#30 Jean François Salomon, the harpolyre, guitar playing and singing

(Picture: Harpo-lyre (ca.1830), André Augustin Chevrier, The Met, NYC)

The following entry of Jean Francois Salomon is taken from François-Joseph Fétis’s Biographie universelle des musiciens (see the original on p.387 of the this PDF). This is translated with the help of the trusty Google Translate, so… please pardon my French. I have also attached Salomon’s entry in Philip J. Bone’s The guitar and mandolin: biographies of celebrated players and composers for these instruments. It looks like Bone translated Fétis’s entry, with slightly more information.

I wish I had a chance to play a harpolyre, and read Salomon’s method book. Where can I find them?

The harpolyre was introduced to London in the Harmonicon in December 1829. The article borne the subtitle that indicated Salomon as a “Professor of singing and of the Guitar”.

This led me to think – it’s obvious that the guitar (or many pluck string instruments throughout history) is a popular instrument because of its power to accompany singing. Wouldn’t it be nice if I can teach guitar and singing at the same time? Start advertising my lessons to be guitar lessons, plus guitar and singing combined lessons?

Many guitarists had a close connection with singer:

  • Sor was a choir boy, and later taught singing in London (Fernando Sor – Composer and Guitarist, Brian Jeffery, p.14);
  • Mauro Giuliani’s son Michele Giuliani was “the guitarist, composer, and singing teacher at the Paris Conservatory (see here);
  • Matteo Bevilacqua “moved to Vienna where he established himself as a singer, flautist, guitarist, and composer”, and he “he was a tenor at the Esterházy chapel” (Soundboard, Volume XXXVIII, No. 4, 2012, p.102 and 116)
  • Legnani’s debut as an operatic tenor was in Ravenna in 1807 at the age of 17, and had a singing career that spanned 17 years (see here);
  • Carulli published L’Harmonie appliquée à la Guitare (Harmony applied to the Guitar) and Solfèges avec accompagnement de guitare, Op.195 – two treatises that provided concepts and exercises to educate singers and guitarists about harmonies, accompaniment, and arrangement; Carulli also taught his son Gustavo guitar playing and singing, and his son went on to be a successful vocal teacher;
  • Ferdinand Pelzer, apart from teaching his daughters Catharina (better known as Madame Sidney Pratten) and Giulia Pelzer the guitar, published Music for the People, based on his Universal System of Instruction in Music and revolutionized the national system of singing and music in England (see theguitar-blog.com).

I have benefited from singing in a choir as a kid for four years myself, as it allows me to sing backup vocals in my bands with ease. My guitar teacher, Dr. Nicholas Goluses would often times ask me to sing the melody of the pieces I was working on, to explore interpretive possibilities.

From his Rules & Maxims for Young Musicians, Robert Schumman said,

“Love your instrument, but do not vainly suppose it the highest and only one. Remember that there are others equally fine. Remember also, that there are singers; and that the highest expression possible to music, is reached by chorus and orchestra.ac”

“A great deal is to be learned from singers and songstresses. But do not believe everything they tell you.”

“Sing in choruses industriously, especially the middle voices. This will make you a good reader, and intelligent as a musician.”


From François-Joseph Fétis’s Biographie universelle des musiciens:

Salomon (M.), guitar teacher, born in Besançon, in 1786, died in the same city, on February 19, 1831, became known, in 1828, by the invention of a three-neck guitar called Harpolyre , this instrument was mounted with twenty-one strings; six of these strings were placed on the center of the middle, called the ordinary neck, and tuned as on the common guitar. The left neck, intended for the basses, was mounted by seven strings tuned in semitones, from the low E to the bass of the double bass; finally the right handle, called the diatonic handle, was mounted with strings sounding C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Sound oppositions of good effect were noted between the middle and right necks, and the strings on the left neck provided vigorous bass notes. The conception of the harpolyre seemed destined to save the guitar from the entire abandonment with which it is threatened, by the varied resources which it offered to the performers; however, this invention was not successful, no artist having wished to devote himself to the study of the difficulties of the use of the three necks, although Solomon had had a method engraved for the harpolyre, and that Sor was composed studies and exercises for this instrument.

We owe Solomon the invention of an ingenious machine to which he gave the name of tuner. It consists of a mechanism made up of sonorous metallic blades, tuned to the degrees of the chromatic scale, and of a toothed cylinder, moved by a clockwork movement, which makes each blade resonate at will, giving a determined intonation. This intonation is repeated for as long as necessary to tune in unison a note of the piano, harp, or any other fixed-sounding instrument which is to be partitioned. In spite of the advantages which the tuner presented for the practice of the tuning of the instruments, it does not succeed only with the harpolyre. After having had an unnecessary long stay in Paris to have his inventions adopted there, Salomon returned to Besançon, where the fatigue of his efforts, and the sorrow of having dissipated in trials the fruit of his labors and his savings, the led to the tomb at the age of forty-five. One engraved of its composition: 1 Twelve divertissementsfor the guitar, op. 1; Paris, Launer. 2 Waltzes for the Guitar, Op. 2; ibid. 3 Contredanses and waltzes idem; Paris, Aulagnier. 4 Air varie (Charmant ruisseau) for the harp; Paris, Janet.


From The guitar and mandolin : biographies of celebrated players and composers for these instruments, p.261, by Philip J. Bone:

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