the castle is well known for a curious story which happened in the year 1140 ...

In late autumn of the year 1140, after besieging Weinsberg-castle for weeks, King Conrad III won the battle of Weinsberg against the house of Welf.
The losers of the battle had to hand over the castle to the King. Conrad wanted to show himself generous and granted the women in the castle permission to leave, allowing them to take with them whatever personal belongings they could carry ...
And the clever women outwitted the King:
Instead of taking personal household items, gold or other things of value, which the king obviously intended, the faithful women carried down the hill --- their husbands on their backs ...
And the King, putting on a brave face, laughingly let the women take down their valuable read ....

Following old delivered stories, the marching out of the besieged didn't turn out without disgraceful conditions for the men. Well documented by the lithographies, found in the Weibertreu Museum of Weinsberg ;-)))

... it is even told, that some men were remaining on the castle, left there by their wives (!!) ...
but even to those poor men King Conrad showed his grace, for living on with such a woman is enough punishment for a man - isn't it?

A.gainst such a mighty "woman's faith", the brave guardian of the castle, Mr. Stäbler, erected a very special bulwark - roguishly, he planted a beautiful bed of plants, in Germany called "men's faith", little flowers with light blue blossoms - and you won't believe it :
Those little flowers, normally well-known for their tender and somewhat feeble character (smile ...), these plants are prospering magnificently in such an enclosure (!) ...

You can convince yourself - and discuss the results of your contemplations while taking a good cup of coffee and a delicious cake baken by "castle-mother" Mrs. Betz ...

B.esides the aeolian harps, another attraction can be found inside of the "Canon Tower", built of nice yellow sandstone ...

The "Stone Album".

It consists of the names of famous castle visitors and friends of Justinus Kerner, the German doctor-poet. The "Stone-Album" is a representative choice of the Romanticism artists between 1770 and 1850. Poets, musicians, painters, philosophers, naturalists and medical men, theologians and statesmen, as well as the names of queens, princes and princesses can be found next to some engraved poetry full of atmosphere, written by poets remembering to the intellectual attitude of Romanticism ....

Another acoustic phenomenon can be heard when walking down the way from the castle down to the church. In a distance of 100 meters from the church, you can find in the wall on your left hand ...

... a stone
with the inscription ...

A beautiful (short) echo can be heard when shouting or clapping your hands in direction to the church.

In late summer, when leaves began to turn colorful, I spent a whole afternoon visiting that wonderful situated site listening to those heavenly sequences and accords, which were admired and loved so much by literates and scientists like ETA Hoffmann, Justinus Kerner, Clemens Brentano, Gattoni etc.

M.ost poets of those times tried to catch the spirit of the aeolian harp's sound, forming it to poetry.
So, please let me put here some lyric some 200 years old ...

But first, please listen to another aeolian harp ) *. mp3 format, 120sec, 200k) NOT tuned to unison ...


"I saw an harp strung with silver twine;
at length out of the river it was rear'd;
and borne about the clouds to be divined:
Whilst all the way most heavenly noise was heard
of the strings stirred with the warbling wind. "

(Spencer, Ruins of Time)


I.n the 18th and 19th century it became a romantic custom in Germany to place aeolian harps at mysterious sites like ruined castles, parks and caverns. A lot of poems and field names still remember to that old custom, which obviously made a deep impression on the audience visiting those spots.


"Et j'éprouve en mon coeur pour ce vague domaine,
Ce monde des esprits si calme et si charming,
Une ardeur dont j'avais perdu le sentiment;
Mon chant flotte, pareil à la harpe éolienne,
In sons mystérieux dans la vapeur sereine. "



... the right place for an aeolian harp ...
the rock with the name

"Aeolus' Cavern"
in the mystic rock-landscape-garden
of "Sanspareil" near Hollfeld (Frankonia / Germany) ...

... which will awake, as is to be hoped, from its
long sleep at a fine day ...


Sanspareil Castle ...
the theater of rocks ....


"And I am seized by a long weaned longing
After that quiet, serious spirit realm;
It now hovers in indefinite tones
My lisping song, like the Aeolian harp;
A shudder seizes me, tears follow tears;
The strict heart, it feels mild and soft;
What I own I see in the distance
And what has disappeared becomes a reality for me. "
(Fist, Appropriation; Goethe's Complete Works. Cotta 1840)

And I am seized by a long forgotten yearning
For that kingdom of spirits, still and grave;
To flowing song I see my feelings turning,
As from aeolian harps, wave upon wave;
A shudder grips me, tear on tear falls burning,
Soft feels my heart, once so severe and brave;
What I possess, seems far away to me,
And what is gone becomes reality.


