Crotales and Antique Cymbals

One of my favorite percussion instruments are the Crotales.  Crotales are tuned metal disks usually stuck with hard mallets (plastic or metal) that sound similar to a Glockenspiel.  Crotales will only ever have a 2-octave range (top two octaves of the piano).  Only rare experiments have extended the range beyond this.

In terms of sound, I tend to think of Crotales as having a more oboe-like sound while the Glockenspiel will have a more clarinet-like sound.  This has to do with the complex series of overtones produced on the Crotales.  Think of them as twinkling lights in the night sky.

Technique on the Crotales will be the slowest of all the mallet percussion instruments due to the shape of the discs.  Bowing the discs will give a pure, if not eerie sound that is highly effective.  Bowing technique is only for extremely slow passages (half and whole notes at most).  The ring time is the longest of any of the traditional mallet percussion instruments.

New Age demonstration of Crotales (bowed and struck)

Antique Cymbals

Antique Cymbals are the exact same instrument as Crotales only played in a completely different manner.  Like their name implies, pairs of them are struck together like cymbals.  These are some of the oldest pitched percussion instrument that we know of.  Berlioz remarks that several were found in Roman ruins (hence the name “antique”).  Famous examples of Antique Cymbals are found in “The Queen Mab Scherzo” from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and The Rite of Spring.

Queen Mab Scherzo

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4 thoughts on “Crotales and Antique Cymbals

  1. I think you will find that Sabian have made Crotales in the past which are lower in pitch than the currently available 2 octave sets. At least one prototype set in existence. Plus, Evelyn Glennie has a “bass” set of crotales which I have seen. I’m not sure who made those, but they have tube resonators under them like marimba keys.

      1. For sure, not worth worrying about as a composer or orchestrator. But I had to correct your sweeping statement that no larger crotales had ever been manufactured 😉

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