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The Celesta (IPA [tʃəˈlɛstə]) is a struck idiophone operated by a keyboard. The keys are connected to hammers which strike a graduated set of metal (usually steel) plates suspended over wooden resonators. There is a pedal to sustain or dampen the sound.
The sound of the celesta is akin to that of the glockenspiel, but with a much softer timbre. This quality gave rise to the instrument's name, celeste meaning "heavenly" in French.
The celesta is a transposing instrument, sounding one octave higher than written. The original French instrument had a five-octave range, but as the lowest octave was considered somewhat unsatisfactory, it was omitted from later models. Interestingly the standard French four-octave instrument is now gradually being replaced in symphony orchestras by a larger, five-octave German model. Although treated as a member of the percussion section in orchestral terms, it is usually played by a pianist, the part being normally written on two bracketed staves.
The celesta was invented in 1889 by the Parisian harmonium builder Auguste Mustel. Mustel's father, Victor Mustel, had developed the forerunner of the celesta, the typophone or the dulcitone, in 1860. This consisted of struck tuning-forks instead of metal plates, but the sound produced was considered too small to be of use in an orchestral situation.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky is cited as the first to use this instrument in a symphonic work for full orchestra; it appears in his last symphonic poem The Voyevoda (premiered 1891) and in passages from his last ballet The Nutcracker (1892) -- most notably the "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy." Ernest Chausson preceded him by employing the celesta in his incidental music for La tempęte in 1888, written for a small orchestra. Charles Widor had also used it in his ballet La Korrigane in 1880.
Works featuring the celesta
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, from The Nutcracker (1892)
- Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
- Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé (1912)
- Gustav Holst: Venus and Neptune, from The Planets (1917)
- Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (1906)
- Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8 'symphony of a thousand'
- Ottorino Respighi: Pini di Roma (1924)
- Gottfried Huppertz: Metropolis (1927)
- George Gershwin: An American in Paris (1928)
- Maurice Ravel: Bolero (1928)
- Heitor Villa-Lobos: Toccata, from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2 (1933)
- Béla Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1937)
- Olivier Messian: Turangalila Symphony (1949)
- Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6 and Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
- Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 Symphony No. 11 (1957) and Cello Concerto No. 1
- Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird (1910)
- Thelonious Monk: Pannonica, from Brilliant Corners (1957)
- Buddy Holly: Everyday (1958)
- The Velvet Underground: "Sunday Morning", from The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
- Nick Drake: "Northern Sky", from "Bryter Layter" (1970)
- The Stooges: Penetration from Raw Power (1973)
- John Williams: Hedwig's Theme, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
- Augustus Pablo: Celesta King
- The Polyphonic Spree: Hold Me Now, Lithium (Nirvana cover)
- Eels: Flyswatter from Daisies of the Galaxy (2000); Trouble With Dreams from Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005)
- Björk: Scatterheart from Selmasongs (2000); Sun In My Mouth, Harm Of Will and It's Not Up To You from Vespertine (2001); Mother Heroic from Family Tree (2002)
- Sigur Rós: Sé Lest and Heysátan from Takk (2005)
- Death Cab for Cutie: Title and Registration from Transatlanticism (2003)
- Jonathan Dove: "Flight" (opera) 1998
- McCoy Tyner: 'Once I Loved, Land of the Lonely' from 'Trident' (jazz), 1975
- ^ Freed, Richard. [LP Jacket notes.] Tchaikovsky: "Fatum," [...] "The Storm," [...] "The Voyevoda." Bochum Orchestra. Othmar Maga, conductor. Vox Stereo STPL 513.460. New York: Vox Productions, Inc., 1975.
- ^ Blades, James and Holland, James. "Celesta"; Gallois, Jean. "Chausson, Ernest: Works," Grove Music Online (Accessed 08 April 2006) (subscription required)
- ^ The Ultimate Encyclopaedia of Musical Instruments, ISBN 18586818855, p104
- Rhodes piano, an electric instrument similar to the celesta
- NPR - The Celesta: The Sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy
- Comprehensive article with photos, history etc.