A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Castanets

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CASTANETS. A pair of castanets (or castagnettes) consists of two small pieces of hard wood, shaped somewhat like the bowl of a spoon, or a scallop shell. These are hinged together by a cord, the ends of which pass over the thumb and first finger of the performer. The remaining fingers strike the two halves together, either in single strokes or in trills; the instrument emitting a deep hollow click, which, although not a musical note, is nevertheless not disagreeable to the ear. The performer has usually a pair in each hand. It is a Moorish and Spanish instrument, and is intended for accompanying dances. Its use by ballet-dancers is well known.

When required to be played in the orchestra, to accompany dance music, it is best to attach a pair, half on each side, to a flat piece of hard wood, ending in a stick about eight inches long. By shaking this apparatus, the required effect is produced, without the necessity of fitting the castanets to the performer's fingers, who generally is playing some other instrument, and must suddenly take up the castanets to play a few bars.

The Spanish name is Castañuela, either because made sometimes from the wood of the chestnut-tree castaño) or from some fancied resemblance to the two halves into which the chestnut (castaña) naturally divides itself.

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