Aeolian harps were installed in scientific cabinets where they were made sounding by simply making a through draft when the window was opened, a big surprise to visitors ...

A joke, delightful even for the inventor of this instrument, Athanasius Kircher as reported by his friend Caspar Schottin his "Mechanica Hydro-Pneumatica" (see original text in Latin):

"So hear, what happened to Pater Kircher in Rome:
It was in a summernight, that he had installed his instrument (aeolian harp) in his room between two open doors, and a slight breeze, blowing from the monastery's garden, played a delightful melody.
All were gone to bed and the monastery's servant, according to his duties, made his tour throughout the whole house, when this man believed to hear the sound of an organ; this unusual occurrence frightening him.
He stopped, surprised by the apparent existence of an organ in the lodging, and that it was played at such an unusual time.
After a short searching he observed the sound coming from Kircher's room.
He stepped in and asked Kircher at a quiet voice to tell him, where the organ is hidden in his room and by whom it is played. The Pater began to lough.
The door was closed now and nothing could be heard any more.
Kircher offered the servant, to closely examine his room and to take with him the organ - so he would find one.
But the official examinator, not able to find the slightest trace of an organ, drew back.

But just at the moment when he stepped over the door-sill, the sound, which had frightened him so much, sounded again, due to the draft-through re-established by the opening of the door.
So he returned, complaining himself as having been deluded, and compelled Kircher to finally show him the hidden organ.
Until finally, after having discovered the truth, he couldn't stop admiring the ingenious mechanism of the instrument and giving reverences to the genius of Kircher. "


"Ghost Tower" with aeolian harps on the platform
in the garden of J. Kerner's house in 1886
(seen from the South


Here's the most famous poem
on aeolian harps
by Eduard Mörike
written in 1837:

"To an aeolus harp"

"To an Aeolian Harp"

Leaning on the ivy wall
That old terrace
You, an air-born muse
Mysterious string playing,
To start,
Start again
Your melodic lament!

Leaning against the ivy-covered wall
This old terrace,
You, an air-borne muse's
String-melody full of mystery,
Begin again
Your melodious lament!

You come, winds, far across,
Oh! of the boy
Who was so dear to me
Fresh green hill.
And grazing the spring blossoms on the way,
oversaturated with fragrances,
How sweetly you press this heart!
And purrs into the strings
Attracted by melancholy melancholy,
Growing in the train of my longing
And dying again.

You come here, winds, from far away,
Alas! from the boy's,
I loved so much
Freshly green turning hill.
And touching spring blossoms while passing,
Oversaturated with sweet fragrances,
How sweet you're tempting this heart!
And whispering here into the strings,
Attracted by harmonious melancholy,
Increasing with the draft of my desire,
And dying down again.

But suddenly,
As the wind blows harder
A gentle cry from the harp
Repeatedly, to my sweet fright,
Sudden impulse of my soul;

But suddenly,
As the wind swoops here harder,
A charming scream of the harp,
Echoes, me to sweet fright,
my soul's sudden excitement;

And here - the full rose scatters, shaken,
All their leaves at my feet!

And here - the full rose strews, shaken,
All its petals in front of my feet!

I.n 1785, Italian scientists tried to use the phenomenon aeolian harp for scientific purposes in order to predict the weather (see experiments of the Abbate Gattoni in Como / Italy). So the name "weather-harp" or "giant harp" as a synonym for the aeolian harp came up due of its very long strings.

The Gattoni tower still exists ...

Gattoni's experiments were continued in Basle, Switzerland, by Mr. Ventan and Mr. Haas:

"In 1787 Mr. Ventan, Prior of Burkli near Bale, made a" weather harp "made of fifteen iron wires with a length of 320 feet (104m). It was placed in Mr. Haas' garden, the wires in a distance of about 8cm, tightened by the aid of big cylinders. The smallest string had a diameter of 2mm, the biggest one 13mm. They were strung in North-South direction forming an angle of 30 ° with the horizon. With the changes of the wind, the harp made sounds such strong, that it drowned all sounds of the house nearby and almost terrified the inhabitants. Sometimes the vibrating imitated the noise of boiling water in a kettle, sometimes the playing of a far away harmonica, the sound of a church bell or an organ. Once it was tried to change the string's orientation to East-West but under those conditions the strings produced no sound any more. In conclusion, a secret action of electricity or magnetism was assumed "
("Magazine Pittoresque", 1845, p.116)

Read a copy of it (in German) from Lichtenberg's "Göttinger Taschenkalender" of 1789.

