Although sometimes described as a septet, the Introduction et allegro gives the pre-eminent role to the harp, with the other instruments providing accompaniment. The work was commissioned by the Maison Érard, maker of harps and pianos, to promote its new pedal harp as a rival to the more established chromatic harp, and the piece is dedicated to the firm's director Albert Blondel.
Written in June 1905, in the midst of the scandal following Ravel's elimination from the Prix de Rome, it was completed at unusual speed, prior to his departure on a boating holiday with Misia and Alfred Edwards: "J'ai été horriblement occupé dans les quelques jours qui ont précédé mon départ, à cause d'une pièce de harpe commandée par la maison Érard. 8 jours de travail acharné et 3 nuits de veille m'ont permis de l'achever, tant bien que mal." (Letter to Jean Marnold, repr. in Orenstein , letter 16).
The Introduction et allegro is in a single movement lasting about 10 minutes; it received its first performance in Paris on 22.ii.1907.