Antiquity to the Present...
The carillon is an extraordinary musical
instrument. Its history is as rich as it is long. For more than five
centuries, the carillon has been a voice for the hopes, aspirations
and joys of humankind.
In recent years, the carillonís popularity has
increased as more and more individuals discover the carillon as a
work of art, an object of lasting beauty.
A carillon is a musical
instrument composed of cast-bronze bells, ranging in size from two to
six octaves. A four-octave (47-49 bells) or more carillon is the most
desirable since most carillon music, historic and contemporary, is
written for four or more octaves. The available repertory becomes
noticeably limited for smaller instruments. Some of the most
important factors affecting the number and weight of bells are the
height and size of the tower, its location, and the instrumentís
intended use. In a typical four-octave carillon, the bourdon, or
largest bell, weighs about two and one-half tons and the smallest
bell under 25 pounds.
Carillon bells are hung
stationary, bolted to steel or wooden beams; only the clappers move.
The clappers are connected through a series of direct mechanical
linkages to the carillon keyboard.
The carillonís mechanical
playing action, like that of the piano, allows the performer to
control dynamics and phrasing solely through variation of
Carillon bells are distinct
from ordinary bells. They must be carefully cast and tuned so that
each individual bell is not only in harmony with itself but with the
entire set of carillon bells. In addition to the actual pitch or
strike tone, the carillon bell is cast and tuned to include a very
prominent octave below the strike tone, a minor third above the
strike tone, a fifth and an octave. The presence of the minor third
gives the carillon bell its unique quality.
The traditional carillon
keyboard is of primary importance in the carillon. It is the vehicle
through which the emotion and talent of the carillonneur are
transmitted to the bells to create music.
The traditional mechanical
keyboard has been integral to the carillon art for more than 500
years. Although the carillon keyboard shares some similarities with
other keyboard instruments, carillon performance technique, playing
with closed hands on the keyboard while using both feet on the
pedalboard, is different.
have studied at a North American carillon or at one of the European
carillon schools, and then passed the Guild of Carillonneurs in North
American qualifying examination.
The carillon can be a vital
cultural resource. A regular performance schedule of recitals for
holidays and commemorative occasions provides an enriching community
activity. Carillon recitals have become traditional in many
communities, allowing individuals and families to enjoy the unique
nature of the carillon as an outdoor instrument.
Location and Design
Carillons are found in cities,
small towns, churches, zoos, botanical gardens, and even at private
residences. School campuses and parks provide particularly pleasant
settings to listen to carillon music.
Tower height is a major factor
in determining carillon size; generally the taller the tower, the
heavier the instrument. To enhance the carillonís clarity, it is
preferable for the bell chamber to rise well above surrounding
The tower must be strong
enough to support the weight of the carillon. A small carillon weighs
five to ten tons, including the bells and frame. A medium-weight
instrument is 15 to 30 tons; the largest carillons exceed 100
A four-octave carillon in
concert pitch requires a bell chamber approximately 25 feet high and
15 feet square. Large instruments may require two or three times as
As a general rule a carillon
sounds best from a bell chamber with openings totaling at least 50 to
60 percent of the inside wall area of the chamber. A tower roof is
essential for best reflection and blend of sounds.
To create the most direct and
responsive mechanical linkages, the playing room which houses the
carillon keyboard must be as close to the bells as possible.
Generally, it should not be more than one normal floor level below
the bell chamber floor. In larger carillons, the keyboard is often
located in a playing cabin inside the bell chamber among the
Only a few bell foundries cast
carillon bells. Until recently, all bell foundries were located in
Europe. However, Rick Watson who designed and oversaw the renovation
of the Princeton Carillon has started a foundry in Batavia, Ohio:
Meeks & Watson.
Carillon bells are
distinctive; that is, each foundryís bells sound different even when
comparing the same pitch.
This difference is created by
the shape, or profile, of the bell, the scaling of the bell (the
weight of a given note), and the scaling of the clapper (the weight
of the clapper relative to the weight of the bell).
Facilities for Carillonneur and Students
To perform well, all musicians
must practice. The carillonneur faces a unique challenge in that all
performances are public performances. The practice keyboard, which
replicates the action and sound of the carillon, provides the
carillonneur and students the opportunity for private practice.
Connected to tuned metal bars, the practice keyboard approximates the
sound and touch of the instrument.
For additional information on
carillons please visit the The Guild of
Carillonneurs in North America page.
This information was written
by R. Robin Austin, Carillonneur of Princeton University and
originally published in booklet form by The Guild of Carillonneurs in
Princeton University Class of 1892 Carillon
Princeton Universityís 67 bell
carillon is housed in Cleveland Tower of the Old Graduate College.
This Gothic tower is 40 feet square and 173 feet high. The Tower is
also the national memorial to President Grover Cleveland.
The Universityís carillon was
renovated in 1993. At that time the instrument was placed in concert
pitch, and a B-flat bass bell was added. In addition, one of the 1968
trebles was removed so the total number of bells remained the same
(67). The playing cabin, bell frame, keyboard and practice keyboard
Concerts are given by the
University Carillonneur, R. Robin Austin, and students on most Sundays at 1:00 p.m.
Photographs of Cleveland Tower are courtesy of
the Princeton University Graduate College Home Page.
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The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America
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Updated May 28, 2005