Pair of timpani, German states, 18th century (NMM 3594 a & b). All evidence suggests that these timpani were intended to be used in combination with brass instruments (usually trumpets or perhaps even corni da caccia). The integral, one-piece, three-legged stands to which the timpani are attached may have been used to secure and straddle the drums across the back of the timpanist's horse, by running straps in and through the stands. Some scholars hypothesize that these stands were the earliest forms of support for timpani and were a means by which to adapt mounted cavalry drums for indoor playing. A pair of timpani, tuned either a fifth or a fourth apart (the tonic and dominant notes of the key in which the piece is written), was still the standard during Beethoven's lifetime. The timpani bowls seen here are constructed from hammered sheets of copper. Animal skin heads are tucked around iron hoops and tightened (tensioned) by iron tuning rods. The rods are received by nuts mounted on decorative iron shields nailed to the bowls. Large internal funnels ('schalltrichter') are located above each vent hole. Although their use remains a bit of a mystery, they were described by contemporary sources as a type of resonator, providing an extra humming or ringing sound quality to the timpani.


  • Title: Pair of Timpani
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1700-1800 c.
  • Location Created: Germany
  • Type: timpani percussion musical instrument
  • Rights: © National Music Museum
  • Photo Credit: Bill Willroth, Sr.
  • Credit: Board of Trustees, 1985

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