This timpani excerpt is from Mozart’s Symphony No. 39. Mozart was one of the first composers to use timpani in a symphony. This excerpt is an example of how timpani was used in the classical period and is considered easy by modern standards. It outlines and emphasizes the dominant to the tonic relationship (or sometimes the perfect authentic cadence at the end). According to “The Double, Double, Double Beat of the Thundering Drum: The Timpani in Early Music” by music historian Edmund A. Bowles, the timpani around 1788 (the year Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 was written) is different from what we see in orchestras today. A set of timpani back then included two drums (18-20 inches each) instead of four (20-32 inches each). The tuning system utilized during this time period (a set of 6 or more lugs that had to be individually tuned, rather than the pedal mechanic used today) made it hard to tune in a short time. That is why most timpani parts from this period are only for two pitches that do not change during a movement.
Recording of a pair of two baroque timpani. Primarily used in the Eighteenth century and Nineteenth century, these drums consists of copper bowls with calfskin heads stretched across them, tightened and tuned by lugs and played with wooden mallets. The sizes of these timpani are 23" and 26" in diameter. Hand tuned with the help of a tuning key, the pitches of these drums are C3 and G2.