Richard Pockrich and the Glass Harp

Learn about Richard Pockrich the Irish inventor and master of the glass harp.

Richard Pockrich, born about 1695 in Aghnamallagh, Co. Monaghan, was a master at self-promotion, apparent by the number of advertisements he took regarding himself in the newspapers at the time. An eccentric, his inherited wealth enabled him to pursue his numerous ideas and inventions – many were often dismissed.

glass harpAfter coming to Dublin in 1715, he opened a brewery/distillery at Islandbridge, which failed. After losing all his money it is reported that when the bailiffs came to seize him he played “a prelude on the glasses” and subsequently charmed the bailiffs so much that they granted him his freedom. The ‘glasses’ or ‘idiophone’, ‘glass-harp’ and later ‘armonica’ are, according to some, Pockrich’s invention, and to others his re-invention.

Making music by tapping glasses appeared in Persia in the 11th century. Glasses are tuned by pouring the correct amount of water into each glass. By the end of the 15th century it became fashionable in Europe but as a musical instrument it was not taken seriously until the 18th century.

In April 1743 Faulkner’s Dublin Journal carried an advertisement that, “for the benefit of the inventor” a musical performance would take place on 3rd May at the theatre in Smock Alley, where a “musical performance upon glasses with other instruments” would occur. The advert stated that this was the first time that glasses were ever introduced in concert with the hope to “induce” a “zealous” affect amongst the audience. Initially, Pockrich played the glasses with sticks and later by the finger technique, whereby he stroked the glass rims. Other advertisements show the numerous and various overtures and concertos he was able to play on this instrument. Throughout 1744 he continued to promote the instrument.

In April 1746 the composer Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck performed in London on musical glasses, which he claimed as his own invention. It is unclear whether Gluck developed his own ideas or whether he used Pockrich’s idea without acknowledgement.

By the 1750s London newspapers confirmed its growing popularity, enhanced by performers such as Anne Ford who published the first known method for the instrument in 1761. In 1757 Benjamin Franklin arrived in London and heard E.H Delaval perform on the instrument. As a result Franklin adjusted the instrument’s design choosing glasses of graded sizes permanently set at the correct pitch. He also mounted the bowls horizontally on a rod, rotated by a foot crank. By May 1762 it was manufactured by Charles James, London, and advertised as the “Armonica.” It was for many years in vogue, not only in England but throughout Europe, popularised by the performances of Marianne Davies who played it in Dublin on 7th November in 1763. Its popularity continued well into the 19th century. After an absence of 12 years Pockrich performed again at the City Basin in Dublin on 23rd August 1756. The disappointing performance resulted in a printed apology in The Dublin Gazette due to “his (Pockrich) adding a glass too much to his instrument.” He went on tour to England in 1758 and apparently met with success, however, he perished in a fire at his lodgings near the Corn Exchange on 10th November 1758.

You can see one of these unusual instruments being played at