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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the stringed instrument; for the percussion instrument consisting of a metal disk see cymbal.


The cymbalum, cymbalom, cimbalom (most common spelling), ţambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl or santouri is a musical instrument found mainly in the music of Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Greece and Ukraine. In Czechoslovakia it was also known as a Cimbal. It is related to the hammered dulcimer of Western Europe.


The small cymbalum developed from the Persian santur, which entered Europe during the Middle Ages. The instrument became popular with Romanian Gypsy (Roma) musicians (lăutari) around the 19th century; by the end of the century it was quite widespread, taking the place of the kobza. [1] In Wallachia it is used almost as a percussion instrument. In Transylvania and Banat, the style of play is more tonal, heavy with arpeggios.

The santur (also called santoor in India) spread throughout the world. It was not only modified by nomadic Roma people and brought to Eastern Europe and The Balkans, but it also appeared in many other cultures:

  • United States: Hammered dulcimer
  • Korea: Yanggeum
  • China: Yangqin
  • Thailand: Khim
  • Germany: Hackbrett


The small cymbalum usually is carried by the musician, using a strap around the player's neck and leaning one edge of the instrument against the player's waist. The cymbalum is played by striking two beaters against the strings.

In Hungary, the larger, concert cimbalom, comparable in pitch range (and weight) to a small piano—but still normally played with beaters—was first developed by József Schunda in the 1870s. It stands on four legs, has many more strings, and the later models had a damping pedal; before this, the player damped the strings using his coat sleeves. This instrument eventually found its way to districts of Romania, because they were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In Romania, this large cymbalum is known as the ţambal mare (literally "great cymbalum"). These instruments are fully chromatic and have a range of four full octaves.

A small cymbalum was also later produced in Ukraine during the 1950s that came with attachable legs and dampers, but could be carried more easily than a concert instrument. These instruments were produced by the Chernihiv factory which produced many types of folk instruments.

Players and places

One composer who made use of the cymbalum was Zoltán Kodály. His orchestral suite, Háry János, made extensive use of the instrument and helped make the cymbalum well known outside Eastern Europe. Igor Stravinsky was also an enthusiast, and he owned one, and included one in his ballet Renard. Other composers like Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, György Kurtág have made a great use of cymbalum in their works. Henri Dutilleux used it in "Mystčre de l'Instant" (for chamber orchestra). Film composer Howard Shore used the cymbalum as well to express Gollum's sneaky nature in Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002).

The instrument is known by different names in different countries and when played in different styles, roughly:

  • Hungary: cimbalom
  • Slovakia: cimbal
  • Czech Republic: cimbál (IPA: [tsImbaːl])
  • Poland: cymbały
  • Romania: ţambal (the large cimbalom is called ţambal mare)
  • Belarus: tsymbaly (цымбалы)
  • Ukraine: tsymbaly (цимбали)
  • Russia: tsymbaly (цимбалы)
  • Greece: sandouri
  • Slovenia: čembale
  • Klezmer & Jewish music: tsimbl
  • Turkey: santur
  • Iran:santur

Some well known cymbalum players:

  • Luigi Gaggero: classical and contemporary cimbalom player; professor at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg. He premiered a large part of the contemporary chamber-music cimbalom repertoire.
  • Joseph Moskowitz: The father of klezmer "tsimbl". One of the first to be recorded.
  • Toni Iordache: An admired Romanian ţambal player.
  • Sandu Sura: An admired Moldavian ţambal player.
  • Kálmán Balogh: A contemporary Hungarian cimbalom virtuoso.
  • Stuart Brotman of the American klezmer band Brave Old World
  • Michael Masley: A contemporary American who plays the instrument with ten self-designed bowhammers.
  • Blue Man Group: An American performance art group that plays the cymbalum with drumsticks to give the instrument an edgier sound.
  • Per Karang: Norwegian cimbalom player.


  • Cimbalom was used in the film score for the movie In the Heat of the Night (1967).
  • The cimbalom was featured in Gollum's motif in the film score for The Two Towers (2002)
  • The surname Zimbalist means "one who plays the cimbalom"
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