on bowed crotales

Video coming soon!

One of my personal favorite sounds, crotales (sometimes called antique cymbals) are tuned bronze disks with an incredibly shimmery quality. Usually struck with a hard mallet, they can be bowed in the same manner as other keyboard percussion.

Range

Crotales sound 2 octaves above where they are written on the staff. You may choose to use a 15va treble clef for clarity (pictured below), but that’s probably redundant information for a performer.

The extended range is very rarely used, and therefore is rarely available to a percussionist. The low A and B have been popularized by Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree, but the other pitches are far more rare. Paiste has created the set that goes down to the low F, though I personally don’t know of a piece that calls for such a range. If you were to call for the extended range pitches, I would highly encourage allowing the performer to transpose up when necessary, or some other alternative.

Crotales are typically tuned in relation to A = 442 Hz.

Mounting

Crotales may be mounted on a stand, or suspended with a thread or similar material tied through the hole in the center. When mounted on a stand, they are secured by nut than can easily be adjusted by hand. You may find that the sound begins to die when tightened too much. On the inverse, the disk can start to wiggle out of control if too loose. Aside from the standard one octave stand, many musicians will choose to make a custom mount to use only the necessary pitches. This technique would be required to bow a crotale that is suspended.

When bowing, it’s crucial to find the middle point so that the note can be both secure and resonant. Bowing more than one note at a time is very difficult. Since the crotales will often begin to rotate as soon as they’re bowed, keeping them under control without a free hand is not impossible, but extremely tricky. This is also true for situations when a note is being bowed, and the other hand is busy with something else. It is ideal to be able to hold the crotale in the center to keep it steady while bowing simultaneously.

It’s also possible to hold a single crotale in one hand. By placing the fingers in the center of the disk, it will be very easy to create clear and resonant sounds both in bowing and striking.

Orchestration

When struck, crotales are able to cut through just about any texture. Like other instruments, however, bowing will significantly reduce their dynamic ceiling. They will still project better than any other bowed melodic percussion instruments.