(...) I continued my journey, over the lake to Codelago - or properly Capo di Lago - to Como. Here I met Mr. Professor Volta from Pavia, who lodged at a friend of him, Mr. Canonicus Gattoni, a lover of physics, who had made observations on the wire-barometer or so-called "Giant Harp", from which Mr. Volta had seen a wire at my father in Basle. Mr. Gattoni had strung 12 of such side by side, after having made the experience, that the wires had to be strung in the direction of the magnetic line (magn. Field of the earth), and that iron-wires only give a tone . I reported this to my father, who immediately let string in the same manner in his garden 12 wires, which often made a mighty noise (...)
(Report on a journey undertaken in 1786 by Wilhelm Haas. Excerpt of a diary 1766-1838; Baseler Papiermühle (Basle papermill); 1997

Indeed, this harp was so famous, that according to Kastner it was mentioned as a sight of Basle town;

"A brief description of the city and the canton of Basel: a handbook for foreigners and locals. In addition to a guide from Basel through all of Switzerland and to the most excellent cities in Germany and France" / [Markus Lutz] printed by Samuel Flick, Basel, 1811, p .10:
(...) In the garden of Mr. Haas one notices a special sort of barometer, called "Aeolian Harp". This piece is worth to be seen and is composed of different brass wires, arranged in a special manner and stretched out from South to North. When the weather is about to change, the strings make a harmonic tone to be heard. (...)

The scientist E.F.F.Chladni, who for the first time realized the wind being the reason for the harp's vibrations (Acoustics), added, that it was intended to take down this weather-instrument ... for one feared a harmful effect on the solidity of the house nearby, due to the instruments powerful vibrations ...
But according to travel guides, both, "Weatherharp" and the dwelling persisted without being damaged at least until the year 1818 ...

E.F.F.Chladni in his "Acoustics" (p.239) tells about similar experiences made by Gaetano Berettari reported by Carradori in the Annali di Chimica e Storia Naturale. Published by Brugnatelli in Pavia / Italy, 18B., In 1800.

I.n 1846 it was discovered, that the wires of telegraph-lines produced sounds comparable to those of aeolian harps.
So Georges Kastner wrote in his excellent book in 1856 "La Harpe d'Éole":

"... It was discovered, that the electric telegraph line, which crosses the" Rhein "river between Strasbourg and Kehl is one of the sites with the best conditions for a frequent and beautiful sounding; because, near the river, the wind almost always blows with more or less intensity.

An ancient railway
with telegraph masts of former times
producing fine wire sounds
near Baienfurt / Ravensburg in Southern Germany ...

... The two wires, the telegraph line consists of, are strung from one river bank to the other without any intermediate support in a manner, that a length of more than 300m is achieved at this site. The wooden poles, one positioned on the French bank, the other on the German bank, have a height of almost 25 meters and a diameter of 30cm.
It happened, that one fine day's morning in 1855 the East-wind was blowing with a great violence against the wires in an acute angle of approximately 30 °. At this moment, the observator, who was going to sit down near the pole on the German side of the river, could hear something like a far ringing of church bells. In the evening, the North-wind, which followed the East-wind of the morning and which didn't blow such strong but perpendicular to the wires in a manner, that the air-music sounded lower. Nevertheless one could distinguish the three tones "sol, la, si", alternating without any crescendo or decrescendo in almost the same intensity. In the meantime from the French side the alternating notes "sol, si" could be heard and every time the wind blew harder, the fifth appeared, completing the harmony.
When pressing the ear to the wooden pole, which served as a resonance body, besides of the perfect harmony's sound you could distinguish very nicely the lower octave of the basic-tone ...

This effect occurred (and still occurs!) at sites, where wind met telegraph wires under suitable conditions. So also people were concerned who weren't busy at all with those most important scientific problems around the aeolian harp ...
At Thursday, 19th December in 1850 the people of Paris could read in the magazine "L'Assemblée Nationale":


The explication of the aeolian harp's acoustic phenomenons was hard stuff for the scientists of 19th century and make us smile today.

