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Usual orchestral structure with four pedal timpani (plus a piccolo timpani), here with natural skins (calf)

The timpani ( Italian timpano , French timbale , English timpani or kettledrum ) is a percussion instrument from the group of membranophones .

The timpani usually consists of an almost hemispherical (parabolic) sheet copper kettle covered with a skin made of plastic or animal skin and played with mallets. Round and square wooden timpani are also known from music history and the Orff school work . Today there are also kettles made of synthetic materials (e.g. glass fiber reinforced plastic ) or aluminum . The kettle has a small opening in the middle of its bottom, which is used for air exchange or air pressure equalization when the head swings up and down. The skin can be stretched to different degrees by a mechanism that is either attached to the bottom of the foot, inside the drum or under the edge. This allows the pitch , which depends on the type of drum, to be changed while playing.

Use in pairs is common; However, individual pieces of music have required four or more instruments since the 18th century.

to form


The clamping device for tuning the timpani consists of screws (wing nuts) and a crank or a pedal machine. Timpani, in which the time-consuming tightening of the individual screws is replaced by a so-called "machine", which acts evenly on the entire periphery, are called machine timpani . The pitch of the pedal timpani can be adjusted with the help of a pedal. Thus the timpanist is able to continuously change the mood while playing ( glissando ). Another special form is the Viennese timpani , in which, by means of a handwheel, not the head but the kettle is moved up and down by means of a lever movement.

Today timpani are used in five different sizes with a range of Db – B or D – A (bass timpani), F – d (large timpani), B – f sharp or A – f sharp (small timpani), E flat – a or e – c '(High timpani) and g – d'.


Plastic heads (plastic heads) have established themselves worldwide for the covering of the timpani fastened with metal rings. In the great top orchestras of the classical tradition in Austria, Germany and Switzerland as well as in the USA , Great Britain , Australia , Japan , Scandinavia and parts of France , natural skins are still played. In Austria , Switzerland and also in parts of Scandinavia these are mostly sharpened goat skins, in Germany and other countries mostly impregnated split calfskins (from Celbridge , Ireland ). Natural timpani skins are made of animal skin - without fur.


Usually two to four timpani are used next to each other in the orchestra ; More recently, up to ten timpani are played by one timpani ( Gruber : "Charivari"), and up to sixteen timpani by two or more timpani to realize quickly successive, different tones . Already in the baroque period there were solo pieces for one or more timpani (brothers A. D. and A. D. P. Philidor , Babelon , around 1690 ). In Wagner , Strauss , Mahler and Nielsen , there are works in which two timpanist are busy. Berlioz used four timpani in his Symphonie Fantastique and ten timpani in his Requiem ( Grande messe des morts ).

Mallets and striking technique

Timpani mallet set

The beater ( Paukenschlägel ) of the kettledrum have heads made of felt , leather , flannel , cork or wood . Thus, the player can realize different sound nuances from soft (felt) to hard (wood). The type of mallet may be prescribed for special effects. The learned drummers make use of numerous so-called batting manners or artistic strokes (simple tongue, double tongue, carried tongue [expressions borrowed from wind instruments], double cross strokes, pegs, etc.), in which they also use the simply prescribed notes for lifts, intrades and other pieces dissolve ( Altenburg : attempt at a guide to heroic-musical trumpeters = and timpani = art, Halle 1795 - J. CH. Hendel Verlag). This technique was used in music literature up to the early Romantic period . At the latest with the change in sound conception ( Berlioz , von Weber ), the means of attack and with it the technology have changed. Up until then the wooden mallet set the tone, now the sponge mallet is the trump card, from which the felt or flannel mallet, which is mainly used today, developed. From the double beat vortex (RR LL) derived from the drum technique , in which the grouping of two was clearly audible, the drum roll known as the drum roll (RLRL) developed, which should be executed as evenly as possible and without audible accentuation.

In military music , timpani were traditionally used by mounted units. Foot troops, on the other hand, used the much easier to transport snare drum as a percussion mechanism (see also cavalry march ).



The origin of the term timpani is uncertain. It is first encountered in Middle High German ( pûke , also bûke , only in the Fnhd . Diphthongized to timpani / bauke ) and may represent a loan word from Latin or Greek ; Attempts were made to derive the name of the sambuca , an ancient stringed instrument, and the bucina , a brass instrument from Roman times. However, it is more likely to represent a more recent onomatopoeic word creation, for comparison the verb pochen , which is also onomatopoeic, "knock, repeatedly hit something with a loud tone" is a good choice .

From German, the word came into Dutch ( pauk ) and the Scandinavian languages ​​( Danish and Norwegian pauke , Swedish puka ). The names of the timpani in the Romance languages , on the other hand, are derived either from the name of the tympanum , i.e. from Greek ( e.g. Italian timpano , Spanish tímpano ), or / and from the Arabic tabl ( Arabic طبل, DMG ṭabl ; from it Spanish timbal and French timbale , also French tabor and tambour "drum" and tambourine "bell drum"). In English , the kettledrum is mostly referred to as a kettledrum , orkettle drum ”.

The bass drum used in brass bands and marching bands is often incorrectly referred to as “kettledrum” in colloquial language. The general medieval meaning of the word is still expressed in the figurative sense in the phrase "to beat the drum".


