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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the entry about the University of Regina student newspaper, See The Carillon
The Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia, USA.
The Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia, USA.

A carillon (Dutch: beiaard) is a musical instrument composed of at least 23 cup-shaped bells played from a baton keyboard using fists and feet (such an instrument with fewer than this number of bells is known as a chime). Carillon bells are made of bell bronze, approximately 78% copper and 22% tin. Carillons are normally housed in bell towers. The carillon has the widest dynamic range of any mechanical (non-electric) musical instrument.

The word carillon is pronounced /‖karijɔ̃/, /ˈkærɪljɒn/ or /kəˈrɪljən/ (International Phonetic Alphabet), according to the Oxford English Dictionary.


Carillon bells.
Carillon bells.
A carillon keyboard.
A carillon keyboard.

The carillon originated in the 15th century in the Low Countries when people wanted not only to make beautiful bells, but also to achieve a sonorous and concordant sound. In the 17th century, François and Pieter Hemony perfected the art of bell-founding by tuning at multiple interior points so that bells could be sounded together to produce concordant harmonies.

The greatest concentration of carillons is still to be found in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the French département du Nord, where they were commonly mounted in the grand towers of rich cities as tokens of civic pride and status. Carillons were usually housed in church towers, belfries, or in municipal buildings, and the same holds true for those carillons that have been installed in other parts of the world since the art of casting precisely tuned bells was rediscovered in the late 19th century. In Germany, such a carillon is also called a Glockenspiel.

Concentrations of traditional carillons in their original heartlands

Overview of highest concentrations of carillons (as defined by the World Carillon Federation) (data September 2006):

(1) Département du Nord in France, bordering Belgium and once part of the County of Flanders.
(2) Département Côte d'Or in France. In the 15-16th century, the economic heartland of the duchy of Burgundy was in the Low Countries, particularly Flanders and Brabant. The distant court in Dijon economically and culturally outshone the French one and was located in the present French département Côte d'Or within the région de Bourgogne.
(3) Due to the comparatively small surface of the capital region, which was part of historical Brabant, having 2 carillons gives a high average figure of 124.22 per 100kmx100km. Compare this to 4 carillons in the nearby city of Mechelen, in present Flanders a municipality of merely 65 km² with an overwhelming average of 615.38 carillons per 100kmx100km.

Highly reputed carillon schools are also present in the carillon heartlands, including the first international school, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen, Belgium.

Musical characteristics

Carillonneur Brian Swager plays the carillon at the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste (John the Baptist) in Perpignan, France.
Carillonneur Brian Swager plays the carillon at the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste (John the Baptist) in Perpignan, France.

Since each separate note is produced by an individual bell, a carillon's musical range is determined by the number of bells it has. Different names are assigned to instruments based on the number of bells they comprise:

  • Carillons with 23 through 27 bells are referred to as two-octave carillons. Players of these instruments often use music arranged specifically for their limited range of notes.
  • A concert carillon has a range of at least four octaves (47 bells).
  • The carillon with largest range contains 77 bells, or six and a half octaves (Kirk in the Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, United States).
  • The Campanology article compares other musical bell instruments with the carillon.
  • Some modern instruments (such as some made by Schulmerich) use semantra (rectangular metal bars roughly the diameter of a pencil but of varying lengths) struck by an electric solenoid. The resulting sound feeds through an electronic amplifier into audio speakers. Though sometimes called 'carillon' as well, these do not conform to the definitions given by the World Carillon Federation[1] or the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America[2].

The carillonneur, the musician who plays the carillon, sits in a cabin beneath the bells. The carillonneur presses down, with a loosely closed fist, on a series of baton-like keys arranged in the same pattern as a piano keyboard. The keys activate levers and wires that connect directly to the bells' clappers; thus, as with a piano, the carillonneur can vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key. In addition to the manual keys, the heavier bells are also connected to pedals. These notes can either be played with the hands or the feet.

To a musician's ear, a carillon can sound "out of tune." This is due to the unusual harmonic characteristics of foundry bells, which have a strong harmonic overtone an eleventh (an octave plus a minor third) above the fundamental frequency.

Carillons worldwide

The overview of the locations of carillons with brief descriptions illustrates their variety in number of bells (from 23 to 77), in weight (from less than half a tonne to 40 tonnes and more), and age.

St. Rumbolds Tower at Mechelen, Belgium, the only tower housing two functional concert carillons.
St. Rumbolds Tower at Mechelen, Belgium, the only tower housing two functional concert carillons.
The National Carillon on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Australia's capital.
The National Carillon on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Australia's capital.

Bell foundries

Bellmaking is an old art. Carillon bells, which can weigh many tons, are made in a foundry by casting, and can be tuned by turning on a lathe. Campanology is the study of bells — the methods of casting and tuning them, and the art or science of sounding them.

Currently open foundries

  • Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry, Asten, the Netherlands [1]
  • John Taylor Bellfounders, Loughborough, England [2]
  • Paccard bell foundry, Annecy-le-Vieux, France [3]
  • Petit & Fritsen, Aarle-Rixtel, the Netherlands [4]
  • Kruszewski Brothers Bell Foundry, Poland [5]
  • Meeks, Watson and Company, Georgetown, Ohio, United States [[6]]
  • Verdin Bell Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States [7]
  • Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London, England [8]

Closed foundries

  • Gillett & Johnston, Croydon, United Kingdom [9] (1957)
  • Meneely Bell Company, Troy, New York, United States (1952)
  • Meneely & Company bell foundry, Watervliet, New York, United States (1951)

Further reading

See also

  • Campanology: Carillons (a concise chapter in the general article Campanology)
  • Bell tower
  • Guild of Carillonneurs in North America

External links

  • World Carillon Federation
  • Guild of Carillonneurs in North America
  • Flemish Carillon Guild
  • Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn", Mechelen, Belgium
  • Netherlands Carillon School, Amersfoort, the Netherlands
  • Yale University Guild of Carillonneurs
  • Carillon Music Audio Recordings Discography of all recordings known to have existed, by the Carillon Society of Australia


  1. ^ The World Carillon Federation fixes the definition of a carillon as follows: "A carillon is a musical instrument composed of tuned bronze bells which are played from a baton keyboard. Only those carillons having at least 23 bells will be taken into consideration".
  2. ^ The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America (GCNA) defines a carillon as "a musical instrument consisting of at least two octaves of carillon bells arranged in chromatic series and played from a keyboard permitting control of expression through variation of touch. A carillon bell is a cast bronze cup-shaped bell whose partial tones are in such harmonious relationship to each other as to permit many such bells to be sounded together in varied chords with harmonious and concordant effect." For the purposes of clarity, the GCNA defines a "traditional carillon" as one played from a carillon keyboard; a "non-traditional carillon" as a musical instrument with bells, but played from an electronic keyboard. Anything else is not a carillon according to the GCNA.
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