"My harp hangs on a blasted branch; the sound of its strings is mournful. Does the wind touch thee, oh arp! Or it is some passing ghost?". ("The Works of Ossian", by James MacPherson, 1765)

Read in German on the theory of the Aeolian Harp by Matthew Young ...
Some scientists assumed an influence of electricity and saw a coincidence with electric telegrams transmitted through the wires following an article TELEGRAPHY & mdash; THE VICTORIAN INTERNET by Tom Standage:

(...) "And there was a widespread belief that it was possible to hear the messages as they passed along the wires. According to a book, Anecdotes of the Telegraph, published in 1848," a very general but erroneous idea, even among the better order of folks, is that the humming aeolian harp-like effect of the wind on the suspended wire is caused by the messages passing. & rdquo; A typical story concerned a telegraph operator who worked in a station in the Catskill Mountains, where the wind often whistled through the wires. One day a local man asked how business was doing. & ldquo; Lively, & rdquo; said the operator. & ldquo; Well, I didn & rsquo; t think so, & rdquo; said the man, & ldquo; I ain & rsquo; t heard a dispatch go up in three or four days. & rdquo; (...)

Others made responsible secret atmospheric influences and E.F.F.Chladni (see an article on Chladni sound patterns) was the first who found the right answer, that the vibrations are due to the interaction of wind with the wires. Vincenc Strouhal was the first, who explained the phenomenons caused by air flowing around a cylindrical body (like a wire) generating alternating vortexes. (read excerpt of the German original text, also the interaction of airflow with iced wires in Alaska as a modern extreme example and some literature concerning aeolian tones generated by vortex shedding) ... also have a look to a practical experiment in the bathtub...:-))

In the 20th century, the Kármán vortex streets were discovered as mechanism being responsible for the string's vibrating.

Animated discussion on the sound ...
below the

Suspended Aeolian Harp

Hear a sound -sample ...


Which are the properties of an aeolian harp?
In her beautiful book "Musiques Éoliennes", Christine Armengaud writes:

(...) At the "grand ball of winds", the aeolian harp is presenting itself with a mask:
From the harp is has nothing but its name; from the zither only the form. Its acoustic functioning is deriding most of the principles, which determine the fabrication of other string instruments:


  • Mainly the tension of the string and not its length determines the tuning of the string.

  • In contrary; the length of the string is responsible for the intensity of the tones: The longest strings will produce the loudest tones.

  • The diameter of the string plays an important role: It is the relation of wind velocity and diameter of the string which is responsible for the frequency of the tone.

  • By the way, it exists an interaction of the strings themselves: The shorter the single strings are, the more it becomes desirable to place them close to another in order to facilitate the strings influence one another and therefore the beginning of vibration.

  • Finally, the stronger the wind is, the higher the pitches of the sounds will be.

Which tones can be heard on an aeolian harp?

  • The tones of an aeolian harp are mostly the harmonics of a string. The ground-tone, that is the tone if the string is plucked, is of low intensity and can seldom be heard.

  • Often, several tones at one time can be heard on only one string. Depending on the wind-speed, new tones appear, while other tones begin to disappear.

In which way the harp should be tuned?

  • The picture above (courtesy Kastner) shows that the progression of tones (with an assumed basic tone) isn't linearso it cannot be recommended to tune the strings in different tones, for example prime, third, fifth or so, because otherwise unpleasant dissonances would appear. The only exception is the tuning in an octave.
    The frequencies behave as follows:

    1 is the basic tone / tuned / audible tone (when plucked) of the string with the frequency "x",
    2. second partial tone / harmonic with frequency 2 times "x"
    3. third partial tone / harmonic frequency 3 times "x" and so forth ...
    Please note: The tones marked with a star seem to be tuned not "right" for our ear, because we are used to hear the so called "equal tempered scale" tuning. So, for our "well trained ears", the two "b" notes and the "a" seem to be tuned too low and the "f" too high. The reason for that "strange" fact is that the aeolian harp has a natural (= physical) tuning, however, but "natural" is not the way of tuning in our normal musical instruments, we can buy and use todays.

  • It is recommended to use strings of different diameters (materials?) Tuned on the same tone to get good vibrations at different wind speeds.

  • It is recommended to optimize the loudness of sound by adjusting the string's tuning to the acoustic properties of the resonance body, i.e. to its resonance frequency. This can be done by either recording the "knocking tone" of the resonance body and analyzing the frequencies with a computer. The peaks represent the resonance frequencies.
    The simplest way of determining resonance frequency is to hum into the soundhole (not too close in order not to change the resonance tone) while holding one hand onto the middle of the bottom part. When the resonance tone of the instrument is reached, the vibrations of the bottom has its maximum.

