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Carillon Olympiapark Muenchen.jpg
The former carillon in Munich's Olympiapark
Percussion instrument
Classification Percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.242.2
(Sets of bells or chimes)
A traveling carillon at the Colorado Renaissance Festival in June 2008 Carillon small portable.jpg
A traveling carillon at the Colorado Renaissance Festival in June 2008

A carillon ( US: /ˈkærəlɒn/ or UK: /kəˈrɪljən/ ; [1] French:  [kaʁijɔ̃] ) is a musical instrument typically housed in the bell tower (belfry) of a church or municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to produce a melody, or together to play a chord. A traditional manual carillon is played by striking a keyboard—the stick-like keys of which are called batons—with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires connected to metal clappers which strike the bells.


Although unusual, real carillons have occasionally been fitted to theatre organs (instead of the metal bars or chimes more often used in simulation), such as the Christie organ at the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, in London. [2] A carillon-like instrument with fewer than 23 bells is called a chime.

The largest carillon in the world, with 120 bells, is in the Palace of Mafra in Portugal. [3] [4]

The carillon is the second heaviest of all extant musical instruments, [5] ranking behind only the largest pipe organs. The heaviest carillon in the world (at Riverside Church in New York City) weighs over 100 short tons (91 tonnes), [6] whereas the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia weighs 287 short tons (260 tonnes).

The word "carillon" is said to originate from the French quadrillon, meaning four bells. In German, a carillon ist ein Glockenspiel; the percussion instrument called a glockenspiel by English speakers is often called a carillon in French.


The Hemony carillon of the Zuiderkerk in Amsterdam was installed in 1656. 1294-Amsterdam.jpg
The Hemony carillon of the Zuiderkerk in Amsterdam was installed in 1656.

In medieval times, swinging bells were first used as a way of notifying people of imminent church services, and for such as fires, storms, wars and other secular events.

However, the use of bells to play melodic musical compositions originated in the 16th century in the Low Countries. The first carillon was in Flanders, where a "fool" performed music on the bells of Oudenaarde Town Hall in 1510 by using a baton keyboard.

Major figures in the evolution of the modern carillon were Pieter and François Hemony working in the 17th century. They are credited as being the greatest carillon bell founders in the history of the Low Countries. They developed the carillon, in collaboration with Jacob van Eyck, into a full-fledged musical instrument by casting the first tuned carillon in 1644, which was installed in Zutphen's Wijnhuistoren tower.

Musical characteristics

Carillon bells, Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg Carillon of PeterAndPaulCathedral 1.JPG
Carillon bells, Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg
Carillonneur playing the 56-bell carillon at the Plummer Building, Rochester, Minnesota Carillonneur playing the 56-bell carillon at the Plummer Building, Rochester, Minnesota.jpg
Carillonneur playing the 56-bell carillon at the Plummer Building, Rochester, Minnesota
Carillonneur demonstrating using the sides of the hands to strike the clavier (keyboard) BIG 117025309040611.jpg
Carillonneur demonstrating using the sides of the hands to strike the clavier (keyboard)

The World Carillon Federation defines a carillon as "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. Instruments built before 1940 and composed of between 15 and 22 bells may be designated as 'historical carillons.'"

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." The GCNA defines a "traditional carillon" as one played from a carillon mechanical (not electrified) baton keyboard, [7] and a "non-traditional carillon" as a musical instrument with bells, but played by automated mechanical or electro-mechanical means, or from an electrical or electronic keyboard. [8]

Since each 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:

The Riverside Carillon in New York City has the largest tuned carillon bell in the world, which sounds C2 (two octaves below middle C).

Travelling or mobile carillons are not placed in a tower, but can be transported. Some of them can even be played indoors—in a concert hall or church—like the mobile carillon of Frank Steijns. [9]

Poorly tuned bells often give an "out of tune" impression and also can be out of tune with themselves. This is due to the unusual harmonic characteristics of foundry bells, which have strong overtones above and below the fundamental frequency. [10]

There is no standard pitch range for the carillon. In general, a concert carillon will have a minimum of 48 bells. The range of any given instrument usually depends on funds available for the fabrication and installation of the instrument: more money allows more bells to be cast, especially the larger, more costly ones. Older carillons can be transposing instruments, generally transposing upward. Most modern instruments sound at concert pitch. A carillon clavier has both a manual and a pedal keyboard.

