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Crotales (upper right) are often used with other mallet percussion

Crotales (pronounced "kro-tah'-les"), sometimes called antique cymbals, are percussion instruments consisting of small, tuned bronze or brass disks. Each is about 4 inches in diameter with a flat top surface and a nipple on the base. They are commonly played by being struck with hard mallets. However, they may also be played by striking two disks together in the same manner as finger cymbals, or by bowing. Their sound is rather like a small tuned bell, only with a much brighter sound, and a much longer resonance.

Modern crotales are arranged chromatically and have a range of up to two octaves. They are typically available in sets (commonly one octave), but may also be purchased individually. Crotales are treated as transposing instruments; music for crotales is written two octaves lower than the sounding pitch.

One of the earliest uses of crotales in the orchestral repertoire is Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. The chamber music composition From Me Flows What You Call Time by Toru Takemitsu features crotales in a prominent role. In Joseph Schwantner's ...and the mountains rising nowhere the composer calls for the instrument to be bowed with a double bass bow, producing an eerie, sustained glass harmonica-like effect. This efect is also used in Frank Tichelli's Vesuvius.

In Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the score calls for two crotales in A-flat and B-flat. Stravinsky's Les Noces ends on a plaintive series of chords struck by a combination of chimes and crotales.

Crotales are also found in prehistory. The National Museum of Ireland has several examples on display dating from the late Bronze Age (1200-800BC) which were found in a hoard alongside various brass wind instruments.

Use in popular music

  • Used by John Williams in the song "Leaving Hogwarts" for the score of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
  • In the Yes song "Awaken", Alan White uses crotales during the harp and church organ section in the middle of the song. During the 9012-Live tour and subsequent tours, White uses them to play the intro to "Changes".
  • Drummer Glenn Kotche of Wilco makes frequent use of crotales on several recordings and incorporates the instrument into his drum set.

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