So I have come across another thing that some people have said about my Pathetique Sonata orchestration. That is that my tympani pitch changes are too quick and that there will be glissando on the tympani due to the usage of the pedals.

I am doing a third draft of the Pathetique Sonata orchestration, but I honestly don't think I did anything wrong for the tympani in my second draft. This is what I had going on in the tympani part of the second draft in the first four measures of the Grave introduction:

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And here is the original piano score of those same 4 bars:

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You can see right where the tympani notes come from in this piano score.

I found this video by Thomas Goss specifically on Tympani bass lines a few weeks ago:

I know Thomas Goss to be an orchestration expert. After listening to the video, I was like:

Well, I think this part of the Pathetique sonata deserves a bass line in the tympani. The first 4 bars just sound so grandiose and orchestral in sonority. Of course I wouldn't double every single note in the Cellos. I know better than that. I will just have the tympanist play in the places where I feel there is a harmonic accent in the sonata. That just happens to be beats 1 and 4. Beat 1 has a harmonic accent because of the forte dynamic. Beat 4 has a harmonic accent because of the resolution of a prolonged suspension.

And I will give the tympanist a well deserved break after these 4 bars of the Grave and bring it back during the Allegro. Heavy brass will come in after bar 4 anyway, so they can get across the bass line for the rest of the Grave.

Given that the tympani does nothing on beats 2 and 3 and that the tempo is at 30 BPM(that's what I tend to play the Pathetique Sonata introduction at), than even with the forte strike on the first beat, it should decay enough that there is no glissando on beat 4 and that likewise, the slow tempo combined with the quieter dynamic would mean no glissando into the next forte strike, right? It is only at faster tempos or with constant beat to beat changes that I have to worry about a glissando in the tympani, right?

  • Even if the first note didn't decay enough in time, timpanists are perfectly capable of extinguishing their sound manually, particularly if they have entire seconds of rests like in this part. Aug 6, 2023 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


Something that you (and possibly the people that have complained about the part) aren’t taking into account is the actual ranges of the timpani. Assuming a standard setup of 4 drums, their ranges (from lowest to highest) are D2–A2, F2–C3, Bb2–F3 and D3–A3. So, for example, the first two bars don’t need any note changes at all: C3 on the 2 drum (admittedly, this will be a somewhat less desirable, ping-y tone than a C3 on the 3 drum will be), G3 on the 4 drum, and F3 on the 3 drum (again, a somewhat weaker, ping-y sound). You then have plenty of time to tune the F3 on 3 down for the E3, and then, later, the C3 to Bb2 on the 2 drum.

I would say that the larger issue is the aforementioned tone of the highest notes on a drum. A more careful choice of different octaves for some of the notes (or possibly a different key for the whole arrangement) would make for a much fuller timpani sound. In particular, it would be nice to have those C3s be playable in the third drum instead. However, this is probably too nit-picky for a full orchestral arrangement.

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