    Resonance frequencies
    obtained by knocking
    on my "Travel Aeolian Harp"

    That special tone, which causes the maximum "response" of the instrument corresponds to the resonance frequency of the aeolian harp's body. In the ready harp, the resonance frequency can be changed by changing the size of the sound hole (bigger or more soundholes = higher resonance frequency)

"basic / simple" -aeolian harp without a resonance box;
Instead of this a well working "amplifier" in the form of a bent plywood board is used.
Photo by "Les Ventcourtoises", at the "Wind-Musical-Garden", kite firmly in Dieppe in 2002


In his book, Georges Kastner (1865)has some nice plates with examples of aeolian harps:
Plate 1 otherPlate 2are showing some forms with wooden boards forming wind-channels in order to "concentrate" the airflow onto the strings; i.e. to get a higher wind speed.
Plate 3 with even more sophisticated wind channels forming a Venturi-tube like structure.
Plate 4 show among others some nice drawings of primitive windsock-like kites, which carry aeolian harps inside of their structure.
Plate 5 with trials of bridging the string acting as a filter for generating specially desired tones, a sort of loudspeaker, an aeolian psalter and the idea of ​​a whole aeolian organ ...

Here's a rough drawing of a simple aeolian harp:

The measures of a harp are for example 1010mm x 108mm x 47mm:
The single parts:
Bottom and Top: 1010 x 108 x 6mm;
Side parts: 1010 x 35 x 4mm;
End blocks: 100 x 100 x 35mm.
The length of the strings between the bridges is 800mm.
I'd recommend to place the bridges on the free part of the top and not over the end blocks. Thus, the vibrations are transmitted better into the free swinging part of the top, where there is no end block underneath.

For the top, bottom and both side-parts beech, pine, sitka spruce, cherry or mahogany wood can be used. The wood should be straight grained, quarter sewn and with as many annular rings as possible. The end-blocks of maple should be cut so that the grain runs at a right angle to the tuning pegs.For the bridges some beautiful hardwood like ebony, African Blackwood or rosewood can be used.
As a rule, one sound hole is sufficient. It is recommended to make it in the form of a "rosette", because if made just as a round hole, the wind can blow in like in a flute hole, so able to generate a deep dull tone.
Gluing is made with white wood glue and clamps are used to hold the parts in position. Be careful when clamping soft woods like pine, it bruises easily!
For the string fixing I'm using zither-nails and zither-tuning-pegs, nickel or brass-plaited. Special fitting tuning keys are available from your local music shop.

Nylon strings of a diameter of 0.6-0.8mm I found sounding well; braided strings of polyamide or even better "dyneema" strings are better. Metal strings like the "E" -string (0.3mm) from a guitar tend to give unpleasant high (!) Pitches. It is exciting to use strings of different diameters and surfaces, braided ones or such with an even surface like monofilament nylon.

Own trials on the occasion of different presentations (Wind Musical Gardens) elad me to the idea of ​​a hanging harp, suspended over the heads of the audience.
Hear a sound sample of such a harp, tuned NOT in unison as an exception (* .mp3 format, 120sec, 200k).

The advantages of the hanging harp are ...

  1. The lacking wind-gradient. Near the ground the wind speed decreases rapidly due to ground friction. The higher over the ground, the better is it, the smaller the gradient effect and the higher the wind speed.

  2. So, when hanging horizontally, there is the same wind speed along the whole string. Ideal conditions for the "working part" of the instrument. Thus the "stimulation" of the strings is optimized.

  3. In a horizontal position of the strings, the size of the "wind-window" is maximized. This means that the sum of the usable wind-directions (the harp position is not changed!) Is over 90 ° (!); impossible when the harp is standing upright!

  4. Depending on the manner of suspending, the harp can follow directly to the wind by slowly turning itself / its strings against the wind; thus all possible wind-directions are usable.

  5. Normally, spectators in the windward side of the harp cause a "wind-shadow" or at least undesired vortices; so, the harp commonly stops playing just then, when an interested person is approaching ... Therefore it makes sense to position the harp over the heads of the audience.

In case you like the aeolian string-sounds and you have a room-door you don't know what to do with ... then have a look on the Door Windharp ... It has a nice sound and doesn't disturb your daily life at all; in contrary ...

For further information, see Arthur Robb, a Wiltshire / England lutemaker with his posting about making an aeolian harp.

The best books so far are the volumes of Bonner et al. (in Engl.), Georges Kastner (!) (in French), Mins Minssen et al. (!) (in German)

In case you can speak Italian, don't miss the most comprehensive article of Paolo d'Angelo about the history of the aeolian harp and its role in romantic literature and poetry!

The main fact opposing the renaissance of aeolian harps is our modern world's noise all over. Even in rural areas tractors, milking machines or power saws are a common "acoustic pollution". Nevertheless modern artists still continue making sound-sculpture using the principles of aeolian harps.
So see Freddy de Vos "Love Song", a bed for real pleasures ...
See some nice links to sound-artists, lutemakers etc.

