An Introduction to the
carillon (from 18th century French quadrillion
meaning peal of four bells) applies to a set of fixed
bells played using a keyboard, or operated by an
automatic mechanism (such as a pinned barrel). Manually
operated instruments can be played by just one person,
who is known as a carillonneur.
This distinguishes the apparatus from traditional
change-ringing (typical to the British Isles) where each
bell is swung around a horizontal axis, by the action of
a pulled rope. Change-ringing requires a team of people,
as each person only operates one rope and its associated
Externally sounded bells have always been associated
with places of worship, and also used to warn the public
of fire or war, and to celebrate/signal civic events.
The use of such bells in a musical fashion originated in
the 16th century throughout the low countries, and was
highly developed in Belgium and the Netherlands in
Carillons are usually housed in church bell towers or
municipal buildings, although there are travelling
versions which can be operated outside or inside (such
as concert halls).
Technically speaking, a carillon should have at least 23
notes (according to the World Carillon Federation), and
an instrument with less is sometimes referred to as a
chime. A concert instrument should have at least 49
notes. The two largest carillons in the world (in terms
of number of bells) are located at Kirk in the Hills,
Michigan, USA, and Hyechon College, Daejeon, South Korea
– each boasting 77 bells.
Across the world, there are over 370 carillons, of which
200 are in Europe. Belgium alone has 89 instruments, and
the Netherlands has 34.
How the Carillon
The keyboard is operated by striking or pushing down on
the stick-like levers with the fists or palms of the
hand. In some larger instruments (called carillon
claviers), a pedalboard is incorporated which is
operated by the feet of the player. By a series of
ropes, wires, pulleys and levers, this movement actuates
hammers which strike the inside of each bell. It is
possible therefore to vary the intensity of the sound
produced. Notes can be played individually in sequence
to produce a melody, whilst in larger instruments
especially it is possible to play notes together to
Carillons in the
United Kingdom and their manufacturers
Carillons in this country can be found at Kirk of St
Nicholas, Aberdeen; St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh; The
Bournville Carillon, Birmingham; St Patrick’s Church,
Dumbarton; The Guildhall, Kingston upon Hull; St
Marnock’s Church, Kilmarnock; Atkinson’s Carillon, Old
Bond Street, London; The Loughborough Carillon;
Manchester Town Hall; Newcastle upon Tyne Civic Centre;
Mostyn House School, Cheshire; St John’s Kirk, Perth;
Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews; Lowe House, St Helens;
Our Lady of the Rosary & St Therese of Lisieux RC
Church, Saltley; South Holland Centre, Spalding; The
Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham; The Wisbech
Institute; and York Minster.
Notable manufacturers in the United Kingdom include
Gillett & Johnston (South Croydon), John Smith & Sons
(Derby), John Taylor & Sons (Loughborough), and the
Whitechapel Bell Foundry (London).
The Carillon here
at St Matthew’s Parish Church
The twelve bells for the manually-operated carillon at
St Matthew’s were cast by James Barwell (Birmingham) in
1897, and the installation was completed in 1898. Each
bell has inscribed upon it (in Latin) the name of one of
the twelve apostles. The treble bell weighs 462 lbs (210
Kg), and the tenor bell weighs 1492 lbs (677 Kg).
Five of the bells are used by the church clock to strike
the hours and chime the quarter hours (automatically).
The carillon is tuned to the key of F major, with a
compass of one octave and a third, with the addition of
a B natural and an E flat.
The instrument is maintained by John Smith & Sons
It is used every Sunday morning before the 10.15am Mass,
when the hymn tunes to be sung at the service are
performed. At the conclusion of wedding services (if
requested), peals are played on it – using the same or
similar sequences of notes as those used in
change-ringing. In the recent past, Auld Lang Syne
was regularly performed at midnight to see the New
Year in. Appropriately selected music is also played on
the carillon to attract attention to the start of events
such as the Summer Fete and the Christmas Fayre.