the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

18th century France

galoubet and tambourin

by frances

French and English court culture were intertwined until 1804 when Napoleon crowned himself. So in the 18th century, when it became fashionable for French aristocrats and the nobility to glorify the 'simple' peasant lifestyle, the vogue also spread to England. Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, lead the way playing at being a rustic peasant dressed in costly clothes. As a result many village and shepherd instruments, including the pipe and tabor, were played and danced to in highly stylised fashion in the most grandiose palaces of France and England.

Ballet developed as Court entertainment at this time. So a pipe and tabor player was sometimes depicted as the accompanist in paintings such as ' La Camargo Dancing' c1730 by Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), and his similar painting here.

Ballet became an essential part of eighteenth-century French opera; the formula required that each act had to include an elaborate divertissement which included a ballet. Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) worked at Court in the 1740's and composed many operas and musical dramas. In 'Dardanus' (1739) he wrote character-pieces based on Provençal folk dance accompanied by pipe and tabor. The bass part simulates a drum by sharply accentuating the rhythm and by the repetition of a single note, while an upper voice imitates the pipe with a fast-moving melody. Rousseau described the tambourin as "a kind of dance much in style today in the French theatre," adding that it must be lively and well accented, and 'swinging'. Rameau's tambourins usually occur in pairs, one in a major key and one in the minor. (source)

Throughout Europe in the 18th century there was also a craze for animated objects. Jacques de Vaucanson exhibited three mechanical statues, one of which was a galoubet player. These automota were shown four times daily at the Opera House, Haymarket, in London in 1742. The exhibition leaflet stated:

"a life-sized man dressed like a provencal shepherd who could play 20 different tunes on the flute of Provence (also called a galoubet) with one hand and on the tambourin with the other hand with all the precision and perfection of a skilful musician".

Vaucanson said:

"A curious discovery about the building of this automaton is that the galoubet is one of the most tiring instrumentsfor the chest because muscles must sometimes make an effort equivalent to 56 pounds"

player player
two images of the working pipe and tabor player made by Vaucanson in1738 and exhibited in London



A number of Galoubet instruction books have survived. One, 'The Diapason', 1772 contains instructions for the flute, piccolo, flageolet, tabor pipe, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, French horn and serpent. It was republished in1813.

Smollet, having visited Nice wrote in 1766:

"they assemble after service, men and women, in their best apparel, and dance to the musick of fiddles, and pipe and tabor, or rather pipe and drum. There are hucksters' stands, with pedlary ware and knick-knacks for presents."
'Travels Through France and Italy' by Tobias George Smollet (1721-1771, Scottish poet and author.

The galoubet continued to be popular in France in the 19th century as the " Félibrige" movement choose to promote the pipe and tabor as the local folk instrument. This movement, founded in1854, is a literary and cultural association whose writers defend and promote language and literature in Provençe.

I saw this fan in a London textiles fair in about 2003. It had hand-made lace on ivory sticks. There were two other images painted on the fan (not of the pipe and tabor), but the person who took this photograph for me did not take a picture of the whole leaf.


That the French call their drum 'tambourin' has caused some confusion for translators who mix this instrument up with the 'tambourine', an single-sided narrow drum with jingles, usually played with the hand.

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