AskDefine | Define carillon

Dictionary Definition



1 set of bells hung in a bell tower
2 playing a set of bells that are (usually) hung in a tower [syn: bell ringing, carillon playing] [also: carillonning, carillonned]

User Contributed Dictionary



(US) /ˈkɛrɪˌlɑn/


  1. A set of bells, often in a bell tower, sometimes operated by means of a keyboard (manual or pedal), originating from the Low Countries. Modern carillons are sometimes also operated by computer.

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

In medieval times, bells were first used as a way of notify people of fires, storms, wars and other events. The great bell Rowland announced births, deaths, fires, and military attacks. A ringing of bells rung from the lowest note to the highest note indicated that an attack had taken place. The use of bells in a musical fashion originated in the 14th century in the Low Countries. In the 17th century, François and Pieter Hemony developed the art of bell-founding and -designing, and tuning, which they passed on to Antwerp bellfounder Melchior de Haze. In the 18th century, several members of the Van den Gheyn bellfounders dynasty also mastered the skill of bell tuning, such as Andreas Joseph Van den Gheyn. Unfortunately his techniques also passed away with him. It was not until the 19th century in England under the Taylor bellfoundry at Loughborough, England, that bell tuning was re-invented.
The greatest concentration of carillons is still found in The Netherlands, Belgium, and in (the North of) France, where they were 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. In Germany, a carillon is also called a glockenspiel.

Instruments by country

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

United States

The largest carillon in the United States can be found in Naperville, Illinois. Known as the Millennium Tower, or Moser Tower, the carillon stands over 160 feet tall, and features 72 bells. Of six hundred carillons world wide, the Millennium Carillon is one of only four spanning a full six octaves. It is known as a Grand Carillon. The largest bell, dedicated as the Captain Joseph Naper Bell, or "Big Joe" as it has become known, weighs almost 6 tons.
Carillon schools include the Netherlands Carillon School in the Netherlands and the first international school, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen, Belgium. In North America one can study the carillon at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (which is home to two of only twenty-three grand carillons in the world), the University of Florida, the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music, and Missouri State University, all which offer complete courses of study. One can also take private lessons at many carillon locations, and there are universities that offer limited credit for carillon performance, such as Clemson University or Cornell University.

Musical characteristics

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.
  • The "keyboard" of a carillon is called a baton console.
  • A concert carillon has a range of at least four octaves (47 bells). This is sometimes referred to as the "standard-sized" carillon.
  • The carillon with largest range contains 77 bells, or six and a half octaves (Kirk in the Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, United States). The Riverside Carillon in New York City has (or did have—there may be other instruments with larger bourdons) the largest tuned bell in the world, which sounds the C two octaves below middle C on the piano.
  • Modern imitation instruments (such as those made by Schulmerich) use semantra (rectangular metal bars roughly the diameter of a pencil, but of varying lengths) struck by an electric solenoid. They may be played from a keyboard, organ console, or by means of music rolls. The resulting sound is electronically amplified and broadcast by loudspeakers. Although called "carillons" or "electronic carillons", their sound does not conform to the definitions given by the World Carillon Federation or the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. The GCNA as of 2000 has disqualified all instruments in which more than 12 bells are played electrically. Twelve bells are allowed so that automatic chiming of tunes may take place. Chiming means that one bell at a time is usually played.
The carillonneur is the title of the musician who plays the carillon. The carillonneur usually sits in a cabin beneath the bells and presses down, with a loosely closed fist, on a series of baton-like keys arranged in the same pattern as a piano keyboard. The batons are almost never played with the fingers as one does a piano, though this is sometimes used as a special carillon playing technique. 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 played with a pedal keyboard. These notes can either be played with the hands or the feet.
To a musician's ear, a carillon can sound "out of tune." Poorly tuned bells often give this impression and also can be out of tune with themselves. This is due to the unusual harmonic characteristics of foundry bells, which have a strong overtones above and below the fundamental frequency. Foundry bells are tuned to have the following set of partials (overtones):
  • Octave above prime
  • Fifth
  • Minor third
  • Prime and strike tone resultant
  • Hum tone (an octave below prime)
Additionally, there is a major 10th, 12th, and 15th which are not typically individually tuned, but are usually present anyway. They all combine to create a "resultant" pitch, which is in unison with prime on a well-tuned bell. Properly tuned bells emphasize the fundamental frequency of the bell.


There is no standard pitch range carillon as of 2007 (although the implied world standard pitch range for the average carillon is 48 bells, which gives good upper range and good lower range). The minimum and maximum range of an instrument generally depend on the money available to pay for the instrument: more money provides for more bells and a larger range, with the most expensive bells in the lower range of the baton console. When writing for this instrument one should make clear the required range.
As they do not have a standardised pitch range, Carillons tend to be transposing instruments- particularly in older instruments. Many of these are being re-worked as C instruments so that the bells can not only be played solo but with other instruments without transposing. In these instruments the baton C sounds as written; that is a C baton sounds a C at concert pitch. It is still a part of a Carillonneur's training to be able to transpose music in any key for his or her instrument, however.
Carillon music is typically written on two or three staves. The pedal staff used to play the heavier, larger bells which are connected to the lower portion of the baton clavier and also help form chords and thirds and other intervals with the middle and upper baton bells. Pedal may range up to 32 notes, usually beginning on C in modern octave transposing and non-transposing carillons or more duplicating the batons. In most carillons the pedal is not independent and sounds the same baton bells to which they are coupled. Complicated music maybe written on four staves with the staves labeled High bells, Mid Bells, Tenor Bells and Bourdons(Bass bells)
Music written for the piano, organ, or other keyboard may be played or arranged to be played on Carillon. One should not expect, however, that chords can be played with one's fingers as on the piano- this can be done on upper bells where trills, tremolo, and as rapid runs are effective. The carillon is ideal for playing polyphonic music with florid counterpoint.
Arrangements and original compositions for Carillon should focus on the middle and upper bells because their sounds die out quicker than the bourdons. While Carillon music can be written on standard 9.5x12 inches paper, the preference is for folding landscape format which reduces the frequency of page turns. Carillon music is effective when combined with orchestra in concertos and orchestral works. It has also proven effective when used in film scores and in chamber music. To record carillon music, the microphones should be some distance from the bells lest they pick up the softer lingering of tones and frequencies that are not intended to be heard.



See also

carillon in Bulgarian: Карийон
carillon in German: Carillon
carillon in Spanish: Carillón
carillon in Esperanto: Kariljono
carillon in French: Carillon
carillon in Lithuanian: Kariljonas
carillon in Dutch: Beiaard
carillon in Japanese: カリヨン
carillon in Polish: Carillon
carillon in Portuguese: Carrilhão
carillon in Russian: Карильон
carillon in Swedish: Klockspel
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