Instruments | Marimba | Contemporary | Classical

A type of xylophone, the marimba is a percussion instrument. The percussionist strikes a row (or two rows) of wooden blocks – laid out like a keyboard – beneath which are attached a series of echo chambers that resonate the sound. The compass of the instrument varies, but generally covers three or four chromatic octaves from the C below middle C. Music written for this range will move between bass and treble clefs, or may use both, like piano music, for which the player can use four mallets to play chords. The player uses mallets bound in yarn, sometimes rubber beaters, as hard sticks will damage the bars.

The instrument originated in Africa, where it used calabashes as resonators. Possibly because of the transatlantic slave trade, the marimba reached Latin America, where it acquired enormous popularity. Marimbas began to be manufactured in the US in 1910. These instruments used stopped metal tubes of graduated lengths as resonators.

Initially joining the stock-in-trade of light entertainment, the marimba was picked up by Percy Grainger (1882–1961), who wrote for it a 10-minute fantasia on ‘Campdown Races’ called Tribute to Foster (1915). Koechlin opened the second movement of his Symphony No. 2 (1943–44) with a marimba solo. Milhaud wrote a concerto for marimba and orchestra in 1947, which required playing with two hammers in each hand. It is also to be heard in Richard Rodney Bennett’s (1936–2012) first symphony, and in music by Japanese composers such as Takemitsu, Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929–97) and Keiko Abe (b. 1937).

Styles & Forms | Contemporary | Classical
Instruments | Vibraphone | Contemporary | Classical


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