The Chicago-born global master of harp manufacturing, Victor Salvi, died May 10, at age 95. A renowned concert harpist, he re-engineered the instrument in 1954 while playing in in orchestras in New York. In 1955, Salvi emigrated to his ancestral home, Italy, where he assembled a dozen cabinetmakers in Genoa, and began building harps commercially.

Made of Michigan maple and Italian red spruce, Salvi's harp bears some similarities to a grand piano, turned on its end. Tightly wound strings place thousands of pounds of pulling force against the instrument's frame. Piano soundboards are reinforced with metal, making them much heavier. But

 

harps must be more portable, weighing in at about 90 lbs. So the structural design of the frame is critical.

Salvi made harps louder,  improved the mechanical works, and strengthened the design of the wood frame. He also inaugurated use of polyurethane finishes, and in recent years continued to develop the

wood structure using computer design. In 1987 Salvi acquired Chicago harp manufacturer Lyon & Healy, which continues to manufacture harps domestically.

Salvi says solid Michigan maple is selected to guarantee that thei harps are stable and long-lasting. For the soundboard, red spruce from the forests of the Val di Fiemme in Trentino is used. This is the same wood that was used by Antonio Stradivarius to construct his violins. The neck is made from beech and maple plywood which ensures high resistance to torsion. These particular woods also help protect the instrument from the force of the strings which, in turn, maintains tuning.

As a musician, Victor Salvi played under Arturo Toscanini, and as an engineer, Salvi is credited with  the largest modern progressions of the instrument. Salvi Harp's provides this history of the firm's founder: 

Alberto, Aida and Victor Salvi are the children of a Venetian violin maker, Rodolfo Salvi, who moved to Viggiano, a small city in southern Italy famous for the construction of harps. In the early 20th century, the Salvi family moved to the United States, where their passion for this instrument sealed the destiny of the three youngsters. Alberto Salvi was to be defined by the celebrated Nicanor Zabaleta as "the greatest harpist of all time". Aida Salvi became a composer and harpist with the Chicago Opera. Victor Salvi became a harpist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the NBC Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini.

This was the year and place of birth of the first Salvi harp. The proud “father” was Victor Salvi, who had decided to revive his family’s instrument-making tradition. With the collaboration of a few craftsmen, he aspired to create a harp that would surpass the sound and craftsmanship of all existing harps and proceeded to construct the first prototype. In 1956, Victor Salvi moved back to Italy and founded his company in a splendid site, Villa Maria, in Genoa. The 16th-century Villa Maria soon became a landmark for musicians interested in a new and revolutionary line of harps: Salvi harps.

Victor Salvi and the ancient Marquisate of Saluzzo, in the Italian region of Piemonte: this was not a mere coincidence. Wood craftsmanship sinks its roots deeply into this land: from master carpenters, to wood sculptors and marquetry craftsmen. This craftsmanship tradition gave rise to a sense of culture and excellence that won over Victor Salvi. This is why he decided to move his company to Saluzzo to further perfect his harps and transform Salvi Harps into an exclusive and prestigious brand name.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Victor Salvi moved his firm to Piasco, a small town in the southern Varaita Valley, near Saluzzo. This was the beginning of a new chapter in Salvi history. The concept and philosophy were new. The capacity to optimize the sound of this instrument was new. Even the commitment to fulfilling the needs of every individual harpist, from the aspiring beginner, to the celebrated professional was new. Salvi began creating a wide range of harps, of unique and inimitable quality. These harps became known and coveted worldwide as Salvi Harps.

See slide show on Salvi Harps>>

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.