CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.2. Higher cultures in the 17th & 18th centuries: 2: The Pantaleon

1 The First Generation: Ambition
2 The First Generation: Establishment
3 The Second Generation


3 The second Generation

Hebenstreit's name lived on after his own performing days were over, through the concert tours of his numerous pupils: Fétis mentions Bender, Gumpenhuber and Gebel, while there was 'somebody' playing it in Vienna:

"Der gleichen anitzo noch eines nämnlich in Wien zu hören ist, weil der Kaiser jemanden nach Dresden geschickt, um auf solchem Instrument spielen zu lernen. Diese Werk liegt hohl, dergestalt, dass man es ohne Mühe umwenden und auf beiden Seiten mit zwei kleinen Hölzern, als auf einem doppelten Hackbrette spielen kann. Seine Länge ist von 13 ½, und die Breite von 3 ½ spanne, der Boden ist hohl und auf der einen Seite mit keinen anderen, als übersponnenen Gaigensaiten, auf der anderen oben in der Höhe der Töne mit stählernen Saiten bezogen. Es kostet jährlich bei hundert Thaler zu underhalten, weil es aus 185 Saiten besteht. (Hebenstreit bekam für den Bezug jährlich 200Th.). Sein Klang ist überaus stark und füllet solcher den grössten Saal" (118).

'Similarly there can be heard in Vienna another one, because the Kaiser sent somebody to Dresden to learn to play such an instrument. It lies hollow in such a way that you can turn it over without effort and can play on both sides with two little wooden sticks, like on a double Hackbrett. Its length is of 13 ½ spans, the width of 3 ½. The base is hollow and on the one side has no other than overspun violin strings, on the other over at the height of the notes mounted with steel strings. It costs about 100 Thaler a year to maintain, because it consists of 185 strings. (Hebenstreit received 200 Th. annually for stringing it). Its sound is exceedingly strong and the sound fills the biggest hall.' (66)

Schickhaus (123) mentions one Max Hellmann as a Pantaleonist and member of the Kaiser's court chapel in Vienna, so perhaps he was the 'somebody' who was sent to Dresden: he apparently plucked his Pantaleon.

This account is remarkable because it is the earliest reference to overspun strings being used on dulcimers - in the light of which the long extra basses of Verschuere Reynvaan's instrument, among others, may have also used them - and because the Pantaleon described apparently had no gut strings, the entire raison d'etre of the original Pantaleon. The description of the 'turning over', "unwenden" is particularly interesting: most accounts refer to the 'double' nature of the Pantaleon without indicating whether two sound-boards side by side were intended, or indeed an instrument having strings mounted on both front and back. Unfortunately, no instrument survives, and the only illustration shows no strings and a very unlikely shape, so we are left with an enigma. For a later double-sided instrument see fig.175, and c.f. van der Meer p.124.

Marcuse quotes a letter from Diderot in which he mentioned his fascination at the Pantaleon he heard in Paris in 1765; he described it as four feet wide and eight feet long, having 74 notes and capable of all shadings from pianissimo to the most thunderous forte played by a musician able to "make his audience pass from fury to joy, and from joy to fury" (127).

In 1772, Dr. Charles Burney was in Dresden on his Travels, and wrote of 'the' Pantaleon, presumably that on which Hebenstreit played himself:

"M. Binder, the organist, was a pupil of the very well-known Hebenstreit, the inventor of the Pantalon ... Of the evening I went to M. Binder's house, and to see the ruins of the famous Pantaleone. The instrument, and the performance on it, in Paris, in 1705, gave birth to a very ingenious little work, under the title of Dialogue sur la Musique des Anciens by the Abbé Chateauneuf: the inventor went by the name of his instrument ever after; it is more than nine feet long, and had, when in order, 186 strings of catgut. The tone was produced by two baguettes, or sticks, like the dulcimer; it must have been extremely difficult to the performer, but capable of great effects. The strings were now almost all broken, the present Elector will not be at the charge of furnishing new ones, though it had ever been thought a court instrument in former reigns, and was kept in order at the expense of the prince. M. Binder lamented, that he could not possibly afford to string it himself, as it was an instrument upon which he had formerly employed so much of his time." (119)

Perhaps the most celebrated of Hebenstreit's pupils was Georg Noëlli (1727-1789), a Portuguese Jew who studied composition with Hasse in Dresden, Padre Martini in Bologna, and with Geminiani. He must have started fairly young on the Pantaleon, since he was only 23 when the Master died; and in the years between 1765 and 1789 he played in many European countries, including England, France, Italy, Denmark and Sweden (120). Stainer & Barrett quote from an undated announcement of a London concert, that "Mr. Noel will perform several Grand Overtures on the newly invented instrument, the Pantaleone. The instrument is 11 ft in length".


fig. 101: "A Concert at Cambridge"
- engraving of Hellendaal, ‘Newell jnr.’ et al.,
by kind permission of the Provost and Fellows
of Kings College Cambridge
(Rowe Music Library)

This might be the same journey as that which took him to Cambridge in 1767: the Cambridge Chronicle for 8 June that year featured the following advertisement:

"For Mr. Noel. Concert at Christ's
Concerto Panthaleone
Solo violin by Mr. Hellendaal
Cantata accompanied by the Panthaleone obbligato."

