The first timpani were brought to southern and western Europe in around the 13th century by Crusades and Saracens. These instruments were pairs of kettledrums about 20-22 cm in diameter. They were attached to the player’s belt and beaten with a pair of sticks/mallets. Later on they found their way into ensembles and appeared at court festivities and dances.
Technical improvements were made to the kettledrum, including a change in the way of the skins were tensioned during the 15th century and in the 16th century, the kettledrum began to equipped with screw to tension the skins, which was stretched over a hoop.
The pedal drum was invented in the 1870s by C. Pittrich in Dresden and is now the standard orchestral kettledrum. By operating a pedal, energy is transferred along drawbars, which run up the shell either on the inside or the outside, to the hoop over which the vellum is stretched and alter its tension.
The term timpani and the French word timbales are gain from the from the greek word Tympanon (Latin:tympanum) which referred to a drum with a skin.
The kettledrum, or timpani, established as a member of the symphony orchestra since the 17th century and is the percussion instrument with the longest tradition.
In Romantic and modern works four timpani are usual. In the Classical period one pair was standard
- Vienna Symphonic Library