Recently J. Lienhard (Author of "Aeolian vibration ") recommended a good article on the aeolian harp by Hankins and Silverman , which deals intensively with the instrument's origin, history and its significance for philosophy and science.

Don't miss to havaa look on the site on galopping transmission lines (video!) as a BIG example of aeolian harps ...

See Henry Gurr's beautiful aeolian harp of stainless steel ...

... and Greg Joly's Windharp-site


A nice example of a windharp playable from two opposite sides is the instrument of Mr. Wolfgang Schütz of Edermünde / Germany (pict. Below). In 2005 he hung his harp into the rock called "Hollow Stone" in the park of the castle "Altenstein" near "Bad Liebenstein". The instrument is situated exactly in the place where the duke George let install the first aeolian harp about 100 years ago. The original instrument, like others too, went lost in the chaos of second world war.

Mr. Schütz 'aeolian harp in Altenstein-castle's
parc near Bad Liebenstein


The main reason standing against a renaissance of the aeolian harp is our "modern" environment with its undesired noise all over ...; there are difficulties to produce good recordings. For even in rural countries, there are noises of airplanes, milking machines, motor saws or tractors causing "acoustic pollution".
It is impossible to make recordings on (kite) festivals, for without loudspeakers apparently nothing works ....

A suitable room for "pure sounds" could be for example a salt mine (dry!); in the short circuit of the mine air supply in absolutequietness ...; may be in Bad Friedrichshall in the visitor's part of the mine? One should do a request ...
Nevertheless modern artists succumb to the charming sounds of the aeolian harp and build sound-sculptures using the principles of it.

Aeolian harps can be seen in different museums of Germany:
The Germanic National Museum Nuremberg (Germanic National Museum Nuremberg) provides some harps. (lake Cunning)

  • AEolian Harp (A.H) with equal-sided triangular cross-section; 2 string plains;
    1st. helped 19th. century. Inv.No. MIR 736;

  • (A.H) with trapeze-shape cross-section; 2 string plains by Fischer;
    1st. helped 19th. century. Inv.No. MIR 735;

  • (AH) exceptional construction with semi-circle cross-section;
    Germany, around 1830, Inv.No. MIR 738 in the moment (state 9/2001) part of the exhibition in the musical instruments division.

  • (A.H) with rectangular cross-section and one string-plain, with wind-directing funnel,
    1st. half of 19th. century; Inv.No. MIR 734;

  • (A.H) with wind funnel by Wilhelm Melhop(!!)
    Hamburg 1841, Inv.No. MIR 739.

    Among all aeolian harps those made by W. Melhop in Hamburg were the sophisticated ones. (Prices at the world exhibition at Paris); the airflow, generated by simply walking around, was enough for sounding his harps ...

In Stuttgart, Southern Germany the Musical Instruments Collection of the Württemberg State Museum
(House "Fruchtkasten") provides a beautiful example of an Aeolian Harp by R.M.Thurau, Wiesbaden 1991 (see below).

together with nice recordings ...
in the background Kerners' "Ghost Tower" ...

In the Hamburg Museum so two Melhop Wind Harps can be found:
Inv.No. 1912.1571 and Inv.No. 1912.1572

Hamburg Museum of art and trade three Melhop Harps:
Inv.No. 1904.233, 1986.252 and 1986.253

Museum for Hamburg's History:
Inv.No. 1929,295 and 1929,296 Harps in shape of triangular prisms
with 6 strings on both wind-touched sides each.

Here some nice links to sound-artists, luthiers etc.

They best "day" -time for listening aeolian harps is - theNIGHT.

The sound enhancement - even better - is a

starlit snow-night in winter...

This astonishing fact has different reasons:

  1. By night, all environment noises of nature and civilization have its minimum. So the sounds of the aeolian harp will be percepted more distinctly. Snow causes additionally a far better damping of noises ..

  2. During the night, the air temperature has its minimum, therefore the air density has its maximum.
    Accordingly, at this time the conditions for sound generation and conducting as best. In winter the air is even more cold and dense.

  3. The sun warms up the air during the day causing thermals, uprising airflows, which are responsible for gusty winds on the ground.
    Gusty wind makes the strings "badly speaking". The sound generation is impeded.
    At night there is no sun, thus there are no thermals (reduced in winter even during the day) and the air is flowing downhill (mountain wind) regularly like oil, even better over snow !!
    The result are best conditions
    for a long lasting, beautiful aeolian concert.