John Parkinson considers that it is almost certainly this concert which is caricatured in the engraving in the Fitzwilliam Museum, fig. 101 (121).

A close look at the strip along the bottom [click!] shows this text:

Publish’d According to Act of Parliament. A Concert at Cambridge - Brotherton [??]
Hallandale - Newell Senr. - Rennish - West - Watson [??] - Newell Junr. - Wood

At first sight we may feel that this engraving is a delightful piece of fun from which nothing serious is to be learned about the Pantaleon; but at a second look we notice

To be sure that Noel, Newell Junr. and Noëlli were one and the same, one would need to explore the presence of "Newell Senr." in the same band.

Noëlli's tour of 1782 was apparently rather celebrated, and is discussed in Bode (122); he was still playing in Hamburg in 1789, the year of his death at the age of 62 or 63.

He had played in Sweden at least once (Norlind mentions 1779), and it may have been a result of such a visit that C.F.W. Salomoni was sent from the Swedish court to study under him (124). However, the instrument was certainly known there somewhat earlier than that: in a footnote to a discussion of lutes and mandolins, Abraham Abrahamsson Hülphers wrote:

"ännu torde flere besträngade Instrumenter kunna anföras, såsom: Alto-Basso, hwilket aer klang genom påslagning ... Pantaleon och Rastellum aero äfwen några särdeles inrättningar, men deras beskrifning saknas. Jag har och nyligen sedt et strängpel, gjordt som en Flygel, fast utan tangenter, hwilket gafs namn af Cymbal, och spelas såsom Hackbräde. (125)

'... more stringed instruments could be quoted, such as: Alto-Basso, which is sound through striking-on ... Pantaleon and Rastellum are other special devices, but their descriptions are missing. Also I have recently seen a stringed instrument, made like a grand-piano, but without keys, which was given the name of Cymbal and is played like a hackbräde.

Henry Ragnarsson (Tippsala/Stockholm) has been unable to trace the Rastellum, and instead, following Hebestreit, has adopted the name as his own; but it is interesting that Pantaleon, Cymbal and Hackbräde were all known in Sweden at this time (1773), and that, at least to Hülphers, they were all distinct instruments. Norlind mentions a concert of Salomoni's in 1787, but it is not known whether or not it was his last: if it was, then his teacher gave the last performance on the Pantaleon, after which the name lived on principally as a piano stop in the early 1800s.

It should perhaps be mentioned here that an instrument appears labelled as a pantaleon in Gammond (126); however, it has the appearance of an ordinary late-19th-century dulcimer, apart from a little left-hand foot bridge, and indeed the same instrument appears on another page photographed from a slightly different angle, and labelled 'dulcimer'; no Pantaleons are known to have survived.

As the above references have shown, descriptions of Pantalons vary quite considerably; the original point of the thing was apparently that it had two soundboards side-by-side (though it is not clear why this was preferable to one larger board, nor how the two were joined); on each there was a complete dulcimer, one strung with wire, the other with gut, hence the great potential for forte and piano contrasts to which hard and soft hammers obviously also contributed - and the great expense of upkeep, for gut strings particularly were expensive (128). One description mentions that there were instruments with only one soundboard, covered entirely with gut strings (129), while the description by Keysler given above mentions no gut but that the boards had wire and overspun strings respectively (118). The lengths mentioned vary between six and eleven feet, although such measures were scarcely standard; accounts of the numbers of strings are more consistent however, between 185 and 'over 200', although Scholes apparently found a reference to 276. Chateauneuf's description of a solid body is clear and unhesitating, and apparently closely-observed; it remains a complete mystery and the correlation with the Cambridge cartoon is no help at all.

The principle of two completely separate sound-producing elements in a single instrument is rather rare, for an instrument's internal resources for varying volume and tone normally differ in degree rather than kind. The idea of producing a change of sound by using a difference of type is common enough, but these are differences of playing technique: the guitarist for instance may use a plectrum when finger-picking is too quiet, and the banjo-player may wear metal finger-picks when his finger-nails fail him; these correspond to Hebenstreit's use of contrasting playing surfaces on his hammers, not to the instrument itself. Examples of instruments which have different types of sound-producing apparatus are much less common: even a two-manual harpsichord uses strings of a fairly uniform kind, and the various reed-banks of an accordion, melodion or harmonium are all of the same type. Almost the only instruments having features comparable with the gut and wire strings of the Pantaleon are organs having open and stopped pipes, flues and reeds, and hybrids like the organ-hurdy-gurdy (lira organizzata). Other instruments had strings of two kinds, like the viola d'amore and some English lyra-viols (128), but only one set of strings was sounded directly by the player (the others being sympathetic), and these are in a different case; neither is a violin with both gut and wire strings comparable because there the aim is homogeneity of sound, rather than tonal contrast.