galoubet and tambourin


The Fins have their kantele, the Slovaks their fujara, the Ukrainians their bandura, the Trinidadians their steelpan and the Scots their bagpipes - all folk instruments which have risen to become the musical emblem of their country.

The musical emblem of Provence is the combination of galoubet and tambourin, or pipe and tabor. This inseparable duo is played by one and the same musician: the galoubet with the left hand and the tambourin, which hangs on the left forearm, with the right hand. In Provençal this combination is popularly known as tutupanpanner, an onomatopoeia after the tutu sound of the pipe and the panpan of the drum.

Just like the recorder, the galoubet is a duct flute, so the player's breath is directed against a sharp edge (the labium) by a duct  in the mouthpiece of the instrument. But unlike the much more widely diffused recorder, the galoubet only has three finger holes: two at the front and a thumb hole in the back. That is because on a one-handed pipe you first overblow to the higher fifth, and then further to the higher fourth, major third and minor third. And you can span a fifth (e.g. C-G) with three finger holes (e.g. D-E-F).    

The combination of a one-handed pipe and a drum goes back to at least around 1250 and in the Middle Ages was common throughout Western Europe. It was played mostly at weddings and dances. In 1650 the pipe and tabor began to die out, though in some parts of England, Spain, Portugal and the French Pyrenees, and also in Latin America, they remained popular for much longer.

From the mid-seventeenth century the French increasingly regarded the galoubet and tambourin as typically Provençal. Around Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, in particular, they were the stock instruments for processions and farandoles (open-chain dances) or for dancing at weddings, carnivals and on patron saints' days. When the pastoral became the height of fashion during the eighteenth century, the popular galoubet and tambourin, along with the hurdy-gurdy and the bagpipes, were adopted by the higher echelons of society that frequented the French court and they remained in vogue for several decades.  

The French Revolution heralded a period of decline for the galoubet- tambourin combination. The tradition survived in and around towns like Aix, Marseille, Toulon and Draguignan, but elsewhere galoubet and tambourin had to make way for the new types of brass instruments. This changed after 1854 with the founding of the Félibrige, a literary school which soon became an important regional movement promoting everything that was typically Provençal, like the region's own language and traditions. Naturally that included the galoubet and tambourin.  

The galoubet on show was turned from boxwood and is stamped Long. All that is known of this Long is that he was based in La Ciotat, a seaside resort near Marseille. The instrument may have been made around 1850. In 1883 Ludovic de Lombardon wrote that Long was the Guarnerius of galoubet-making, Long's contemporary Grasset being the Stradivarius .. Ludovic de Lombardon (1839-1917), Count of Montézan, who was from Marseille, was a well-known tambourinaïre (galoubet and tambourin player) and collector of Provençal instruments. It is possible that Victor Mahillon, the then curator of the mim, acquired this instrument through de Lombardon between 1898 and 1912.

Around the same time the museum also purchased two tambourins, including the one on show. Inventory number 2285 displays all the characteristics of classic tambourin-building. It is about 80 cm high and a good 40 cm in diameter. Its walnut body bears the typical decoration of parallel, vertical, alternating straight and meandering or twisted ridges. A fine string is stretched over the struck head, adding an extra timbre. In Provençal dialect the drumstick is known as a masseto.

galoubet and tambourin players in Provence