A Brief History of the Cymbalom (Cimbalom)
The cymbalom dates back to 16th Century Hungary, and is a hammered stringed instrument in the dulcimer family that was popular in the music of central-eastern Europe, as well as Iran. It is a large, box shaped instrument with metal strings tensioned over the top and stands on four legs. Not to be confused with the “cymbalum”, which is a medieval instrument, the cymbalom is also called a cymbalem, cimbalom, ţambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl, santouri, or santur.
A more modern version of the cymbalom was developed in the late 1800’s by Jozsef Schunda and was later declared the national instrument of Hungary. It was later made popular by Franz Liszt who first introduced it as an orchestral instrument, and also used by Igor Stravinsky and Zoltán Kodály.
The modern cymbalom has a chromatic range of four octives and, like a piano, has a muting pedal. In total it has approximately 120 metal strings using three to five strings tuned in unison per note. It is played by striking the strings with wooden hammers called “bow hammers” which are covered with leather and attached to the musican’s fingers. Using these the player can either pick, strum or strike the strings.