The celesta is a musical instrument that can be defined as a keyboard percussion instrument. It consists of a set of metal bars, typically arranged in the shape of a piano keyboard, that are struck by hammers when the keys are depressed. These metal bars are made of steel and are tuned to produce specific pitches, similar to a glockenspiel or a xylophone.
The celesta produces a unique and distinct sound, characterized by a shimmering and ethereal quality. Its timbre can be described as soft, bell-like, and celestial, hence its name "celesta." The hammers strike the metal bars, causing them to vibrate and produce sound waves. The sound is then projected through resonators located beneath each bar, which enhance the ringing and resonating quality of the notes.
The celesta is often used in orchestral music, providing a delicate and magical touch to compositions. Its sound is particularly associated with depicting dreamlike or fantasy scenes, adding a whimsical and otherworldly element to the music. The celesta has been utilized by famous composers such as Tchaikovsky in his ballet "The Nutcracker," where it features prominently in the iconic "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."
Due to its unique sound and expressive capabilities, the celesta is also used in other genres of music, including contemporary classical, film scores, and popular music recordings. Its distinct sound and ability to create a sense of enchantment make it a valued instrument in various musical settings.
The word "celesta" is derived from the French word "céleste", which means "heavenly" or "celestial". The instrument itself was invented in the late 19th century by Belgian instrument maker Auguste Mustel. He named it "célesta" due to the ethereal and celestial sound it produces. The name was later anglicized to "celesta" when the instrument gained popularity internationally.