A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Pandean Pipe

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PANDEAN PIPE (Fr. Flûte de Pan; Ger. Syrinx). A simple instrument, of many forms and materials, which is probably the oldest and the most widely disseminated of any. It is thought to be identical with the Ugab, the first wind-instrument mentioned in the Bible (Gen. iv. 21, and Psalm cl.), in the former of these passages translated 'organ,' in the latter, 'pipe.' It was well known to the Greeks under the name of syrinx, being made with from three to nine tubes,[1] but usually with seven, a number which is also mentioned by Virgil.[2] It is depicted in a MS. of the 11th century preserved in the Bibliothèque Royale of Paris, and is probably the frestele, frêtel or frêtiau, of the Menétriers in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is known in China as Koan-tfee, with twelve tubes of bamboo; was used by the Peruvians under the name of huayra-puhura, being made of cane, and also of a greenish steatite or soapstone. Of the former material is a fine specimen now in the British Museum,[3] consisting of fourteen reed pipes of a brownish colour tied together with thread in two rows, so as to form a double set of seven reeds. Both sets are of almost exactly the same dimensions, and are placed side by side, the shortest measuring 3, the longest 6½ inches. One set is open at the bottom, the other closed, in consequence of which arrangement octaves are produced. The scale is pentatonic.

The soapstone instrument is even more remarkable. It measures 5⅝ inches high by 6¼ wide, and contains eight pipes bored from the solid block, and quaintly ornamented. Four of the tubes have small lateral finger-holes, which, when closed, lower the pitch a semitone. Thus twelve notes in all can be produced. The scale is peculiar and perhaps arbitrary; or the holes may have served for certain modes, of the use of which by the Peruvians there is evidence in Garcilasso de la Vega and other historians.

A modern Roumanian specimen, containing twenty-five tubes arranged in a curve, is in the South Kensington Museum; the longest pipes over 12 inches in length.

There is an excellent and well preserved example in a bas-relief from the Abbey of St. George de Boscherville, Normandy, of nth century date, which is figured in Mr. Engel's excellent work above quoted.

The Pandean Pipe is theoretically a series of stopped tubes blown from the edge of the upper, and, in this case, the only orifice, as already described under Flute. One note and occasional harmonics are usually produced from each tube, the scale being diatonic, and of variable extent according to the skill and convenience of the performer. At the present day it is rarely heard except as an accompaniment to the drama of Punch and Judy, and is commonly termed the 'mouth-organ.' It is enclosed in a leather or paper case which is pushed into the open waistcoat of the player, the different parts of the scale being reached by rotation of the head. The quality of the tone is reedy and peculiar, somewhat veiled from the absence of harmonics of even numbers, it being a stopped pipe, of which, however, the first harmonic on the twelfth, and not the fundamental tone, is habitually sounded. In this respect and in its quality it closely resembles the 'Harmonic flute' stop of the organ.

It had a temporary popularity in this country at the commencement of the present century, when itinerant parties of musicians, terming themselves Pandeans, went about the country, and gave performances. 'The lowest set of reeds (the 'septem discrimina vocum' of Virgil), says a writer in 1821, is called the contra basso or double base; the next fagotto, or bassoon; the third septenary is the tenor or second treble; and the fourth or highest range of pipes, the first treble; so that in the aggregate there is a complete scale of four octaves, and they can play in three or four parts. The reeds or pipes are fastened under the chin of the performer, and the lip runs from one to the other with seeming facility, without moving the instrument by manual [4]assistance.

'A company of them was introduced at Vauxhall Gardens a few years ago, and since that they are common enough in the streets of London. It is to be observed that some of the performers, particularly the first treble, have more than seven pipes, which enables them to extend the melody beyond the septenary.' (Encyclop. Londinensis, 1821.)

A tutor for this instrument was published in 1807, entitled 'The Complete Preceptor for Davies's new invented Syrrynx (sic) or patent Pandean Harmonica, containing tunes and military pieces in one, two, three, and four parts.' The writer states that 'by making his instrument of glass he gains many advantages over the common reed, the tone being inconceivably more brilliant and sonorous.' The scale given commences on A below the treble stave, rising by fifteen intervals to the A above the same stave. The C is indicated as the key-note, which is marked as such. The instrument appears to have been susceptible of Double-tongueing like the Flute.

[ W. H. S. ]


  1. Theocritus, Idyll ix.
  2. 'Est mini disparibus septem compacta cicutis Fistula.'
  3. See Catalogue of Instruments in South Kensington Museum, by C. Engel, p. 65. for a woodcut of this specimen.
  4. 'Et supra calamos unco percurrere labro.' Lucretius. This line clearly indicates the identity of the instrument.