The Carillon

The carillon is a manually played instrument consisting of a chromatic sequence of at least 23 tuned bells played from a baton-and-pedal keyboard. It is neither electric nor automatic, but like a piano or organ is played by a trained musician who uses his own physical strength. The bells don't swing but hang stationary and the carillonneur strikes them with the bell clappers by depressing the keys and pedals of the playing console which are connected to them by wires and transmission bars and cranks. The purely mechanical traction of the carillon allows the carillonneur to play with expression and produce the entire range of dynamics from very soft to very loud.

The instrument was invented around the year 1500 in what is now Belgium and Holland. The carillonneurs played before and after the church services and on festive occasions. In the 17th century the Hemony brothers cast the first well-tuned carillons in the Netherlands, including five for the city of Amsterdam. At the beginning of the 18th century, Friedrich Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, donated carillons to the Berlin Parochial Church and the Potsdam Garrison Church. Both were played regularly until they were destroyed in the Second World War.

Almost all the carillons in Europe hang in the towers of
churches or town halls. In Belgium and the Netherlands they are played during the entire year on market days. In the summer there is sometimes a series of evening concerts usually with guest carillonneurs and the listeners are provideded with seating and concert programs. Since the end of the First World War about 170 carillons have been installed in North America, including both the largest and heaviest in the world. Many have been installed in specially built carillon towers placed in a park setting, where listeners take a program and enjoy the music in a green and quiet landscape far away from the noise of the city. Today there are about 700 carillons worldwide, mostly in Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA. Germany has 49 carillons in cities like Aschaffenburg, Berlin, Cologne, Eppingen, Erfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Hannover, Kiel, Munich and Wiesbaden.

gerust.jpg transneuklein.JPG
Bellframe with carillon console in the middle. The carillonneur sits in the middle of the bells so that the wires connecting the playing  console to the bell clappers can be kept as short as possible to give the carillonneur maximum control over the way the bells are struck. Drawing from André Lehr, Leerboek der campanologie, Asten, 1976, used with the kind permission of the Nationaal Beiaardmuseum, Asten, the Netherlands. The connection between the baton of a carillon console and the bell clapper. The clapper is positioned close to the bell so that the carillonneur only has to move it a small distance when playing. Drawing used with the kind permission of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America.

Back to home page