In this blog post, PhD candidate Clare McCague gives an overview of the Louisa Cane Collection of harp music which is housed in the RIAM Library archives.

Louisa Cane: Background

The Louisa Cane Collection is a substantial collection of pedal harp and piano music, donated to the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1901. Reference to the donation of this collection may be found in To Talent Alone: The Royal Irish Academy of Music 1848 – 1998, edited by Richard Pine and Charles Acton.

Louisa Cane was born in 1823, one of seven children of Richard and Isabella Cane. The Cane family was a prestigious Anglo-Irish family, who acquired St Wolstan’s in Cellbridge (orginally a Catholic monastery founded in 1203) in 1809. St. Wolstan’s was one of the first monasteries to be shut down during Henry VIII’s Reformation. The property remained in the Cane family for over a century and was subsequently purchased by the Holy Faith Sisters in 1955.

St Wolstan’s, Co Kildare. [Source: Landed Families of Britain and Ireland]


Richard Cane, Louisa’s father, was a descendent of the O’Cahans of Limavady in Co. Derry. Richard, like his father before him, was an Army Agent whose business premises was located at 60 Dawson Street, Dublin. He was governor of the Bank of Ireland from 1840 – 1842.

Louisa Cane was unmarried and at the time of the 1901 census lived with her sister Caroline at 14 Clyde Road, Dublin. It was at this address that she died in 1909 at the age of 86.

There is no evidence to suggest that Louisa Cane was a professional harpist. It is likely that she was an accomplished amateur. There are scant references to her in Irish news archives; of note she was appointed to the committee of the Robinson Memorial Fund in 1880, a fund dedicated to assisting female professors of music and their families through illness or incapacitation. She was a contributor to the Irish Musical Feis in 1897, and also subscribed to a prize in the Feis Ceoil in 1899 in honour of eminent German harpist Charles Oberthur who was her former teacher.

The nineteenth century was a pivotal period in the pedal harp’s chronology. French harp maker Sebastien Erard patented the ‘double-action’ pedal harp mechanism in 1810, and revolutionised the chromatic capacity of the instrument. Harpist-composers such as Nicholas Charles Bochsa (1789 – 1856), Theodore Labarre ( 1805 – 1870), Elias Parish-Alvars (1808 – 1849) and John Thomas (1826 – 1913) delighted audiences with a range of new pedal harp effects, and this led to a surge in interest in the instrument throughout Europe.  In Dublin, harp-maker John Egan had a successful harp manufacturing business on Dawson Street between 1804 and 1841. Egan’s business was bolstered by a Royal Warrant from King George IV in 1821 and a newfound demand for pedal harps.

The Louisa Cane Collection of Harp Music 

The Louisa Cane Collection is a substantial one and features the works of a number of composers. In total there are twenty-nine separate volumes of sheet music, divided into twelve box files, and one original manuscript. The original manuscript is dedicated to Louisa Cane and is entitled Meditation: A Musical Sketch. An inscription from the title page of this piece reads as follows:

 This M.S to Miss Louisa Cane

With the author’s kindest regards

In remembrance of his visit to Ireland, 1858

A number of the books contained in the collection are duets for harp and pianoforte. In these instances there are separate volumes for harp and piano.

Several of the scores are inscribed in ink with ‘Louisa Cane’ or ‘Louisa O’Cahan’, the Irish language version of her name. ‘St Wolstan’s’ is often written beneath Louisa’s name.

While some of the books are in poor condition with torn pages and faded print and markings, the majority of the books in the collection are well preserved and presented. Most covers are embossed on the front with a short description of the contents, for example ‘Harp Music, Charles Oberthur’ or simply ‘Harp, Louisa Cane’ or ‘Louisa Cane’. There are a number of books embossed with another name;  for example there are two books embossed with ‘Ellen’ on the front cover. ‘F.I.P’ is embossed on the front cover of one of the volumes with ‘Mifs Fanny Prior’ handwritten on the first score’s title page. There are some books with no markings whatsoever on the external cover.

Composers whose works feature in this collection include Nicholas Charles Bochsa, Charles Oberthur, Theodore Labarre, J.B. Chatterton, J.B. Krumpholtz, Sofia Dussek, Elias Parish-Alvars and Gerhard Taylor. Bochsa and Oberthur were the most renowned of this cohort of harpist-composers to perform and teach in Ireland. Bochsa was an illustrious virtuoso and pedagogue, and a champion of Erard’s new double-action pedal harp. His first visit to Ireland was in 1821, during King George IV’s official visit to Ireland. His final professional trip to Ireland was in 1847 with his mistress Anna Bishop (the soprano and former wife of English composer Henry Bishop). Many of Bochsa’s performances in Dublin incorporated extemporisation on popular Irish airs.

Charles Oberthur visited Ireland many times between 1842 and 1895. He was a consummate virtuoso, composer and harp pedagogue, and regularly performed with well-known and respected musicians of Dublin’s art music scene including Robert Prescott Stewart and Joseph Robinson (a co-founder of this institution).

The Louisa Cane Collection is currently uncatalogued. However, cataloguing work is ongoing and is due to be completed within the coming weeks. The catalogue will be accessible online through the RIAM Library catalogue and also via RISM.

For further information on this collection of music, contact Philip Shields at the Royal Irish Academy of Music Library.

Clare McCague

Clare McCague is currently studying for a PhD under the supervision of Dr Cliona Doris at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama. The topic of her research is ‘Nineteenth Century Pedal Harp Music in Ireland: Analysis, Context and Performance’. As part of her research, Clare is cataloguing the Louisa Cane Collection of harp music which is housed in the archives of the RIAM Library.


The Harper’s Legacy: Celtic Fantasies

(featuring music from the Louisa Cane Collection)

15th March, 7.30 pm

Kevin Barry Recital Room, National Concert Hall

Úna Hunt, piano

Clíona Doris and Clare McCague, pedal harps