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Plucked from our records: Pasquale Taraffo and the Harp Guitar

 

This photograph of Pasquale Taraffo found in the National Archives.

“Attachments,” the current exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, DC, tells the stories of some of the millions of people who have entered and left the United States.

One visitor, Pasquale Taraffo, came to the United States three times—once for a concert tour of New York City and California in 1928–29, once as a crew member of a ship that docked in New York in 1933, and once for a concert stop in New York in 1935.

Born in Genoa, Italy, in 1887, the musician began giving guitar concerts at age nine. He eventually switched from the traditional guitar to the harp guitar, a 14-string instrument mounted on a pedestal. Taraffo started touring abroad in 1910, performing on his own and with other musicians. Known as “the Paganini of the guitar”—a reference to the legendary Italian violinist—he was wildly popular around the world and especially in South America.

When he came to the United States, he applied for a visa based on artistic abilities, and probably had to submit evidence of his exceptional talent in order to enter the country. Photo postcards of Taraffo with his harp guitar, along with a handbill for his 1926 concert in Corregio, Italy, were found, but these documents were separated from any of his other documents, mixed into what appears to be a dead letter file. It also contains passports, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and baptismal certificates from a variety of individuals, which probably had no attached communications or couldn’t be returned to their owners.

In this video, you can hear the virtuoso play one of his most popular pieces, “Stefania,” named after his daughter and recorded in the 1930s. The harp guitar sounds as bizarre and enchanting as it looks.

Attachments is open through September 4, 2012.

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