The Percussion Family

The Timpani

The timpani is a type of large drum which can play very loudly, and is the only drum in the percussion family to produce specific pitches, and can therefore play notes defined by a composer. The instrument is tuned by changing the tension of the skin of the drum with a pedal found on each instrument. Percussionists who play the timpani are considered specialists and therefore hold the title of “Timpanist” or “Timpani player” in an orchestra, and don’t generally play other percussion instruments in their orchestra. A timpanist usually has four drums in front of them and uses different sticks to create the wide range of sounds required by the repertoire.

Julien Bélanger, Principal Timpani of the Orchestre Métropolitain

Did you know?

The timpani became a part of the orchestra as of the 17th Century and is the oldest percussion instrument in the tradition of orchestral repertoire. The timpani are present in almost all orchestral works, while the other percussion instruments vary from one piece to the next.

Musical excerpts

The first excerpt by Carl Nielsen is idiosyncratic: it was written for two sets of four timpani, placed next to each other in the orchestra. The result is quite impressive! Obstinately fortissimo, Italian for “very loud”, the hits of the timpani help illicit a military feel to the second excerpt from Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. In contrast, the piano (or soft) timpani hits in the third excerpt from “Marche au supplice” of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, create the effect of a far-off scene of the procession of a condemned man marching toward his execution...

Carl Nielsen

Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable”: IV. Con anima ― Allegro

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony No. 5: IV. Allegro non troppo

Hector Berlioz

Symphonie fantastique: IV. Marche au supplice

Discover the favourite symphonic work of Julien Bélanger, Timpanist with the Orchestre Métropolitain!