Form of the timpani during the Bach time (exhibited in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig )

The oldest known kettle drum is the sacred drum lilissu , which has been used in a bull sacrifice cult in Mesopotamia since ancient Babylonian times . The percussion instrument, called tof in Hebrew in the Old Testament, was obviously a frame drum and is only rarely interpreted as a kettle drum. Up to the army drums of the 16th and 17th centuries ( Syntagma musicum II, De Organographia, 1619), described by Praetorius as “enormous rumble barrels” , and our concert drums, kettle drums can be found in all peoples in the most varied of shapes and forms. The kettle drum naqqara, played in pairs, came to the West from the Persians and Turks and spread from the 12th century in England as nakers and in German-speaking countries as puke .

18th century

As one of the timpani still sparse use made and they regularly tonic - dominant ( Quint - or fourths ) voted, they were treated as one in the listing transposing instrument , d. In other words, the tuning was prescribed at the beginning: Timpani in Eb – B or in D – A, B – F etc., but one always noted with C – G or rather C – G. This usage was abandoned when the composers also demanded tones going beyond the fourth or fifth ( Beethoven : Fidelio A – es, 7th symphony A – f, 8th and 9th symphony F – f).

Timpani virtuosity was in full bloom in the 18th century when royal court timpani gave concerts on up to fourteen timpani, throwing the mallets into the air while they were beating and catching them again in time. (Works by J. C. Ch. Fischer , J. Ch. F. Fischer , J. K. F. Fischer , Družecký (Druschetzky) , Endler , Graupner , Molter )

20./21. century

As a solo concert instrument, the timpani rarely appears in the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. The few examples include: Capriccietto for four timpani and string orchestra (around 1932) by Gerster , Concerto for timpani and orchestra by Thärichen (1954), Der Wald - Concerto for timpani and orchestra by Matthus (1984) or the concert piece for timpani and orchestra von Kagel (1990 to 1992). Also Widmann's concert overture Con brio for Orchestra (2008) the composition system is a respect timpani concert in a sentence.


Screw drum

Timpanist of the Metropolitan Opera with two screws timpani (1917).

The screw timpani are considered to be the archetype of the instruments played today, as they could be retuned to a different tone in a few simple steps using the screws. They were in use until the end of the 19th century and are now used again more frequently in concerts, especially by orchestras with a historical sound, because of their "original sound".

Machine drum

Crank timpani

In 1836 , Einigler (Frankfurt) built the first so-called machine drum , a construction in which the retuning was solved using a central crank-lever system (crank / lever system). Voting and especially retuning had become faster and easier. Timpani of this system are increasingly used again today in works with few retuning tasks because of their special sound. The rotating kettle drum, which was created in various versions around 1850, has not established itself in the symphonic field.

Pedal timpani

The big change came with the invention of the pedal timpani around 1880. It is not certain who built the first pedal timpani. The patent from the musician Carl Pittrich from Dresden, the father of the composer Georg Pittrich , dates back to 1881 and was groundbreaking for all subsequent pedal systems. Now you could change the timpani steplessly and quickly with your foot. The timpanist now had both hands free during the retuning process and was able to perform a twirling glissando, which was new. Strauss was one of the first composers to use this new technique ( Salomé ). Bartók made particularly effective use of the swirling glissando in his sonata for two pianos and percussion .

Viennese timpani

Richard Strauss was also enthusiastic about another type of timpani, namely that of the "Viennese timpani". It is a hand-lever timpani that was developed from the Dresden timpani by the solo timpanist of the Vienna Philharmonic, Hans Schnellar (1865–1945). Modified by his successors Richard Hochrainer and Wolfgang Schuster, the Viennese timpani is currently made in Vienna and is still used almost exclusively in all of the major traditional Viennese orchestras. In this construction, a mechanism presses the shell against the fixed head to achieve a certain pitch, and goat parchment is used as the head. The way of playing with hand lever limits modern playing techniques, as z. B. no glissando vortex is possible. The instrument is preferred in Vienna, however, because the tone is less percussive, but the basic pitch can be heard clearly.

Well-known timpani manufacturers and timpani

A well-known timpani manufacturer was, for example, the company Offelder in Aachen, which also manufactures drum accessories. Percussionist and drummer Josef Offelder is one of the well-known teachers for timpani, and the composer Peter Kiefer is one of his students .


  • Timpani . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 12, Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1885–1892, p. 783.
  • Herbert Tobischek: The timpani - your playing and structural development in modern times. Published by Hans Schneider, Tutzing 1977, ISBN 3-7952-0204-3 . ( Viennese publications on musicology. Edited by Othmar Wessely).
  • Nancy Benvenga: Timpani and the Timpanist's Art - Musical and Technical Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Gothenburg University, Department of Musicology, Göteborg 1979, ISBN 91-4222-276-X .

Web links

Commons : Timpani  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 177.
  2. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 177.
  3. ↑ Slow motion recordings of various playing techniques and mallet types , accessed on December 7, 2012.
  4. timpani. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 13 : N, O, P, Q - (VII). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1889, Sp. 510-511 ( woerterbuchnetz.de ).
  5. ^ Friedrich Kluge , Elmar Seebold : Etymological dictionary of the German language. 25th, updated and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2012, sv Pauke .
  6. timpani. In: Digital dictionary of the German language .  (The etymology given there is identical to the text of the entry in Wolfgang Pfeifer : Etymological Dictionary of German. 2nd edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1993).
  7. throb. In: Digital dictionary of the German language .  (The etymology given there is identical to the text of the entry in Wolfgang Pfeifer: Etymological Dictionary of German. 2nd edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1993).
  8. pauk (slag instrument). In: Marlies Philippa et al .: Etymologically Woordenboek van het Nederlands. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2003-2009.
  9. Erich Valentin : Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde. Gustav Bosse, Regensburg 1954, p. 455 ff. ( Instrument maker ).