kettledrum, in music, percussion instrument consisting of a hemispherical metal vessel over which a membrane is stretched, played with soft-headed wooden drumsticks. Of ancient origin, it appeared early in Europe, probably imported from the Middle East by crusaders in the 12th or 13th cent. These early kettledrums were small and appeared in pairs, often hung about the player's waist. The kettledrum was introduced into the opera orchestra by Lully in the 17th cent. and was commonly used to express joy or triumph in the music of the baroque period. Unique among Western percussion instruments, it can be tuned to definite pitches by adjusting the tension of the head. Usually there are two or more in the modern orchestra, the tuning of which varies. Berlioz used eight pairs in his Requiem. Several improved methods of tuning were developed in the 19th cent.; common today is a single pedal capable of giving the instrument a full chromatic range of over an octave. Kettledrums are also called timpani. See drum.
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