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Classical Sprouts: All about the celesta

The celesta was invented in 1886 by an organ maker in Paris, and looks like a small upright piano, is shaped like an organ and sounds like a glockenspiel.

But it’s the Celesta!

It’s name comes from the French word “cèleste” which means “heavenly.”

This keyboard instrument’s sound is light and twinkly, soft and dainty, but also loud and piercing enough to be heard from pretty far away - which would be super important when it’s played with a full orchestra and all of those other instruments!

It has keys and is played just like a piano, but what’s going on inside the instrument is a bit different.

In traditional pianos, fingers press keys that trigger little hammers inside to hit strings at different strengths, helping create both nice soft notes and really loud notes!

Inside a celesta however, these hammers hit little metal bars - kind of like a xylophone!

And these bell-like sounds are perfect for music that feels a bit magical or dreamlike, or other worldly!

One composer in particular helped get the celesta to be super popular.

Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky first used the celesta in his ballet “The Nutcracker”

The celesta had just been invented a couple of years before, so he was using a super new instrument and helping make it popular.

When The Nutcracker started getting famous and other ballet companies wanted to perform it, orchestras and opera houses started ordering celestas too!

It’s featured in the super famous “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” This twinkly, magical sounding instrument was perfect for depicting the magical ballerina fairy!

There’s also a celesta in one of the most famous and most memorable musical themes from the whole Harry Potter film series!

It’s used in “Hedwig’s Theme!”

Hedwig is a beautiful white snowy owl that is Harry’s companion throughout most of the series.

She is loyal and kind and sticks by Harry even in the toughest of times.

The opening melody of Hedwig’s theme is played by a solo celesta!

After the celesta solo, a flurry of violins enter, sounding almost like a flying owl, before the brass section plays the main melody.

This theme is used throughout all eight movies in the series, and feels quintessentially Harry Potter, capturing all of the magic and wonder, especially because of the celesta’s bell-like sound!

Do you know any pieces that use the celesta?

Here's a whole week of Kids Commute where we explore 5 different pieces that use it!

This week on Kids Commute, we’re listening to music that features the celesta, a bell-like keyboard instrument that is often associated with magical-sounding music!

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Classical Sprouts is produced by Emily Duncan Wilson.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson is IPR's digital content manager and is the producer of "Classical Sprouts" and "Kids Commute".