Featured Harp Guitar of the Month

"Chitarra monumentale"
and its relation to the Gazzo harp guitars of Pasquale Taraffo

by Gregg Miner. March, 2008

C. Candi harp guitar, date unknown, by kind permission of Alberto Giordano

To my mind, this is arguably the most spectacular and stunning harp guitar ever created.

The instrument, built by Cesare Candi of Genoa, is known from a single photograph, which appears in the beautiful book Cesare Candi Litutista - I liutai della famiglia Candi by Alberto Giordano.  Sadly, the date is unknown.  Giordano circa dates it to 1900.  In my interpretation of Candi's career (through the work of Giordano), the timeframe would be hard to pin down accurately, and could be anywhere from the mid-1890s well into the 1900s.  I explore this further in the major article on Gazzo harp guitars.

It came to my attention during the research on Gazzo's instruments, for the most part supported and kept alive by my good friend Franco Ghisalberti, author, editor and creator of the Taraffo feature archived on Harpguitars.net.  Graciously shared by Alberto Giordano, it immediately became a key piece of harp guitar history - not only for its beauty and virtuosic creativity, but for its clear relationship to the Gazzo instruments.  As it happens, both Candi (and his harp guitar-building brother Oreste) and Gazzo were Genoese builders during the early stages of Taraffo's illustrious career.  But who influenced who?!

While I was pondering that, I also took another obvious look at my own floor-standing 12-course (8 sub-basses) harp mandolin.  Best guesses were that it was French, c.1900, as it was found in Paris and gave off an Art Nouveau vibe.  It now seems much more likely that an unknown Italian builder was himself inspired by the Candi instrument.  Whomever it was created for, they must have been as short as Taraffo!

A third instrument - another guitar - is described as looking "exactly like" this mandolin.  I wonder if it may instead resemble more accurately the Candi...and perhaps be another.  It has a label - I am simply waiting for the owners to come forward with the information (2021 Update: I've been waiting now for 15 years...)

Literally every Gazzo instrument to come to Franco's attention (95% of them still in the city) have been archived in the Gazzo feature and Pictorial Table.  But Gazzo was not alone - several other makers built near duplicate instruments or variations on the Gazzo theme.  Including both Candi brothers.  And so the search began to discover exactly where, when and why the original Gazzo / Taraffo harp guitar appeared.  It has been an unbelievably fascinating, seemingly endless journey (once again, we find harp guitars to be astronomically more prolific than anyone today would believe) - and we are still no closer to answering the question.

All are welcome to explore this world, and encouraged to share their precious photos, instruments, stories and theories - our work is never done!

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