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Although the timpani was still considered primarily an outdoor instrument, it started being used during indoor concerts to provide rhythmic support for trumpet fanfares. Most of the time, players would not have written music to follow because parts were handed down from generation to generation and were learned by rote. By the 17th century, the timpani moved indoors for good and composers began to demand more from timpanists than ever before. The timpani was first introduced to the court orchestras and opera ensembles as well as in larger church works. Due to this move indoors, a much more formalized way of playing and approaching the timpani was developed. The old practice of learning parts by rote gave way to written music and composers began writing more regularly for the timpani. More notes were written than just two simultaneous pitches and as a result, timpanists were faced with the issue of how to actually play their parts on the equipment that they already had. One possible solution was for timpanists to add more drums to their set-up, but this also created a problem: During this time, performances often took place in courts or at smaller theaters that had limited stage space and large timpani set-ups did not fit very well. Timpanists at this time were faced with a problem; using a large, cumbersome set of timpani to play their parts would not be possible due to space restraints. However, a solution was found, and with the help of technological advancements during the 18th century in Europe, devices were developed and added to the drums to change the pitch. These changes allowed for a single drum to play more than just two notes. This provided a way for timpanists to not only play their parts more easily but also use fewer drums.
Around this time, Europe was beginning to enter an era of industrial revolution, and new technological breakthroughs helped provide timpanists with possible ways to alter the pitch on one of their drums. The new orchestral works required faster tuning of the timpani. A court locksmith and a royal armorer made a first set of drums. Although no diagrams or drawings of what the drums actually looked like exist, there are several rough descriptions of how the drums worked. The kettle of the drum was attached to a wooden base. Rods curved down along the kettle and connected the counter hoop to a threaded hole at the bottom of the bowl. There was a bolt inside of the threaded hole that allowed for the entire mechanism to be raised and lowered. In order for the bolt to be turned and the drum to move, there were several levers that led to a larger vertical lever that came out of the wooden base and when moved would either raise or lower the bowl, thus changing the pitch.
In 1836, Johann Kasper Einbigler designed a drum that not only was easier to tune than previous models, but also provided a far superior tone quality. He was able to improve the tone quality by suspending the kettle with struts that were attached to the top of the kettle. This differed from previous models on which the rods were actually attached the side of the kettle. The struts on Einbigler's drum were directly connected to the support system under the drum and this allowed for the kettle to resonate more freely.
In 1840, August Knocke, a gunsmith who lived in Munich designed the first set of drums where the tuning was done using the player's foot rather than hands. He used a similar two-ring design where one ring remained stationary and the other moved up and down to alter the pitch. Gears were attached to the rings and another separate ring was connected that would be turned by the player's foot to alter the pitch. This foot-activated tuning ring replaced the vertical lever which was previously used to change the pitch. These drums also utilized the suspended kettle to provide the best tone quality possible. These drums were commonly used in German orchestras at the time and one of the most notable groups to use these drums was the court theater in Munich. These drums received numerous accolades during the mid-19th century. They received honorable mention at The Great Exhibition (1851) in London as well as receiving a medal of honor at the 1854 German Industrial Exhibition in Munich at the Glaspalast.
In the last third of the 19th century Ernst Gotthold Pfundt and Carl Hoffmann designed a crank timpani that already looked very “modern”, similar to the timpani Lefima made in the 1920s.
The last great development in timpani construction during the 19th century came in 1881 when Carl Pittrich eveloped a foot pedal mechanism that could be attached to a timpani and made quick tuning changes much easier.
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