  4. Due to the concentration of cold air on the ground,the boundary layer between cold air on the ground and warm air above, is reflecting the sound back to the ground. The result is a much better range / performance of a sound event in comparison with during-day-conditions
    (see also the original text of an article by D.Bruckmann from 1726 (in German only)


Do you like pure romantic?... then don't miss ...
... on a fragrant meadow... under the sounds of an aeolian harp moved by the night wind, during an warm, starlit summernight around the 15th. of August, to watch thestream of shooting stars of the "Perseides"...
Under such conditions, everyone who's seeing a falling star has one free wish ...

Sometimes ... sometimes I'm dreaming in complete secrecy of the noise-free acoustic scenery of the year 1790
Joseph von Eichendorff has caught this mood in a little poem:

If people's loud lust is silent,

The loud pleasure of mankind being silent,

The earth rushes like in dreams

The earth is sighing like in dreams

Wonderful with all trees.

Wonderfully with all its trees.

What the heart is hardly aware of:

What to the heart is hardly conscious,

Old times, mild sadness.

Old times, slight sorrow.

And there are faint showers

And silent showers are roaming

Illuminated by the weather through the chest.

Sheet-lightningly through the chest.

(Joseph von Eichendorff; "On the life of a good-for-nothing")


I wish you much pleasure with your aeolian harp (see another example of a hanging harp) and with your experiments. And keep me on with your results; I'm always interested to exchange ...

See an article on Aeolian Harps in Scientific American of 1885.

"Castle of Indolence"

Each sound too here to Languishment inclin'd,
Lull'd the weak Bosom, and induced Ease.
Aerial music in the warbling wind,
At distance rising often, by small degrees,
Nearer and nearer came, till o'er the trees
It hung, and breath'd such soul-dissolving airs,
As did, alas! with soft perdition please:
Entangled deep in its changing snares,
'The listening Heart forgot all Duties and all Cares.


A certain music, never known before,
Here sooth'd the pensive melancholy Mind;
Full easily obtain'd. Behoves no more,
But sidelong, to the gently-waving wind,
To lay the well-tun'd instrument reclin'd;
From which, with airy flying Fingers light,
Beyond each mortal touch the most refin'd,
The god of Winds drew Sounds of deep Delight:
Whence, with just Cause, The Harp of Aeolus it hight.


Ah me! what hand can touch the strings so fine?
Who up the lofty Diapasan roll
Such sweet, such sad, such solemn Airs divine,
Then let them down again into the Soul?
Now rising Love they fan'd; now pleasing Dole
They breath'd, in tender musings, through the heart;
And now a graver sacred strain they stole,
As when Seraphic Hands an Hymn impart:
Wild warbling Nature all, above the Reach of Art!


(James Thomson, 1748)


Last but not least ... have a glance on the "Standard Wind Harp"; my favorite ...


P.S .: do youknow some moreLiteratureor sources of Kite Instruments or Chinese / Javanese / Balinese ... etc. Pigeon Whistles, other Aeolian Instruments?
Do you know people, who manufacture such instruments?
Please let me know, THANKS!
Ideas, criticism, questions or some more links ...?
Please give me the opportunity to improve these pages for you,
so please
Mailme up your opinion, thank you YOU!
Developed and completed by
Uli Wahl, All Rights Reserved

Back to Kite Musical Instruments / Aeolian Instruments Mainpage






German Version following .....








See English version

E.inst, at a time long past, when the all-enveloping soundscape of our modern world did not yet exist and man still had the time to patiently listen, you / he discovered the principle of the aeolian harp.

Legends tell of strings made from animal intestines to dry, or "ordinary" stringed instruments that suddenly began to sing in the wind and thus attracted the attention of the early "homo ludens".

It could have happened in a similar way back then, as described in a letter from Dan Laske in autumn 2004 ...:

When I was a teenager, my family spent summers by a lake in Minnesota, USA. There were large thunderstorms in the Midwest that usually started with strong winds. One day I was preparing for an approaching storm and removed some fishing poles that were attached to our boat. The fishing line was taut when the hook was attached to the fishing rod and the winch was coiled tightly to keep the line from getting tangled.
As I moved the fishing rod, I held it up into the wind; when he began to play on the fishing line and let it hum in an eerie, haunted sound.
It ended with me crouching down in the boat so that the high side of the ship would keep the wind from blowing into my ear; I kept the fishing rod in the air and just listened to the changing sound. I found that I could easily change the pitch by pulling on the fishing line. It sounded like a ghostly groan and I was so captivated that I kept listening until the rain began to fall and the sound died away.
That was over 25 years ago and the memory of it stuck in me ...


