1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kettledrum

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KETTLEDRUM[1] (Fr. timbales; Ger. Pauken; Ital. timpani; Sp. timbal), the only kind of drum (q.v.) having a definite musical pitch. The kettledrum consists of a hemispherical pan of copper, brass or silver, over which a piece of vellum is stretched tightly by means of screws working on an iron ring, which fits closely round the head of the drum. In the bottom of the pan is a small vent-hole, which prevents the head being rent by the concussion of air. The vellum head may thus be slackened or tightened at will to produce any one of the notes within its compass of half an octave. Each kettledrum gives but one note at a time, and as it takes some little time to alter all the screws, two or three kettledrums, sometimes more, each tuned to a different note, are used in an orchestra or band. For centuries kettledrums have been made and used in Europe in pairs, one large and one small; the relative proportions of the two instruments being well defined and invariable. Even when eight pairs of drums, all tuned to different notes, are used, as by Berlioz in his “Grand Requiem,” there are still but the two sizes of drums to produce all the notes. Various mechanisms have been tried with the object of facilitating the change of pitch, but the simple old-fashioned model is still the most frequently used in England. Two sticks, of which there are several kinds, are employed to play the kettledrum; the best of these are made of whalebone for elasticity, and have a small wooden knob at one end, covered with a thin piece of fine sponge. Others have the button covered with felt or india-rubber. The kettledrum is struck at about a quarter of the diameter from the ring.

The compass of kettledrums collectively is not much more than an octave, between ; the larger instruments, which it is inadvisable to tune below F, take any one of the following notes:—

and the smaller are tuned to one of the notes completing the chromatic and enharmonic scale from . These limits comprise all the notes of artistic value that can be obtained from kettledrums. When there are but two drums—the term “drum” used by musicians always denotes the kettledrum—they are generally tuned to the tonic and dominant or to the tonic and subdominant, these notes entering into the composition of most of the harmonies of the key. Formerly the kettledrums used to be treated as transposing instruments, the notation, as for the horn, being in C, the key to which the kettledrums were to be tuned being indicated in the score. Now composers write the real notes.

The tone of a good kettledrum is sonorous, rich, and of great power. When noise rather than music is required uncovered sticks are used. The drums may be muffled or covered by placing a piece of cloth or silk over the vellum to damp the sound, a device which produces a lugubrious, mysterious effect and is indicated in the score by the words timpani coperti, timpani con sordini, timbales couvertes, gedämpfte Pauken. Besides the beautiful effects obtained by means of delicate gradations of tone, numerous rhythmical figures may be executed on one, two or more notes. German drummers who were renowned during the 17th and 18th centuries, borrowing the terms from the trumpets with which the kettledrums were long associated, recognized the following beats:—

Single tonguing
(Einfache Zungen)
Double tonguing
(Doppel oder gerissene Zungen)
Legato tonguing
(Tragende Zungen)
Whole double-tonguing
(Ganze Doppel-Zungen)
Double cross-beat [2]
(Doppel Kreuzschläge)
The roll
The double roll
(Doppel Wirbel)

It is generally stated that Beethoven was the first to treat the kettledrum as a solo instrument, but in Dido, an opera by C. Graupner performed at the Hamburg Opera House in 1707, there is a short solo for the kettledrum.[3]

The tuning of the kettledrum is an operation requiring time, even when the screw-heads, as is now usual, are T-shaped; to expedite the change, therefore, efforts have been made in all countries to invent some mechanism which would enable the performer to tune the drum to a fixed note by a single movement. The first mechanical kettledrums date from the beginning of the 19th century. In Holland a system was invented by J. C. N. Stumpff [4]; in France by Labbaye in 1827; in Germany Einbigler patented a system in Frankfort-on-Main in 1836[5]; in England Cornelius Ward in 1837; in Italy C. A. Boracchi of Monza in 1839.[6]

The drawback in most of these systems is the complicated nature of the mechanism, which soon gets out of order, and, being very cumbersome and heavy, it renders the instrument more or less of a fixture. Potter’s kettledrum with instantaneous system of tuning, the best known at the present day in England, and used in some military bands with entire success, is a complete contrast to the above. There is practically no mechanism; the system is simple, ingenious, and neither adds to the weight nor to the bulk of the instrument. There are no screws round the head of Potter’s kettledrum; an invisible system of cords in the interior, regulated by screws and rods in the form of a Maltese cross, is worked from the outside by a small handle connected to a dial, on the face of which are twenty-eight numbered notches. By means of these the performer is able to tune the drum instantly to any note within the compass by remembering the numbers which correspond to each note and pointing the indicator to it on the face of the dial. Should the cords become slightly stretched, flattening the pitch, causing the representative numbers to change, the performer need only give his indicator an extra turn to bring his instrument back to pitch, each note having several notches at its service. The internal mechanism, being of an elastic nature, has no detrimental effect on the tone but tends to increase its volume and improve its quality.

