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date: 01 August 2021

Oberthür, Charles [Karl]free

Oberthür, Charles [Karl]free

  • Alice Lawson Aber-Count

(b Munich, March 4, 1819; d London, Nov 8, 1895). German harpist and composer. The son of a maker of strings for musical instruments, he was educated in Munich, studying the harp with Elisa Brauchle and composition with George V. Röder, music director at the Munich court. In the autumn of 1837 Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer engaged him as harpist for the Zürich theatre, where he remained until 1839. He then made a concert tour of Switzerland and Germany, after which he was a chamber musician at the court of the Duke of Nassau in Wiesbaden; he composed two operas, Floris von Namur and Der Berggeist des Harzes, which were performed at the Wiesbaden court. From 1842 to 1844 he was solo harpist at the court theatre in Mannheim, where a dispute with Vinzenz Lachner culminated in Oberthür's giving up his position.

English friends in Mannheim urged Oberthür to go to London, where he received support from Moscheles and in 1844 performed with success. He settled there in 1848, meanwhile giving concerts on the Continent and staying at Frankfurt in 1847–8. He was an unrivalled virtuoso, and his concerts were always well received. In London he became solo harpist at the Italian Opera but cancelled his contract to devote himself to composition and teaching. He became harp professor at the London Academy of Music, founded in 1861, and was widely known as a teacher; his method, Harfenschule für doppelte und einfache Bewegung op.36 (later published as Universal Method for the Harp), is still used by teachers. A prolific composer, he wrote 351 works with opus numbers and more than 100 unnumbered works. His compositions, which reflect his experience as a concert performer, include many transcriptions for harp, about 30 collections (mainly for harp), trios, quartets, about 40 piano works and 27 duos for harp and piano, as well as many vocal and orchestral works.


(selective list)

for fuller list see PazdírekH


Floris von Namur (C. Gollmick), Wiesbaden, 1840

Der Berggeist des Harzes, Wiesbaden, 1850


Missa St Philip de Neri, SATB, hp, orch; Psalm lxi, T, SATB, org, hp ad lib, op.194; 3 cantatas, Lady Jane Grey (E. Oxenford), op.309 (London, c1886), The Pilgrim Queen (Mrs A. Roberts) (London, 1880), The Red Cross Knight (Roberts) (London, 1881)


Macbeth Ov., hp, orch, op.60 (London, 1852)

Rübezahl Ov., orch, op.82 (Mainz, n.d.)

Concertino, hp, orch/pf qt, op.175 (Leipzig, c1863)

Loreley, legend, hp, orch/pf, op.180 (Hanover, n.d.)

Prol to Ein Winternachtstraum (C. Köstling, after W. Shakespeare), pf, orch, op.210 (Hanover, c1880)

Orpheus, hp, pf, op.253 (Leipzig, n.d.)

Other vocal and orch works, chamber music, pf pieces, songs


  • M.G. Scimeca: L'arpa nella storia (Bari, 1938), 161
  • A.N. Schirinzi: L'arpa: storia di un antico strumento (Milan, 1961), 120–21
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B. Pazdírek: Universal-Handbuch der Musikliteratur aller Zeiten und Völker (Vienna, 1904-10/R)