They Didn’t Call Him “Harpo” for Nothing: Harpo Marx and the Harp

Above: Harpo Marx’s signature wig pairs nicely with his Mozartean get-up in these performance of famous minuets by Mozart and Boccherini – with a jazzy twist at the end – from the 1941 film The Big Store.

He was the “silent” Marx Brother, the one whose mastery of pantomime even today makes us watch every move he makes.

But when Harpo Marx does make noise in the films with his more voluble brothers, it’s usually with the help of an instrument – most famously his namesake instrument, the harp, likely the one prop Marx couldn’t fit into the bottomless pockets of his trench coat.

You might have seen any number of Harpo Marx’s legendary harp performances in the Marx Brothers’ films, but you might not be aware that Marx was a true philanthropist for harpists and harp playing in America.

That Marx, a largely self-taught harpist, managed to weave his unorthodox harp technique into performances with one of the most popular acts of his day is remarkable. But Marx’s fascination with the harp was more than a show biz gimmick. According to Mary Sue Welsh, author of One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra (University of Illinois Press, 2013), a biography of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s former principal harpist, Marx had a genuine love for the instrument and gave generously to harp endeavors, including funding harp competitions and prizes.

Check out Harpo Marx playing Mozart and Boccherini in the film The Big Store, in the video above. And because it’s so fun, watch the jazzed-up version of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, below, from the film A Night in Casablanca.

They might just leave you speechless!

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