The celesta (pronounced IPA|/səˈlɛstə/) or celeste (pronounced IPA|/səˈlɛst/) is a struck idiophone operated by a keyboard. Its appearance is similar to that of an upright piano (four- or five-octave) or of a large wooden music box (three-octave). The keys are connected to hammers which strike a graduated set of metal (usually steel) plates suspended over wooden resonators. One pedal is usually available to sustain or dampen the sound, on four or five octave models. The three-octave instruments do not have a pedal, due to their small "table-top" design. One of the most well-known works that makes use of the celesta is Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" from "The Nutcracker".

The sound of the celesta is akin to that of the glockenspiel, but with a much softer and more subtle timbre. This quality gave rise to the instrument's name, "celeste" meaning "heavenly" in French.

The celesta is a transposing instrument; its parts are written an octave below concert pitch. The original French instrument had a five-octave range, but as the lowest octave was considered somewhat unsatisfactory, it was omitted from later models. The standard French four-octave instrument is now gradually being replaced in symphony orchestras by a larger, five-octave German model. Although treated as a member of the percussion section in orchestral terms, it is almost always played by a pianist, the part being normally written on two bracketed staves, called a grand staff.


The celesta was invented in 1886 by the Parisian harmonium builder Auguste Mustel. Mustel's father, Victor Mustel, had developed the forerunner of the celesta, the typophone or the dulcitone, in 1860. This consisted of struck tuning-forks instead of metal plates, but the sound produced was considered too small to be of use in an orchestral situation.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky is cited as the first major composer to use this instrument in a symphonic work for full orchestra; it appears in his last symphonic poem "The Voyevoda" (Op. 78; 1891) [Freed, Richard. [LP Jacket notes.] "Tchaikovsky: "Fatum," [...] "The Storm," [...] "The Voyevoda." Bochum Orchestra. Othmar Maga, conductor. Vox Stereo STPL 513.460. New York: Vox Productions, Inc., 1975.] and in passages from his last ballet "The Nutcracker" (Op. 71, 1892) and its derived Opus 71a, "The Nutcracker Suite" — most notably in the "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy." Ernest Chausson preceded him by employing the celesta in his incidental music for "La tempête" in 1888, written for a small orchestra. [Blades, James and Holland, James. "Celesta"; Gallois, Jean. "Chausson, Ernest: Works," [http://www.grovemusic.com Grove Music Online] (Accessed 8 April 2006) (subscription required)] Bartók uses the instrument prominently in his 1936 "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta". Gustav Holst also employed the instrument in his orchestral work "The Planets," with its most significant use in the final movement, "Neptune, The Mystic."

Use in jazz

Since its adoption by Earl Hines in 1928, the celesta has been used occasionally by jazz pianists as an alternative instrument. Fats Waller in the 1930's sometimes played the celesta with his right hand and the piano simultaneously with his left hand. Other notable jazz pianists who occasionally played the celesta include Willie "The Lion" Smith, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, and Herbie Hancock.

ee also

* Dulcitone
* Glockenspiel, a mallet percussion instrument with a similar timbre
* Piano


* "Celesta", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London, 2001).
* "Celesta", The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, second edition, edited by Barry Kernfeld (London, 2002).


External links

* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1568920 NPR - The Celesta: The Sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • celestă — CELÉSTĂ, celeste, s.f. Instrument muzical de percuţie cu claviatură, ale cărui sunete sunt produse prin lovirea unor plăci de metal. – Din fr. célesta. Trimis de valeriu, 03.03.2003. Sursa: DEX 98  celéstă (muz.) s. f., g. d. art. celéstei; pl.… …   Dicționar Român

  • Celesta — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Celesta de estilo alemán La celesta es un instrumento musical, de composición similar al piano, pero cuyos martillos activados por teclas percuten placas de metal en lugar de cuerdas tensas. Estas placas al ser… …   Wikipedia Español

  • celesta — n. (Mus.) a musical instrument consisting of graduated steel plates that are struck by hammers activated by a keyboard. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • celesta — ит. [челе/ста], нем. [цэле/ста], англ. [силе/стэ] célesta фр. [сэлеста/] челеста: букв. небесная …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • célesta — celesta ит. [челе/ста], нем. [цэле/ста], англ. [силе/стэ] célesta фр. [сэлеста/] челеста: букв. небесная …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • celesta — (izg. čelȅsta) ž DEFINICIJA pov. glazb. klavir koji umjesto žica ima čelične pločice, konstruiran 1886. u Parizu ETIMOLOGIJA tal. ← fr. céleste: rajski, nebeski …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • celesta — [sə les′tə] n. [Fr célesta < céleste, celestial] a small keyboard instrument with hammers that strike small metal plates to produce bell like tones: also celeste [sə lest′] …   English World dictionary

  • celesta — |é| s. m. Instrumento de percussão provido de um teclado que aciona martelos que percutem nas lâminas de aço e de cobre …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

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