The origin of the kettledrum is remote and must be sought in the East. Its distinctive characteristic is a hemispherical or convex vessel, closed by means of a single parchment or skin drawn tightly over the aperture, whereas other drums consist of a cylinder, having one end or both covered by the parchment, as in the side-drum and tambourine respectively. The Romans were acquainted with the kettledrum, including it among the tympana; the tympanum leve, like a sieve, was the tambourine used in the rites of Bacchus and Cybele.[7] The comparatively heavy tympanum of bronze mentioned by Catullus was probably the small kettledrum which appears in pairs on monuments of the middle ages.[8] Pliny[9] states that half pearls having one side round and the other flat were called tympania. If the name tympania (Gr. τύμπανον, from τύμτειν, to strike) was given to pearls of a certain shape because they resembled the kettledrum, this argues that the instrument was well known among the Romans. It is doubtful, however, if it was adopted by them as a military instrument, since it is not mentioned by Vegetius,[10] who defines very clearly the duties of the service instruments buccina, tuba, cornu and lituus.

The Greeks also knew the kettledrum, but as a warlike instrument of barbarians. Plutarch[11] mentions that the Parthians, in order to frighten their enemies, in offering battle used not the horn or tuba, but hollow vessels covered with a skin, on which they beat, making a terrifying noise with these tympana. Whether the kettledrum penetrated into western Europe before the fall of the Roman Empire and continued to be included during the middle ages among the tympana has not been definitely ascertained. Isidore of Seville gives a somewhat vague description of tympanum, conveying the impression that his information has been obtained second-hand: “Tympanum est pellis vel corium ligno ex una parte extentum. Est enim pars media symphoniae in similitudinem cribri. Tympanum autem dictum quod medium est. Unde, et margaritum medium tympanum dicitur, et ipsum ut symphonia ad virgulam percutitur.[12] It is clear that in this passage Isidore is referring to Pliny.

The names given during the middle ages to the kettledrum are derived from the East. We have attambal or attabal in Spain, from the Persian tambal, whence is derived the modern French timbales; nacaire, naquaire or nakeres (English spelling), from the Arabic nakkarah or noqqārich (Bengali, nāgarā), and the German Pauke, M.H.G. Bûke or Pûke, which is probably derived from byk, the Assyrian name of the instrument.

(Geo. Potter & Co. of Aldershot.)

Fig. 1.—Mechanical Kettledrum, showing the system of cords inside the head.
This regiment is now the 21st (Empress of India) Lancers.

A line in the chronicles of Joinville definitely establishes the identity of the nakeres as a kind of drum: “Lor il fist sonner les labours que l'on appelle nacaires.” The nacaire is among the instruments mentioned by Froissart as having been used on the occasion of Edward III.’s triumphal entry into Calais in 1347: “trompes, tambours, nacaires, chalemies, muses.”[13] Chaucer mentions them in the description of the tournament in the Knight’s Tale (line 2514):—

Pipes, trompes, nakeres and clarionnes
That in the bataille blowen blody sonnes.”

The earliest European illustration showing kettledrums is the scene depicting Pharaoh’s banquet in the fine illuminated MS. book of Genesis of the 5th or 6th century, preserved in Vienna. There are two pairs of shallow metal bowls on a table, on which a woman is performing with two sticks, as an accompaniment to the double pipes.[14] As a companion illumination may be cited the picture of an Eastern banquet given in a 14th century MS. at the British Museum (Add. MS. 27,695), illuminated by a skilled Genoese. The potentate is enjoying the music of various instruments, among which are two kettledrums strapped to the back of a Nubian slave. This was the earlier manner of using the instrument before it became inseparably associated with the trumpet, sharing its position as the service instrument of the cavalry. Jost Amman[15] gives a picture of a pair of kettledrums with banners being played by an armed knight on horseback.

(From Hartel u. Wickhoff’s “Die Wiener Genesis,” Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses.)

Fig. 2.—Kettledrums in an early Christian MS.

Fig. 3.—Medieval Kettledrums, 14th century. (Brit. Museum.)

