The History of the Zimbelstern

The History of the Zimbelstern

The Zimbelstern is a musical instrument which rings small bells at random as an accompaniment to organ music. The Zimbelstern (also spelled Cymbalstern) has been used for centuries in devotional music.

The word Zimbelstern means “cymbal-star”. In fact, the original Zimbelsterns were made in the shape of a star with small bells at each point. The star was turned, either manually or pneumatically, and the bells were struck by stationary clappers mounted around the star. Modern Zimbelsterns are electrically operated. The bells do not rotate. Instead, a rotating device in the center strikes the bells.

On organs of the Baroque period (1550 to 1750), Zimbelstern was also a mixture stop. This would cause the organ to “break back”, or repeat every octave. The higher harmonics produced in this way sounded like small bells.

You may have seen the child of the Zimbelstern in a popular holiday table decoration where candles turn a windmill which strikes small cymbals.
Not everyone will notice the Zimbelstern when it is first played as an overtone to festive or triumphant music, but like the glockenspiel (“bell-player”) in the orchestra, music lovers will catch its brilliant voice right away.

For large congregations (over 1000 seats), or for those who want a prominent bell sound, stronger than the delicate voice of the Zimbelstern, we recommend the Glockenstern. Invented by New Century Products, the Glockenstern is a much larger version of the Zimbelstern. The bells on the Glockenstern are four inches tall compared to the two-inch tall bells of the Zimbelstern. The word Glockenstern means “bell-star”. The name is derived from glockenspiel which means “bell player”. (Modern glockenspiels may resemble xylophones, but they were originally a set of bells mounted on a frame.)

No doubt there are many of you who know other interesting facts about the Zimbelstern.