Carillon music

Carillon music is typically written on two staves. Notes written in the bass clef are generally played by the feet. Notes written in the treble clef are played with the hands. Pedals range from the lowest note (the bourdon) and may continue up to two and half octaves. In the North American Standard keyboard, all notes can be played on the manual.

Because of the acoustic peculiarities of a carillon bell (the prominence of the minor third, and the lack of damping of sound), music written for other instruments needs to be arranged specifically for the carillon.

The combination of carillon and other instruments, while possible, is generally not a happy marriage. The carillon is generally far too loud to perform with most other concert instruments. The great exceptions to this are some late twentieth and early twenty-first century compositions involving electronic media and carillon. In these compositions, sound amplification is able to match the extreme dynamic range of the carillon and, in the case of sensitive composers, even the most delicate effects are possible. Brass music is often heard together with a (traveling) carillon.


The carillonneur or carillonist is the title of the musician who plays the carillon. The carillonneur usually sits in a cabin beneath the bells and plays with the fifth (little) finger pressed 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 volume of each 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.

Carillon schools

The world's first international carillon school, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn", is in Mechelen, Belgium, where the study of campanology originated. Other carillon schools include the Netherlands Carillon School [11] in Amersfoort.

In North America, one can study the carillon at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Santa Barbara, 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 of 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, the University of Kansas, Iowa State University, Grand Valley State University, Marquette University and the University of Rochester.

The George Cadbury Carillon School was opened in 2006 and is the only carillon school in the UK. [12]

Another international carillon school, the Scandinavian Carillon School [13] in Løgumkloster, Denmark, was established in 1979. It serves mainly Scandinavians, but cooperates with other carillon schools at the university level with student exchange.

A number of universities and undergraduate institutions make use of carillons as part of their tradition. Princeton University houses a carillon of 67 bells which can be heard every Sunday afternoon with performances from Lisa Lonie. [14] [15] Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is home to one of the world's only completely student-led guild of carillonneurs. Members of this group are selected by audition, following an intensive five-week training program for potential recruits. The Yale Memorial Carillon can be heard from the university's iconic Harkness Tower twice a day. [16] A similar student-run program is that of the University of Texas at Austin. Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, completed its carillon of 48 bells in 2009, ninety years after the first bells were hung in 1919. [17] Middlebury College in Vermont has a 48-bell carillon located in the steeple of the college's Mead Memorial Chapel. [18] The University of Toronto in Canada has a 51 bell carillon [19] located at Soldiers' Tower, and is the only Canadian university with a functioning carillon. [20]

Composers for carillon

Notable carillonneurs

Instruments by country

CountryNumber of carillons
Netherlands 197 [23] [ circular reference ]
United States 166 [24]
Belgium 89[ citation needed ]
Germany 45[ citation needed ]
France 27[ citation needed ]
Denmark 23[ citation needed ]
United Kingdom 19[ citation needed ]
Norway 12
Canada 11 [20]
Czech Republic 6
Australia 4 [25]
Lithuania 4[ citation needed ]
Poland 3
Russia 2
Israel 1
Republic of Ireland 1
Serbia 1


Anthem of Ukraine. Carillon of St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, Kiev.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sather Tower "The Campanile", bell tower at UC Berkeley

Sather Tower is a bell tower with clocks on its four faces on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. It is more commonly known as The Campanile for its resemblance to the Campanile di San Marco in Venice. It is a recognizable symbol of the university.

Campanology is the study of bells. It encompasses the technology of bells – how they are cast, tuned, rung, and sounded – as well as the history, methods, and traditions of bell-ringing as an art.

Yale Memorial Carillon

The Yale Memorial Carillon is a carillon of 54 bells in Harkness Tower at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Rainbow Tower

The Rainbow Tower is a 50.3 metres (165 ft) tower located at the Rainbow Plaza Canada–US border station of the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Construction on the tower was completed in 1947. The tower, part of the Canadian plaza of the bridge, was designed by Canadian architect William Lyon Somerville.

Pieter and François Hemony sibling duo

François Hemony and his brother Pieter, Pierre, or Peter Hemony (1619-1680) were the greatest carillon bell founders in the history of the Low Countries. They developed the carillon, in collaboration with Jacob van Eyck, into a full-fledged musical instrument by casting the first tuned carillon in 1644.

Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" carillon school in Mechelen

The Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen, Belgium, is the first and largest carillon school in the world. The Belgian government defines it as an "International Higher Institute for the Carillon Arts under the High Protection of Her Majesty Queen Fabiola." The school has trained many of the foremost carillonneurs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and houses a rich archive and library.

Carillon in Berlin-Tiergarten

The Carillon in Berlin-Tiergarten is located in a freestanding 42m-tall tower next to the House of World Cultures, near the Chancellery in the northeastern part of Berlin's central Tiergarten park. It is a large, manually played concert instrument, comprising 68 bells weighing a total of 48 metric tonnes connected to a keyboard spanning 5½ fully chromatic octaves; the largest bell weighs 7.8 tonnes. The carillonneur sits in a playing cabin in the middle of the bells and plays with his fists and feet on a baton-and-pedal keyboard. The purely mechanical action makes it possible to play all dynamic gradations, from very soft to very loud.

Loughborough Carillon grade II listed military museum in Loughborough, United kingdom

Loughborough Carillon is a carillon and war memorial in Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. It is in Queen's Park, and is a well-known landmark, visible from several miles away. It is 152 feet high.

Campanile (Iowa State University)

The Iowa State University Campanile is located on Iowa State's central campus, and is home to the Stanton Memorial Carillon. The campanile is widely seen as one of the major symbols of Iowa State University. It is featured prominently on the university's official ring and the university's mace, and is also the subject of the university's alma mater.

Century Tower (University of Florida) United States historic place

The Century Tower is a 157-foot-tall (48 m) carillon tower in the center of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Florida, United States.

Émilien Allard was a Canadian carillonneur, pianist, clarinetist, and composer. He composed more than 50 works for carillon and made more than 700 transcriptions of carillon music; many of which are still performed in Europe and North America. In 1958, he won the International Carillonneurs' Prize at the Brussels World's Fair. For RCA Victor he released the LP album Carols at the Carillon of Saint Joseph's Oratory for which he wrote the arrangements. His Marche du maréchal and his Marche H.I.C. were recorded by Howard Cable and his Notule No. 1 and Profil canadien no 2. were included on Gordon Slater's LP Bells and Brass. Many of his original manuscripts and papers are a part of the collection at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

The Anton Brees Carillon Library, located within the Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens, is home to various collections that document the history and development of the Singing Tower and Gardens, the historic Pinewood Estate, and the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. It also contains many sources on carillon art in general.

Belmont Tower and Carillon

The Belmont Tower and Carillon is an iconic structure on the campus of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. The Tower is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Belmont Mansion registration and is prominently featured in the university logo. The current Belmont University Tower and Carillon chimes each hour from 9:00am–8:00pm.

John Courter was an American composer, organist, and carillonneur who served as a professor of music at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, from 1971 until his death on June 21, 2010. A native of Lansing, Michigan, Courter earned a bachelor's degree in choral music education from Michigan State University in 1962 and a Master's of Music degree in organ in 1966 from the University of Michigan. He also studied at the North German Organ Academy and held diplomas from the Netherlands Carillon School.

Waag (Alkmaar)

The Waag building is a National monument (Rijksmonument) listed building on the Waagplein in Alkmaar in the Netherlands. On this square Waagplein every Friday from April till the second week of September, the famous cheese market is held. The Dutch Cheese Museum and the tourist information Office (VVV) are also in the building. In the tower is a famous carillon weekly played by a carilloneur and also automatically by a drum chiming the quarters of the hour. There is also the famous automatic horse with knights play in the tower with an automatic trumpetplayer.

Ronald Montague Barnes, was an American carillon performer, teacher, composer, and arranger throughout the twentieth century. He was a major force in establishing an American approach to carillon performance, composing and arranging.

Julianne Vanden Wyngaard is a professional carillonist and pianist residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who currently serves as Vice-President of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America (GCNA), and served as President from 2017-2019. In a predominantly male and white field, Vanden Wyngaard has distinguished herself through musical and professional accolades.

Altgeld Chimes Fifteen-bell chime at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Senior Memorial Chime, known more commonly as the Altgeld Chimes, is a 15-bell chime in Altgeld Hall Tower on the central campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in Urbana, Illinois, United States.

Sally Slade Warner (1932–2009) was a leading American carillonneur, carillon composer and arranger, and a church organist. She played the carillon at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and the former carillon at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.


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Further reading