As in the case of the trumpet, the use of the kettledrum was placed under great restrictions in Germany and France and to some extent in England, but it was used in churches with the trumpet.[16] No French or German regiment was allowed kettledrums unless they had been captured from the enemy, and the timbalier or the Heerpauker on parade, in reviews and marches generally, rode at the head of the squadron; in battle his position was in the wings. In England, before the Restoration, only the Guards were allowed kettledrums, but after the accession of James II. every regiment of horse was provided with them.[17] Before the Royal Regiment of Artillery was established, the master-general of ordnance was responsible for the raising of trains of artillery. Among his retinue in time of war were a trumpeter and kettledrummer. The kettledrums were mounted on a chariot drawn by six white horses. They appeared in the field for the first time in a train of artillery during the Irish rebellion of 1689, and the charges for ordnance include the item, “large kettledrums mounted on a carriage with cloaths marked I.R. and cost £158, 9s.”[18] A model of the kettledrums with their carriage which accompanied the duke of Marlborough to Holland in 1702 is preserved in the Rotunda Museum at Woolwich. The kettledrums accompanied the Royal Artillery train in the Vigo expedition and during the campaign in Flanders in 1748. Macbean[19] states that they were mounted on a triumphal car ornamented and gilt, bearing the ordnance flag and drawn by six white horses. The position of the car on march was in front of the flag gun, and in camp in front of the quarters of the duke of Cumberland with the artillery guns packed round them. The kettledrummer had by order “to mount the kettledrum carriage every night half an hour before the sun sett and beat till gun fireing.” In 1759 the kettledrums ceased to form part of the establishment of the Royal Artillery, and they were deposited, together with their carriage, in the Tower, at the same time as a pair captured at Malplaquet in 1709. These Tower drums were frequently borrowed by Handel for performances of his oratorios.

The kettledrums still form part of the bands of the Life Guards and other cavalry regiments.  (K. S.) 

  1. From “drum” and “kettle,” a covered metal vessel for boiling water or other liquid; the O. E. word is cetel, cf. Du. ketel, Ger. Kessel, borrowed from Lat. catillus, dim. of catinus, bowl.
  2. This rhythmical use of kettledrums was characteristic of the military instrument of percussion, rather than the musical member of the orchestra. During the middle ages and until the end of the 18th century, the two different notes obtainable from the pair of kettledrums were probably used more as a means of marking and varying the rhythm than as musical notes entering into the composition of the harmonies. The kettledrums, in fact, approximated to the side drums in technique. The contrast between the purely rhythmical use of kettledrums, given above, and the more modern musical use is well exemplified by the well-known solo for four kettledrums in Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, beginning thus—
  3. See Wilhelm Kleefeld, Das Orchester der Hamburger Oper (1678–1738); Internationale Musikgesellschaft, Sammelband i. 2, p. 278 (Leipzig, 1899).
  4. See J. Georges Kastner, Méthode complète et raisonnée de timbales (Paris), p. 19, where several of the early mechanical kettledrums are described and illustrated.
  5. See Gustav Schilling’s Encyklopädie der gesammten musikal. Wissenschaften (Stuttgart, 1840), vol. v., art. “Pauke.”
  6. See Manuale pel Timpanista (Milan, 1842), where Boracchi describes and illustrates his invention.
  7. Catullus, lxiii. 8–10; Claud. De cons. Stilich. iii. 365; Lucret. ii. 618; Virg. Aen. ix. 619, &c.
  8. John Carter, Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, bas-relief from seats of choir of Worcester cathedral and of collegiate church of St Katherine near the Tower of London (plates, vol. i. following p. 53 and vol. ii. following p. 22).
  9. Nat. Hist. ix. 35, 23.
  10. De re militari, ii. 22; iii. 5, &c.
  11. Crassus, xxiii. 10. See also Justin xli. 2, and Polydorus, lib. 1, cap. xv.
  12. See Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum, lib. iii. cap. 21, 141; Migne, Patr. curs. completus, lxxxii. 167.
  13. Panthéon littéraire (Paris, 1837), J. A. Buchon, vol. i. cap. 322, p. 273.
  14. Reproduced by Franz Wickhoff, “Die Wiener Genesis,” supplement to the 15th and 16th volumes of the Jahrb. d. kunsthistorischen Sammlungen d. allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (Vienna, 1895); see frontispiece in colours and plate illustration XXXIV.
  15. Artliche u. kunstreiche Figuren zu der Reutierey (Frankfort-on-Main, 1584).
  16. See Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum and Monatshefte f. Musikgeschichte, Jahrgang x. 51.
  17. See Georges Kastner, op. cit., pp. 10 and 11; Johann Ernst Altenburg, Versuch einer Anleitung z. heroisch-musikalischen Trompeter u. Paukerkunst (Halle, 1795), p. 128; and H. G. Farmer, Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band, p. 23, note 1 (London, 1904).
  18. Miller’s Artillery Regimental History; see also H. G. Farmer, op. cit., p. 22; illustration 1702, p. 26.
  19. Memoirs of the Royal Artillery.