: The cimbalom (most common English spelling), is a concert hammer dulcimer. Other spellings used to describe this instrument and also the instruments in its immediate family include cimbal, cymbalom, cymbalum (see Trivia), ţambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl, santouri, or sandouri. It is commonly found in the countries of East Europe that previously made up Austria-Hungary which includes present day Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The word "cimbalom" is also used to refer to smaller, related or earlier versions of this instrument.

Under the Hornbostel-Sachs system of classification of musical instruments, it has the catalog number 314.122-4,5. The numbers used in the Hornbostel-Sachs break down to give us a description of the instrument as: (3) chordophone, (1) simple zither, (4) made of boards (1) with a string plate, parallel to the sound source, (2) with a resonator, (2) case like, (4) sound produced by hammers, (5) sound produced by plucking.


(see hammer dulcimer)

The first representation of a simple struck chordophone which we catagorise as a hammer dulcimer can be found in the Assyrian bas-relief in Kyindjuk dated back to 3500 BC. The peoples of the Mediterranean all had this instrument as did many people in Asia, however it existed under different names.

The folk hammer dulcimer was taken by V. Josef Schunda, a master piano maker living and working in Pest, Hungary, as the basis for a concert cimbalom for which he arranged serial production in 1874. The first textbook for the concert cimbalom was published by Geza Allaga, a member of the Hungarian Royal Opera orchestra in 1889.

The instrument became popular within the Austria-Hungary Empire and was used by all the ethnic groups within the country including Jewish klezmorim, as well as Slavic and Magyar (Hungarian) musicians, and Roma (Gypsy) lautari musicians (lăutari). Use of the instrumemt spread by the end of the 19th century and took the place of the cobza in Romanian and Moldovan folk ensembles. In Wallachia it is used almost as a percussion instrument. In Transylvania and Banat, the style of playing is more tonal, heavy with arpeggios.


Folk hammer dulcimers

Folk hammer dulcimers are usually referred to by their regional names but throughout central and eastern Europe they are often referred to as "cimbalom" (cymbalom, cymbalum, ţambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl, santouri, ţambal, cimbál, cimbale etc.). These instruments can differ from each other in size, tuning, number of strings and method of holding and moving the hammers or "beaters". They also differ from the concert cimbalom in that they are smaller and more portable. In performance they were (or are) often carried by a single musician, typically using a strap around that player's neck and leaning one edge of the instrument against his or her waist. Like the cimbalom, the folk hammer dulcimer is played by striking two beaters against the strings, however these beaters tend to be much shorter (usually half the length) and often without soft coverings over the area which strikes the string. There are also no damper mechanisms therefore much use of the hand, fingers, and even forearms takes place for damping. Tunings are often diatonic or incompletely chromatic rather than the full chromatic tuning of the concert cimbalom and they can vary regionally. Construction of these instruments is closely related to the style of music played on them. In addition to the emergence of the concert cimbalom in Hungary; some other regions in Eastern Europe also further developed their local version of folk dulcimer and more formal schools of playing followed (see Tsymbaly).

The concert cimbalom

The concert cimbalom was first developed by József Schunda in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary and was closer in pitch, dynamic projection, range, and weight to a small piano than the various folk hammer dulcimers had been. It is played primarily with beaters though other playing techniques are used. Schunda equipped the cimbalom with a heavier frame for more stability and dynamic power. He also added many more string courses for an extended range and included a damper pedal which allowed more dynamic control. Finally, he added four detachable legs to support this now much larger instrument.

Concert instruments from Schunda onward are fully chromatic and have a range of four octaves plus a major 3rd; extending from C to e3. This larger concert instrument eventually found its way to other areas of the Austro-Hungarian empire such as Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. In Romania, the large cimbalom is known as the ţambal mare (literally "great cimbalom"). The cimbalom has continued it's development and modern full size instruments are often further expanded and have numerous refinements beyond Schunda's design. These instruments can now have a range that extends five full chromatic octaves from AA to a3.

Contemporary makers also build smaller instruments. These run the gamut from less weighty versions of Schunda's original concert layout to truly portable fully chromatic cimbaloms (which use Schunda's signature tuning pattern and note layout but with reduced range in the bass). Modern makers also continue to build new and traditional folk style instruments.

A smaller more portable version of the concert cimbalom was produced in Ukraine during the 1950-80s that came with detachable legs and dampers, but could be carried more easily than the larger concert instrument. These instruments were produced by the Chernihiv factory and the Melnytso-Podilsk folk instruments workshop which also produced many types of other folk instruments.

Compositions for cimbalom

Classical and Contemporary Music

Many composers have written for the cimbalom. Zoltán Kodály made extensive use of the instrument in his orchestral suite Háry János which helped make the cimbalom well known outside Eastern Europe. Igor Stravinsky was also an enthusiast. He owned a cimbalom and included one in his ballet Renard (1915-16) and also in his original (1917) scoring for Les Noces. Franz Liszt used the cimbalom in his Ungarischer Sturmmarsch (1876) and in the orchestral version of his 6th Hungarian Rhapsody. Bela Bartok used it in his Rhapsody #1 for violin and orchestra (1928). Other composers like Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, György Kurtág, Frank Zappa and Louis Andriessen have made a great use of cimbalom in their works. Henri Dutilleux used it in Mystère de l'Instant for chamber orchestra. Elvis Costello's orchestral ballet score Il Sogno includes several extended cimbalom passages. Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Minotaur (2008) requires a cimbalom as well.


