I stumbled upon a discussion about Dandrieu’s Le Timpanon. Contrary to what was suggested, the timpanon is not a kettledrum.

In his 1680 Dictionnaire, Pierre Richelet give’s the following definition:


Played with a feather!

Good to know, Dennis. My first translation was as a kettledrum. Then somebody in the Encyclopédie found that it was the hungarian Cymbalom. Strange indeed, as these instruments were not in use in France in Dandrieu’s time. Your finding sounds much more plausible. It is a psaltery: cymbalum ! A harpsichord plucked by hand with a feather plectrum, most certainly. Why don’t you post it in the Facebook discussion?

The first entry for Tímpano in the New Grove refers to the Dulcimer (and the second to the kettle drum).



Compare also the Irish medieval tympanum (s.v. ‘Timpán/Tiompán’ in New Grove), an instrument documented for the 9th-17th centuries and metal stringed like the Spanish Tímpano.

In classical Latin & Greek (presumably also in psalms 149 and 150? one could check variations in iconography) ‘tympanum’ was a hemispherical drum.

The French Littré dictionary, from the second half of the 19th century, shows:

tympanon nm (tin-pa-non)

  • Instrument de musique monté avec des cordes de laiton, et qu’on touche avec deux petites baguettes de bois. Tambours, tambourins, timbales, tympanons et cymbales [la paire]… Tarifs des douanes, 1869, p. 53]

In other words, a cimbalom, Hackbrett, hammer dulcimer. So I guess that was fairly standard French usage, at least in being a brass strung instrument (with different means of sounding the strings), from Dennis’ 1680 citation to 1870s. This in spite of its original meaning and usage in ancient Greece.

I’m curious about the Richelet claim it was played with a feather.


Plume in the sense of “quill” rather than feather.

As in this “period” dictionary:


And from the same “period” dictionary:


Understood that the intended meaning is plucking with a quill. However, I don’t see how or why one would do that in any practical way.

David Kettlewell (1946-2011) is known for his thesis and articles about the dulcimer, and he included and expanded some of the material from those on his website. He visited Brussels regularly, I got in touch in with him in 2010, and up until now I didn’t know about his death. Incredibly, the website is still online.

Anyway, I wanted to append this snippet:

Among writers using other languages , we find Kürzinger in German contrasting struck Hackbrett with plucked Psalterium (quoted in Chapter 3.5), while French writers seem to have been divided in their opinions as to the natures of psaltérion and tympanon for each has been described as both struck and plucked; similarly, the two have been variously considered to be mutually exclusive, and inclusive, one of the other:

  • LaBorde illustrates a struck tympanon and a plucked psaltérion (23)
  • while quite the opposite view is expressed by Furetiére:
    "tympanon … en usage en Allemagne … Qu’on touche avec une plume, qu’on appelle icy psalterion*"*
    “psalterion … On le touche avec une petite verge de fer, ou un baton recourbé”. (24)

Some writers mention both techniques, of whom Mersenne was one (quoted in Chapter 3.5.), and Kastner considers that “le tympanon n’est qu’une varieté du psaltérion”, and adds reassuringly that “en point de vue generale on ne commet point d’erreur en confondant les deux instruments”, ‘from a general point of view, no error is committed at all in confusing the two instruments.’

Similar situations exist in discussions of the oriental relatives of the dulcimer: instruments named svaramandala, satatantri vina and katyayana vina are identified variously as dulcimers and as psalteries (see Chapter 5, India), and Sambamoorthy says that katyayana vina “became the santir in Persia” (where it always seems to have been struck) “and Psaltery in the Bible” (generally considered to have been a harp: see Chapter 7.17) (25).