‘L’orage des passions’: Expressing Emotion on the Eighteenth-Century French Single-action Harp

Hannah Lane


The single-action harp was introduced to France in the mid-eighteenth century. The instrument’s popularity reached its zenith in pre-revolutionary Paris as evidenced by the large number of method books and original compositions published for the instrument during this time. One of the first published references to this instrument was an entry in Diderot’s iconic Encyclopédie (1751-­1772) where the author states that the instrument is ‘most suited to expressing tenderness and pain than the other emotions of the soul’. Through reading across key contemporaneous pedagogical, literary and musical sources, with a particular focus on those of influential harpist, writer and pedagogue Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis (née Du Crest 1746-1830), this paper interrogates how these emotions were performed and expressed on the single-action harp. Recent scholarship has focused on the instrument’s social and gender role, in particular its radical feminisation, in which Genlis has been positioned as a major influence. This article builds upon this research to consider the gendered nature of emotions as expressed on the single-action harp as well as contextualising the instrument’s unique mode of musical-emotional expression within the new musical aesthetic of the late eighteenth century, the Galant and Empfindsamer styles.


single-action harp; emotion; eighteenth century; historical performance practice; gender

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