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
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).
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).
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
considered the notices quoted by Galpin "of no real importance"
and concluded that
'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).
quotes Gratton Flood's theory (1906) that the timpan was identical
to the kinnor, triganon and fidil (74).
of the lack of supporting iconographical evidence Derek Bell evidently
finds Galpin's view convincing:
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! ...
'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
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:
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)
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
in all, then, there seems no convincing argument against O'Curry's original
view, and that there was no dulcimer in ancient Ireland.
point was made by Ruth O'Riada that "if there were a dulcimer it
would have been called téadchlár", mentioned
in Chapter 2.
fascinating case merits mention here. A Munster folk tale, 'Ollean
na gCuig mBeann' ('Island of the five mountain peaks'), containing
a reference to 'Teampan Uaine' ('green tíompan'(76)),
was published in Gadelica in 1913; in 1923, the tale was published
in a German translation (77), 'Die Insel mit den fttnf Buchten',
'The Island with the five Inlets', the timpan name translated
as 'grüine Zimbel' perhaps following Galpin (first published
1910), or perhaps quite fortuitously; and in 1973, the story appeared
yet again, in English, this time, as 'The Palace of the Seven Little
Hills' (78). The authoress, Ruth Manning-Sanders, tells how she arrived
at her choice of name: "The German word for the musical instrument
is Zimbel, according to the dictionary a cymbal, but obviously
a cymbal couldn't fill the palace with ravishing harmonies as this instrument
did and so I took the liberty of replacing it with a dulcimer"
(79): how strange the ways of coincidence.
extracts from the English version of the story are thus not germane
to the history of the instrument itself, but are an example of modern
symbolic use of the name and are therefore dealt with in Chapter 4.
other literary references should, however, be mentioned here.
to Marcuse, "The mediaeval dulcimer seems to have been known in
14th-century Spain as dulcema (80); and according to Hartman
(81) in the "XII century ... the Czimbalom is cited among
the harp-like and zither-like instruments." Unfortunately, a study
of the etymology of instruments shows that it is not possible to deduce
the early history of an instrument simply from references to a name
current today - a later dolcemel was a clavicord, for instance
(80); an attempt to solicit further details from Dr. Narcuse has yet
to be successful so that the value of her reference must remain etymological,
and Hartman's account must be weighed against Sarosi's statements that:
the earliest appearance of the cimbalom name was in the 15th
century (indicating idiophone cymbals); and
the earliest evidence of the instrument we know as cimbalom
was in the 16th century (82).
comes the point that the name 'zither' is not older then two or three
centuries, and the instruments denoted by the Hungarian citera
are no older. It was unfortunately not possible to obtain a copy of
the source, and since Sarosi's well-respected work postdates Hartman's
by 50 years, it seems justifiable to consider the latter's reference