What was the Irish Timpan? Jun 11, 2007 0:06:49 GMT 1
Post by Dick Glasgow on Jun 11, 2007 0:06:49 GMT 1
What was the Irish Timpan?
David Kettlewell covers this topic very well on his excellent website, where he says:
There are references in a number of Latin and Irish mss from the 8th to the 17th centuries (63) to an instrument or instruments with names such as timpan (64); tíompan (65), teampan (66), tympanum (67) timphanum (68); the references are found in such sources as the writings of Bishop Dunstan (68), Geraldus Cambriensis (67) and St. Patrick (69), and the books of Leinster, Ogaliv and Ossian (69).
O'Curry collected together a large number of references, and having discussed them in some detail concluded that the name was used at one time for a harp, at another for the instrument known as stråkharpa ('bowed-harp') or talharpa in Swedish, crwth (and many variants) in British languages (64), and classified by organologists today as a 'bowed lyre' (fig.256). O'Curry's arguments are summarised and substantially endorsed by Otto Andersson (70), and in Grove 5; Ann Buckley completed a master's thesis in 1972, which considered the etymology, literary references, and morphology of the tiompan and the function and status of the tíompan-player (71), evidently retracing O'Curry's steps, and reaching the same conclusions (63).
More specifically, she writes: "I have no evidence that the word timpan (or indeed tíompan) was used to mean dulcimer before the 1970s. Also I have no reason to believe that the tíompan was anything other than a lyre, plucked ... up to ca.1000 A.D., and thereafter bowed" (85).
The opposing view was first expressed by Galpin; he expressed his reluctance to accept O'Curry's conclusions in toto and decided instead that it seemed "very probable that this once popular Timpan was a form of Psaltery 'plucked with a quill', in later days becoming a Dulcimer 'struck with a rod'. His positive reasons for this were etymological, comparing timpan with the French tympanon, the reference to striking, and the mention of "treble strings ... of silver and ... bass strings.. of white bronze" (implying that there were more than three strings); two of these are rather scanty as evidence (the earliest use of tympanon as a dulcimer name seems to be that of Furetière in 1690, and Derek Bell (quoted below) says that the words for plucking, bowing and hammering are all the same in Irish: c.f. frapper, slaen, schlagen in Chapter 3.4., here and here.
Andersson considered the notices quoted by Galpin "of no real importance" and concluded that
"the 'probability' of his conjectures seems exceedingly small. The arguments he adduces in support of his view are not sufficient to outweigh those given by O'Curry and Dr. Sullivan (72) in favour of the opposite theory"(73).
He also quotes Gratton Flood's theory (1906) that the timpan was identical to the kinnor, triganon and fidil (74).
In spite of the lack of supporting iconographical evidence Derek Bell evidently finds Galpin's view convincing:
"A perusal of this old literature suggests that the Timpan... was originally a lyre with only three strings, later becoming a psaltery, later still in some parts it was a bowed psaltery... and only finally is it believed to have become a hammered dulcimer, and psaltery and dulcimer rolled into one. This is what Dr. Apel and many Scottish Irish (sic) musicologists believe.., what we cannot prove for certain is how it was played, for the Irish to slide off a string... to pluck with nail or plectrum like a psaltery or again like a harp, and to hammer are all the same word! ...
"My 'timpan' as Buckley says on my sole record sleeve, 'an educated guess'. I wanted to bring back the metal, brass bronze-string sound into Irish music again in an ethnic way, without resorting to foreign instruments like guitars and bouzoukis and banjos, which are near but not quite right"(69).
In spite of his declared concern for an ethnic Irish sound, the instrument which Derek Bell plays is identified by John Teall as having been built by a Hungarian as a cimbalom (86) (figs.214, 215); it is nevertheless introduced as a timpán, in concert apparently, and, for instance, in Alun Owen's notes to the fine LP Chieftains 5:
"The Timpán Reel
Features an instrument which in twelfth century Ireland was called the timpán and Paddy Moloney always had a hunger for its sound. Derek Bell who played its drawing room cousin, the dulcimer, got bored with listening to Paddy's oral rambling..."(87)
The word is glossed in Dineen's dictionary as "drum, gong, cithern, lute, lyre, cymbal": and even "bagpipe, eardrum, roasting jack, and trouble, disorder" (65, 75): not of very great help in our deliberations.
All in all, then, there seems no convincing argument against O'Curry's original view, and that there was no dulcimer in ancient Ireland.
The point was made by Ruth O'Riada that "if there were a dulcimer it would have been called téadchlár"
I wonder though, could this be a version of that mysterious, long lost instrument: Saitentamburin
In which case, this could well be the modern day equivalent?: Saitentamburin