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Castanets: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Percussion instrument
Classification hand percussion
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 111.141
(Directly struck concussive idiophone)
Renoir's 1909 painting Dancing girl with castanets

Castanets are percussion instrument (idiophone), mostly used in Moorish, Ottoman, ancient Roman, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American music. The instrument consists of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by string. These are held in the hand and used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks. They are traditionally made of hardwood, although fibreglass is becoming increasingly popular.

In practice a player usually uses two pairs of castanets. One pair is held in each hand, with the string hooked over the thumb and the castanets resting on the palm with the fingers bent over to support the other side. Each pair will make a sound of a slightly different pitch. The higher pair, known as hembra (female), is usually held in the right hand, with the larger macho (male) pair held in the left.

Castanets are often played by singers or dancers. Contrary to popular belief, castanets are not commonly used in flamenco dance, except for two specific forms: the zambra and the siguiriyas. In fact, Spanish folk dance is the style typically performed that incorporates castanet use. Escuela bolera, a balletic danceform is also accompanied by castanets. The name (Spanish: castañuelas) is derived from the diminutive form of castaña, the Spanish word for chestnut, which they resemble. In Andalusia they are usually referred to as palillos (little sticks) instead, and this is the name by which they are known in flamenco.

The origins of the instrument are not known. The practice of clicking hand-held sticks together to accompany dancing is ancient, and was practiced by both the Greeks and the Egyptians. In more modern times, the bones and spoons used in Minstrel show and jug band music can also be considered forms of the castanet.

When used in an orchestral setting, castanets are sometimes attached to a handle, or mounted to a base to form a pair of machine castanets. This makes them easier to play, but also alters the sound, particularly for the machine castanets. It is possible to produce a roll on a pair of castanets in any of the three ways in which they are held. When held in the hand, they are bounced against the fingers and palm of the hand; on sticks, bouncing between fingers and the player's thigh is one accepted method. For a machine castanet, a less satisfactory roll is obtained by rapid alternation of the two castanets with the fingers.

During the baroque period, castanets are featured prominently in dances. Composers like Jean-Baptiste Lully scored them for the music of dances which included Spaniards (Ballet des Nations), Egyptians (Persée, Phaëton), Ethiopians (Persée, Phaëton), and Korybantes (Atys). In addition, they are often scored for dances involving less pleasant characters such as demons (Alceste) and nightmares (Atys). Their association with African dances is even stated in the ballet Flore (1669) by Lully, "...les Africains inventeurs des danses de Castagnettes entrent d’un air plus gai..."

Köçek troupe at 1720 celebration fair at Sultan Ahmed's sons' circumcision.

Castanets were used to evoke a Spanish atmosphere in Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen and Emmanuel Chabrier's orchestral work España. They are also found in the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Richard Strauss' opera Salome and in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. An unusual variation on the standard castanets can be found in Darius Milhaud's Les Choëphores, which calls for castanets made of metal. Other uses include Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol, Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole and Karl Jenkins's Tangollen.

A rare occasion where the normally accompanying instrument is given concertant solo status is Leonardo Balada's Concertino for Castanets and Orchestra Three Anecdotes (1977). The "Conciertino für Kastagnetten und Orchester" by the German composer Helmut M. Timpelan, in cooperation with the castanet virtuoso, José de Udaeta, is another solo work for the instrument. Sonia Amelio has also performed her castanet arrangements as a concert soloist.

In the late Ottoman empire, köçeks not only danced but played percussion instruments, especially a type of castanet known as the çarpare, which in later times were replaced by metal cymbals called zills.

Also referred to as clackers in the United States.

See also

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CASTANETS (Fr. castagnettes, Ger. Kastagnetten, Span. castanuelas), instruments of percussion, introduced through the Moors by way of Spain into Europe from the East, used for marking the rhythm in dancing. Castanets, always used in pairs, one in each hand, consist of two pear or mussel-shaped bowls of hard wood, hinged together by a silk cord, the loop being passed over the thumb and first finger. The two halves are then struck against each other by the other fingers in single, double or triple beats, giving out series of hollow clicks of indefinite musical pitch. When intended for use in the orchestra the pair of castanets is mounted one at each end of a wooden stick about 8 in. long, which facilitates the playing. Castanets are also sometimes used in military bands and are then specially constructed. The two halves are kept open by a slight spring fixed to a frame attached to the hoop of a side drum, and the instrument is worked by the drummer with an ordinary drumstick. An instance of the use of castanets in opera occurs in the Habanera in Carmen. A quaint description of castinatts is given in Harleian MS. 2034 (f. 208) at the British Museum (before 1688) with a pencil sketch which tallies very well with the above. The MS. is by Randle Holme and forms part of the Academy of Armoury. Castanets (KparaXa) were used by the ancient Greeks, and also by the Romans (Lat. crotalum, crotala) to accompany the dances in the Dionysiac and Bacchanalian rites.

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Simple English

Castanets are percussion instruments which come from Spain. They are often used in an orchestra. Castanets are hollowed-out wooden shells. A hardwood such as ebony or rosewood is used.

Castanets are used in pairs. Traditionally two pairs are played together, one pair held in each hand. There is a string which passes through small holes in the shells. The player winds the string round the thumb and finger so that the two shells can be clicked together. The two pairs of castanets used are slightly different sizes so that they make a slightly different pitch. The higher pair, known as hembra (female), is usually held in the right hand, with the larger macho (male) pair held in the left.

Castanets are traditionally played by singers and dancers. Spanish folk dancers often use castanets. They are often associated with flamenco dancing.

When they are played in an orchestra they are often attached to a stand. The technique of playing is therefore different. They can be tapped by the fingers and palm of the hand. They are often used in music which is supposed to sound Spanish. In ballet and opera they are used to accompany Spanish dances. Carmen, the character in Bizet's opera Carmen, sings a song and accompanies herself on the castanets. Normally the opera singer will not have the skill to play them, so the castanets are played by a percussion player in the orchestra while Carmen pretends to be playing them.


The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments, Könemann; ISBN-10: 3-8331-2195-5

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