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The xylorimba (sometimes referred to as xylo-marimba or marimba-xylophone) is a pitched percussion instrument corresponding to a xylophone with an extended range (and not to a combination of a xylophone with a marimba, as the name might suggest).
Like the xylophone and marimba, the xylorimba consists of a series of wooden bars laid out like a piano keyboard "with a compass sufficiently large to embrace the low-sounding bars of the marimba and the highest-sounding bars of the xylophone."
"The lower notes of the xylorimba sound like a xylophone rather than a marimba on account of the bars being thicker and narrower than those of a marimba (the bars of the xylophone and the marimba are shaped differently to emphasize different overtones) and of the different size and shape of the resonators" (Blades and Holland n.d.).
The usual playing range of a modern xylorimba is five octaves: from the C one octave below middle C to the C four octaves above middle C (C3 to C8). It is a transposing instrument, since music for xylorimba is written an octave lower than it sounds, using a grand staff with both bass and treble clefs.
"As the marimba-xylophone it was a popular instrument in the 1920s and 30s, particularly in vaudeville" (Blades and Holland n.d.).
The name has been a source of confusion. Many composers have called for ‘xylorimba’, including Alban Berg, Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen, but written parts requiring only a four-octave xylophone (Blades and Holland n.d.) (C4 to C8, nowadays the standard range for a concert xylophone). However, Pierre Boulez wrote for two five-octave xylorimbas in Pli selon pli (Blades and Holland n.d.).
Compositions including xylorimba
(4, 4.5, and 5-octave instruments):
- Alban Berg: Drei Stücke [Three Pieces] for orchestra (1914–15, revised 1929)
- Erik Bergman: Hathor Suite for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and ensemble (cor anglais, flute, harp and percussion) (1971)
- William Bolcom: Dream Music No. 2 for four players (1982)
- Pierre Boulez: Le marteau sans maître for alto and six instruments (1953–55, revised 1957)
- Pierre Boulez: Pli selon pli for soprano and orchestra (1957–62)
- Helmut Lachenmann: Mouvement ( - vor der Erstarrung) for three ad hoc players and 14 players (1982/84)
- Helmut Lachenmann: Souvenir for 41 instruments (1959)
- Helmut Lachenmann: Accanto for solo clarinet and orchestra (1975–76)
- Olivier Messiaen: Couleurs de la Cité Céleste for piano and chamber orchestra (1963)
- Olivier Messiaen: La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ for mixed choir, seven solo instruments and large orchestra (1965–69)
- Olivier Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles... for piano solo, horn, xylorimba, glockenspiel and orchestra (1971–74)
- Olivier Messiaen: Saint François d'Assise opera (1975–83)
- Olivier Messiaen: Éclairs sur l'Au-delà… for large orchestra (1988–92)
- Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gruppen for three orchestras [in the list of instruments for Orchestra III, but the score itself calls for a marimbaphone, as in Orchestra I]
- Blades, James, and James Holland. n.d. "Xylorimba [xylo-marimba, marimba-xylophone]". Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root. Oxford Music Online. (Accessed 5 February 2011).