- The celesta is a relatively quiet and soft-sounding instrument and is easily drowned by other instruments.
- The dynamic range is also limited, far narrower than the piano’s.
- The resonance of its notes is similar to that of the piano in the same registers.
- The range is from the middle register (C3) to the highest register (C8).
Its sound characteristics mean that the celesta’s main tasks are the addition of color rather than melodic, harmonic or rhythmic parts. In combination with other instruments it brightens the overall sound. It combines most effectively with the harp, the high strings and the woodwinds, especially the flute. The warm sound of the celesta is less apparent in sound combinations than that of the glockenspiel.
The celesta's tasks
The celesta’s tasks in combinations with other instruments can be divided into three main categories:
- Providing highlights in the form of single notes or chords (similar to the triangle and the glockenspiel). In such cases it is distinctly audible. The playing of melody excerpts.
- Doubling other voices in unison or an octave, two octaves, a third or a fifth apart. Here the celesta’s sound merges with other instruments to form a composite timbre similar to the mixture stops of the organ. An example of this effect can be found in Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.
- Piano figures consisting of glissando-like scales, arpeggios or octave tremolos lend a silvery sheen to stirring orchestral passages. Gustav Mahler (e.g. in his 6th Symphony) and Béla Bartók (in Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, for instance) gave the celesta such demanding tasks which require a pianist to perform them.
The celesta best fulfills the tasks described above in transparent, chamber music like scoring.
The celesta can also replace the glockenspiel to play challenging parts originally written for the keyed glockenspiel, which fell into disuse owing to its unsatisfactory sound.