Harpo Marx, né Arthur Marx, was known for his silent sight gags and for his harp playing. In A Night in Casablanca, a Marx Brothers movie from 1946, Harpo finds a secret treasure room full of paintings, gold bars, and a harp.
He soon sits down at the instrument to play Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2. There are some close ups of his unusual string work in this video, and the composition picks up tempo during the last minute.
As Turner Classic Movies recalls, “Harpo’s art was closer to 19th century French mime than to American vaudeville,” the genre of theater entertainment that first made Harpo Marx and his brothers famous. He was also a self-taught musician whose grandmother played harp in the 1800s. From OpenEdition.org:
“After immigrating to New York City, Harpo’s grandfather preserved her small harp’s worn, stringless frame in his room where, as a child, Harpo spent hours staring at the silent instrument, trying to imagine what harp music might sound like.”
Later, in his 20s, Harpo’s mother shipped him a harp for his role in vaudeville acts. From Wikipedia:
“Harpo learned how to hold the harp by emulating a harp-playing angel in a picture he saw in a five-and-dime. No one in town knew how to play the harp, so Harpo tuned it the best he could, starting with one basic note and tuning it from there. He began learning to play the instrument without lessons. Three years later, he found out he had tuned it incorrectly… Despite Harpo’s musical talent, he never learned to read or write music. Although he paid top musicians handsome fees to teach him “proper” harp-playing technique, he maintained his unique style his entire life (his “teachers,” fascinated by his technique, spent their sessions watching and listening as Marx performed). The major exception was Mildred Dilling, the professional harpist who finally taught Harpo proper harp technique and collaborated with him regularly…”
There are more Marx Brothers clips in the archives.
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