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Harold in Italy was a natural choice for my first diary in this series because every time the format in which we listen to stuff changes, the first piece I buy in the new format or for the new piece of equipment has always been Harold in Italy. So for this diary, we're going to investigate more stuff I like but I'm going to try to explain why. The title should, if you think about it, identify four instruments that are used in classical music, although stomped and slid are probably LESS ambiguous than struck.

All four of these instruments have cases that the players sit in front of. That's what they have in common.


From top to bottom, we have a celesta (struck), an ondes martenot (slid), a cimbalom (also struck), and the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre Dame de Paris (stomped in addition to struck). The cimbalom is the oldest.  It's a type of dulcimer (specifically a hammered dulcimer), and it's a staple of Hungarian and Romanian folk music. The celesta and the Cavaillé-Coll organ are products of the late 19th century, while the ondes martenot is a mid-twentieth prototype of a synthesizer. Two of these are in wide use in classical music, while the other two are associated with one particular classical composer, and two are particularly associated with Hungarian composers.

Follow me below the great orange bow rest and we'll see how these have been used.

The Celesta

Invented in 1886 by the French harmonium maker Auguste Mustel, and put into use almost immediately. I'm happy I found one in an actual orchestra, and here is the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Seiji Ozawa, playing Tchaikovsky (premiered in 1892). You know the piece.

Bela Bartok featured it in "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" (1936), and here's the second movement from a mid-1950's recording of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eduard Van Beinum (wildly underrated orchestra, in my opinion). The main action starts around 2:32.

We can even find the celesta in artsy popular music. At 3:37, you'll see how, and (surprise!) we're working with the Talking Heads, as artsy as you get in this genre. The album is Little Creatures and the song is Television Man.

The Ondes Martenot

This was invented in 1928, and this article from the Manchester Guardian is a lot better than what you'll find at wikipedia as far as an introduction to the instrument is concerned. Yes, it's influenced a lot of people, but in my mind the instrument is associated with Olivier Messiaen, so the examples will be from Messiaen's music (and if you want more Messiaen, please let me know in the comments - I threw out two all-Messiaen drafts before I got to this one).

This is from Messiaen's 4 Feuillets Inédits, and it's #4.  It's not the best rendition on youtube, but it shows you how the ondes martenot is played. Thomas Bloch, incidentally, has also played with Radiohead and Gorillaz, so I'll link his website.

And then there's the Turangalila Symphony. Composed between 1946 and 1948 on a commission from Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony, and premiered in Boston in 1949 with Leonard Bernstein conducting. I would have done a diary entirely on that but with my classes having started Monday (and I'm teaching two concentrated eight-week courses this semester, simultaneously) it will have to wait until mid-December at the earliest.  This is the first movement, played by Pierre Laurent Aimard, Cynthia Millar, Andrew Davis, and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the Proms in 2001. Ravishing, in my opinion.

The cimbalom

The cimbalom, or hammered dulcimer if you want to be technical, is an instrument associated with all kinds of performance in central Europe, most notably in Hungary and Romania.  Youtube has an amazing trove of cimbalom music.  Classical composers have also embraced it during the twentieth century; Igor Stravinsky, for example, has a part for the cimbalom in Renard.  Here we have five minutes from Pierre Boulez, Repons (1984), one of his first efforts to meld conventional instruments and live electronics, filmed over the cimbalom player's right shoulder.  Boulez really understands the instrument!

For me, however, as the ondes martenot is associated with Olivier Messiaen, the cimbalom is associated with Zoltán Kodály, especially his music for Háry János, a folk opera he composed in 1926 after a decade or so of ethnomusicological research with his friend Bartok. Here is the Intermezzo from Háry János played by Gyula Feher and the Budapest Champagne Band for a 2012 New Year's Concert. Here we SO blur the already blurred line between classical and folk, but why not? How can you not love this?

The Cavaille-Coll Organ

Dumbo covered this in his Saint-Saens diary.  In ALL the previous iterations of this week's diary save one, the Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony #5 (1879) has been featured.  This was written to be played on a Cavaillé-Coll organ, but here I have to balance the organ by the kind of view you can get of the organist using (stomping on) the foot pedals that are so obvious in the photograph at the beginning of the diary. And seriously, what could you possibly follow the Kodály with besides a rip-roaring piece of organ music?  So here's David Di Fiore -on the Rieger-Otto historical organ (1912) in Budapest. Pay attention when the bass line comes in.

I don't think I should make you listen to anything after this.  If you have other favorites involving these four instruments, post away in the comments!

Fri Aug 31, 2012 at 7:30 AM PT: Thank you, Community Spotlight!  I'll be writing all day so I might not be as attentive to this diary as I'd ordinarily be, but I'll check in regularly.

Originally posted to An Ear for Music on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 04:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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