In Asia and Abyssinia, today's Ethiopia, aeolian harps and their strings are still made from a single piece (!!) of bamboo (see literature).

The Talmud also reports that the harp or Hebrew "Kinnor"King David, which hung over the bed of the Prophet, made harmonious sounds heard at midnight as the north wind blew. The king, who was often awakened to these sounds, then usually went to study the scriptures. (Jerusalem Talmud; German Obs. V.Ch. Horowitz, p. 1975, Bd1. Berakhoth E1, p.14f):


The first exact description of the wind harp as we know it today comes from the Jesuit priest and polymath, famous for many inventionsAthanasius Kircher  (born 1602 near Fulda, see life story and lit. on life's work)who in 1650 wrote his "Musurgia Universalis" and later the "Phonurgia nova"published and described his experiments and development work on this instrument "Machinamentum X". Incidentally, the scientific cabinet, which he set up at the time, still exists ... Only small parts of the one that was very famous in the baroque era Musaeo Kircherianican still be viewed in Rome.
See also a German excerpt translation of Kircher's original Latin work, made A.D. 1662 (Machinamentum 9 there!). as well as a German translation from 1684 of his "Phonurgia Nova" ...


The first "Aeolian harp"
A.Kircher's "Machinamentum 10." in Musurgia Universalis


Athanasius Kircher is the real inventor of the aeolian harp because he was the first to build a special, hitherto unknown instrument in order to evoke the special sounds produced by the wind on strings in a targeted and optimized manner.
He certainly spent a lot of time listening to his instrument and further improving his "wind sensitivity", for example by adding wooden wind guiding shutters. He was also the first to describe that several different tones can be heard simultaneously on a single string, etc.

Kircher called the instrument he developed "machinamentum No.10" (Machinamentum 9th in the Bächlinger translation) or "machina harmonica automata", a jukebox that plays by itself. The credit for the naming probably goes to Johann Jakob Hofmann, who in 1677 in his Lexicon Universalegave the instrument the name "Aeolium Instrumentum", i.e. aeolian instrument (see original text)

Most readers may be familiar with the aeolian harp or wind harp from literature, but very few know its magical sound.

The simple figure of the one in England
"reinvented" aeolian harp ...

... and that is so important for this simple form
Sliding window ("sash-window"),
in whose air stream the instrument was placed

Therefore you will first hear the sound sample of the wind harp shown here.

The Aeolian harp is somewhere between the music, physics and literature of Romanticism and it is difficult to decide whether it is a real musicalinstrumentrepresents or just a simple musicvending machineswhose charming random melody is generated by nothing but the passing wind ...

"There is a song sleeping in all things
Those who dream on and on
And the world begins to sing
Do you just hit the magic word "
(Joseph von Eichendorff)


It is the only man-made string instrument that is made to sound using one of the four free elements earth, fire, water and air.
By the way: There is actually only one musical instrument in the world, the string with the mouth
BLOWN IN becomes. The South African "Goura"which belongs to the group of musical arcs ...)

In the absence of a conclusive explanation regarding the sound generation of the Aeolian harp, it was at times regarded as an "acoustic prism" in analogy to the optical prism, by means of which white light is broken down into its spectral colors.In a similar way, it was thought, the Aeolian harp shows the notes hidden in nature or in the wind (... read the original text ...).

An enchanting idea - the wind harp as a mediator between nature and man ...

What are romantics? To put it in the words of Novalis accept:

(...) By giving the common a lofty meaning, the ordinary a mysterious prestige, the known the dignity of the unknown, the finite an infinite semblance, I romanticize it. (...)

The romantics, "naturally" committed opponents of an exclusively rational world, who took on the wind harp in a special way, lamented the increasing disenchantment of nature by the sciences and technology of the emerging industrialization.

J. Kerner complains (see below) in the last stanza of his poem "In the railway station"drastically the loss of meaning of the technology that causes" natural blindness ";
- In our technology-dependent world of the twenty-first century, the lines remind us to pause and think ...

In the railway station
Justinus Kerner 1824

No wanderer soon in high places,
To see God's world, stay longer
Soon everything with the speed of lightning
Rushes past nature.
Drive up, oh man! Drive it to extremes
From the steamship to the ship of the air:
Fly with the Aar, fly with the lightning,
Don't get any further than the crypt!

Typical for the nature-loving mood of the romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley's Poem "Ode to the West Wind"from the year 1820, in which the poet wishes nature would play on him like on an aeolian harp / lyre ...

Ode to the West Wind

Ode to the west wind