What is a carillon?

A carillon has, in contrast to the peal of a normal church, at least 23 bronze bells (2 octaves in chromatic order, but, without the lowest C-sharp und D-sharp). These bells are connected with a keyboard. This keyboard can best be compared to the keyboard of an organ, but with other dimensions. The keys for the hands are round timber sticks. These sticks are arranged with a distance of about 5 cm from each other. Further the sticks are arranged in 2 vertical rows, according to the keyboard of a piano. Below the sticks there are pedal keys that are very similar to the pedals of an organ. The leftmost sticks are usually coupled with the rightmost pedals. At their backside the sticks and pedals are connected to wires. These wires lead to the bell chamber that is located in a certain height above the player. There the wires are connected to a system of rocking levers and wire pieces. This system finally moves the clappers of the bells.

The number and the total weight of the bells can vary from instrument to instrument to a high degree. The lightweightest instrument in Germany at Altenburg / Thuringia has 24 bells with a total weight of 300 kg. The instrument at Halle / Saxony-Anhalt, in contrast, has 76 bells with a total of 54.980 kg.

The keboards usually meet a standard. Traditionally there exist two different standards, one Central European and another North American. In 2006 an international standard has been created, the WCF keyboard 2006.

Carillons are played by the so called carillonneur who is able to perform the same artistic and musical achievement as the musician of a symphony orchestra. Carillons should not be confused with computer-controlled musical machines since the carillon allows a much higher degree of differentation compared to a machine. But, much carillons own, in addition to the mechanical traction system, an automatic installation that is able to play simple melodies.


How to play carillon?

The carillonneur sits upright in front of the keyboard. He clenches his hands (not too strong and not too weak), holds the clenched hands with the smallest fingers below and presses the sticks (i.e. the rounded keys) with that bearing of the hands. If the hand will be spread, it is possible to play for two voices with each hand. The deep bells will be operated by the pedals. That means that hands and feet can play six different notes at the same time. But, due to the special acoustic characteristics of a bell, playing too much notes simultaneously does not produce harmonic sounds. Especially the minor third, dominating in the sound spectrum, makes itself felt unpleasant in deep triads.
The carillonneur should be able to differentiate the dynamics in pressing the sticks and pedals as refined as possible to achieve musical effects and to avoid too long resonance of the deep bells.


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Last Update: February 26, 2017