About Cimbalom

Cimbalom is an instrument played by hitting metal strings on trapezoidal boxes found in Central and Eastern Europe, mainly in Hungary. Hornbostel-Sachs instrument classification code is 314.122-4,5, classified as 314.122 plate ziter with resonance box. The harpsichord and the early piano are also of the same family.

In addition to being widely distributed in Eastern Europe as a folk instrument, the concert Cimbalom improved by Joseph Shunda is distributed mainly in Hungary. The Concert Cimbalom has more than 39 strings and a range of more than 4 octaves.

There are variations in the spelling of the instrument, e.g., cimbál, cymbalom, cymbalum, Tambal, tsymbaly and tsimbl. In addition to being used a lot in Roma music, it is often used by modern composers such as Kodaly, Stravinsky, Kurtag, Dutilleux and Andreisen. Kodaly’s suite “Hari Janos” (which is handled solo in the third and fifth songs) is particularly well-known and often performed.


It is not really clear whne and where the instument originated even though something that looks like is found in the Relief of Assyrian in 3500 BC. It is not know if the instrument was played with beater or plucked by fingures.

It was during the great migration period that this type of instrument reached Europe. The oldest surviving iconography is from 1184 in Santiago Compos detela Cathedral at the north western tip of Spain 1I n the 15th century, it spread to various places as follows, and it can be seen that it became a very popular musical instrument.

  • Age Location Name
  • Around 1460, Bohemia, dulce melos
  • 1461 Italy dulcimelos, dulcemelos, salterio
  • 1477 Zurich hackbrett
  • 1499 France doucemer, tympanon

However, the tuning system of these musical instruments was disjointed.

A major change was brought about in the 18th century by Pantaleon Hebenstreit (1667 – 1750) in Villetuoso, Germany. In 1697, at Merseburg, he made a large instrument 2.7m long with double strings of gat and metal strings and showed it in the court of Dresden. His performance sparked a great reputation. In 1705, he visited Paris and performed in front of Louis 14, which impressed him very much.As a result, Louis 14 gave the instrument a new name, “Panteleon”, 2. At the end of the 18th century, The Italian Salterio player Dalterio ‘Olio produced a full chromatic instrument.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was adopted by Roma and played in various places.After Hungary’s independence in 1848, it was treated as a symbol of the country, especially as a Hungarian instrument.

It is believed that The Bánk Bán (1861), the father of Hungarian opera, ferenc Erkel, was featured in classical music.Inspired by the success of the work, Joseph Schunda worked on improving the instrument, extending the two-and-a-half-octave range to four-and-a-half octaves, and adding a pedal damper system and legs.The first time i saw this Hungarian-style Zimbarom was in 1874.Schunda produced a concert zimmeron at a piano shop across from the Budapest Opera.The instrument was exhibited at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair, which became more popular and popular in Hungary.

Schunda Cimbalom, late 1800’s, E2-E6, + D2 string (from Emil Richards Collection) By Xylosmygame at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21063382

Lajos Bohák began production in his workshop in 1900.It is mainly this type of musical instrument that is used in the present age.In addition to Opera Zongoraterem in Hungary, where Schunda used his workshop, the main manufacturers include Bohak in Slovakia and Všianský in the Czech Republic.

Bohak instruments made in the 1980s.The circular sound holes found in Schunda have been scrapped and replaced by slits under the damper.

The Relationship between Cimbalom and piano

As mentioned above, the Cimbalom was made large in the 1700s and was called “Pantaleon”.Pantaleon was popular in Europe at the time, but its playing and features were said to have had a great influence on the early piano production, according to c.G. Schröter, a prominent organist at the time.

The hammer of the piano rotates the axis to the fulcrum and strings it, but this is a method not seen in an existing keyboard instrument, and it is likely to have referred to the playing method of pantaleon.Moreover, this was the one that the sound of pantaleon without the damper was requested though the pioneer, Zilbermann, which connected directly to today’s piano maker, made the piano with the device which always opened the damper.This device develops into the pedal system of the piano before long.The first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata asks for the sound without this damper, and instructs it to open the damper at all times and to play it.This is impossible because the piano after the late 19th century is too long, but playing it in Zinbaron can remind you of the sound that Beethoven envisioned at the time.

The Relationship between Cimbalom and Harpsichord

The main way of the Cimbalom is to hit the strings with a beeter, but sometimes the strings are played with the fingures. The official name of the Italian harpsichord (Cembalo) was Klavicembalo, meaning that Salterio (Cembalo = Cimbalom) was given a keyboard (Klavi). The same goes for Clavecin in French.

Etymol. et Hist. 1611 clavessins (Cotgr.); Orth. reprise par Fur. 1690, Ac. 1694-1740 et Trév. 1704-71 (ce dernier dict. notant aussi la forme clavecin); 1680 clavecin (Rich.). Empr., avec apocope de la dernière cinemae, au lat. médiév.clavicymbalum de même sens, composé de clavis « clé » et de cymbalum « cymbale », attesté sous la forme clavicembal um en 1397, puis en 1404 sous la forme clavicymbalum par le poète allemand Eberhard von Cersne, Der Minne Regel ds Romania T. 77, pp. 26-27, d’où le m. Fr. clavycimbale, 1447 ds Gay.

Both Cimbalom and Harpsichord are classified as plate ziters with resonant boxes.

Cimbalom Music

While Cimbalom is often regarded to be a minor instrument, it is provided with a a repartory from famous composers such as Debussy and Stravinsky.

(In the performance of operetta, it is often omitted (outside Hungary and Austria) or substituted for the harp, etc.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of arrangements that use the Cimbalom for the passages that is believed to be immitating Cimbalom such as in the case of Liszt.


  1. http://cimbalom.profitux.cz/ It is not known if this is scratching or hitting it.
  2. david charlton: Pantaleon Hebenstreit, http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/acc/hebenstreit.php (acquired On December 6, 2017)