The cimbalom has occasionally been used in film scores, especially to introduce a "foreign" feel. The cimbalom appears in Christmas in Connecticut in a scene in Felix's (S.Z. Sakall) Hungarian restaurant in Manhattan. Cimbalom was used in the film score for the movie In the Heat of the Night. Composer Carmine Coppola made heavy use of the cimbalom in his soundtrack for The Black Stallion to accentuate the Arabian heritage of the majestic horse. John Barry used it in the title theme for the film The Ipcress File, as well as in the main theme of the 1971 TV series The Persuaders!. In addition, John Williams has made less prominent use of the instrument in scores such as Raiders of the Lost Ark. More recently, Howard Shore used the cimbalom as well to express Gollum's sneaky nature in Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.


The cimbalom was used by Alan Parsons on his "I Robot" and "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" albums and is included in the guest musician acknowledgments. The experimental rock group Mr. Bungle made use of the cimbalom on the "Disco Volante" and "California" albums. It is included in the guest musician acknowledgments. The experimental performance organization Blue Man Group has used prepared cimbalom in it's productions

Occurrence and names

The instrument is known by different names in different countries and when played in different styles. A partial list follows:

Schools of Cimbalom performance


Besides the main Cimbalom centre in Budapest, there is a very strong school of performance in Debrecen in Hungary.

United States

The American Cimbalom Festival, (also known as CimbFest), founded by American cimbalomist Richard Grimes, is a primary proponent of this school of performance.


A strong performance school was established in Bucharest.

Czech republic

In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Moravia the instrument is used as a basis for folk music ensembles.


In Belarus a cimbalom school was established in 1948 by J. Zynovych. The Belarusian musicians however play on small portable folk style instruments.


In Ukraine the concert Cimbalom was first formally used in the Orchestra of Ukrainian Folk instruments directed by Leonid Haydamaka from 1922 by Oleksandr Nezovybat'ko. In tyime it was replaced by 2 smaller sized instruments to facilitate transportation. Music for the cimbalom has been published from 1930 on. With the serial manufacture of Tsymbaly by the Chernihiv musical instruments factory Cimbalom playing became popular in Eastern Ukraine in the post war years. Textbooks for the tsymbaly were published in 1966 by O. Nezovybat'ko, and initially players played on semi concert instruments manufactured by the Chernihiv musical instruments factory. In recent times most professional performers have switched over to the Schuda system of playing on concert size instruments. Classes exist in the Lviv, Kiev and Kharkiv conservatories. Currently most Ukraine folk instrument ensembles and orchestras such as the Orchestra of Ukrainian FOlk instruments and the State Bandurist Capella usually have 2 cimbaloms.


In 1952 cimbalom classes were opened at the Chisinau conservatory in Moldova in 1952.

Cimbalom players

Some notable cimbalom players are:

  • Kálmán Balogh: contemporary Hungarian cimbalom virtuoso
  • Stuart Brotman of the American klezmer band Brave Old World
  • Marcel Comendant within Pacora trio
  • Luigi Gaggero: classical and contemporary cimbalom player; professor at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg
  • Richard Grimes: American classical cimbalom virtuoso; inventor of the electric cimbalom
  • Viktória Herencsár: Hungarian classical cimbalom virtuoso and soloist in the Hungarian Opera and Broadcasting Company; President of the Cimbalom World Association. Professor (lecturer) at the Music Department of the Academy of Culture in Banská Bystrica
  • Vékony Ildikó: classical and contemporary Hungarian cimbalom player
  • Toni Iordache: Romanian ţambal player
  • Laurence Kaptain: American symphonic/chamber cimbalom artist
  • Per Karang: Norwegian cimbalom player
  • Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen : Norwegian cimbalist and percussionist. Cimbalom-soloist with the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen (Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen), Norwegian Chamber orchestra, Oslo Military Band. He premiered the performanvce of "Isternia" for solo-cimbalom by Per Nørgård in 2008.
  • John H. Leach of Britain played the cimbalom in John Barry's theme music for The Ipcress File and the theme music to The Persuaders, as mentioned in Barry's autobiography.
  • Giani Lincan: contemporary Romanian virtuoso
  • Jenő Lisztes: Gypsy cimbalom player from the Roby Lakatos ensemble
  • Michael Masley: contemporary American who plays the instrument with ten self-designed bowhammers
  • Joseph Moskowitz: Father of klezmer "tsimbl"; one of the first to be recorded
  • Pete Rushefsky: American klezmer tsimbl player
  • Sandu Sura: Moldavian ţambal player
  • Balázs Unger: Hungarian cimbalom player, who plays with The Hun Hangár Ensemble, who recently made an album with US folk duo A Hawk and a Hacksaw, And the Hun Hangar Ensemble
  • Katerina Zlatníková: Czech cimbalom player with numerous appearance with such notable orchestras like the Vienna Philharmonic. Winner of Johann Wenzel Stamitz Prize. Founding member of the Cimbalom World Association.


  • American Post Rock band, Cordis (band), uses the electric cimbalom as the centerpiece of their music.
  • Cimbalom was used in the film score for the movie In the Heat of the Night (1967).
  • The surname Zimbalist means "one who plays the cimbalom".
  • A "cymbalum" is not the same instrument as a cimbalom. A "cymbalum" is a part of a medieval instrument, one of a set of 4-8 small bells, made in graded sizes and hung together in a frame, aka "tintinabula" or "campanae"


Search another word or see santiron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature