1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Glockenspiel

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GLOCKENSPIEL, or Orchestral Bells (Fr. carillon; Ger. Glockenspiel, Stahlharmonika; Ital. campanelli; Med. Lat. tintinnabulum, cymbalum, bombulum), an instrument of percussion of definite musical pitch, used in the orchestra, and made in two or three different styles. The oldest form of glockenspiel, seen in illuminated MSS. of the middle ages, consists of a set of bells mounted on a frame and played by one performer by means of steel hammers. The name “bell” is now generally a misnomer, other forms of metal or wood having been found more convenient. The pyramid-shaped glockenspiel, formerly used in the orchestra for simple rhythmical effects, consists of an octave of semitone, hemispherical bells, placed one above the other and fastened to an iron rod which passes through the centre of each, the bells being of graduated sizes and diminishing in diameter as the pitch rises. The lyre-shaped glockenspiel, or steel harmonica (Stahlharmonika), is a newer model, which has instead of bells twelve or more bars of steel, graduating in size according to their pitch. These bars are fastened horizontally across two bars of steel set perpendicularly in a steel frame in the shape of a lyre. The bars are struck by little steel hammers attached to whalebone sticks.

Wagner has used the glockenspiel with exquisite judgment in the fire scene of the last act of Die Walküre and in the peasants' waltz in the last scene of Die Meistersinger. When chords are written for the glockenspiel, as in Mozart's Magic Flute, the keyed harmonica[1] is used. It consists of a keyboard having a little hammer attached to each key, which strikes a bar of glass or steel when the key is depressed. The performer, being able to use both hands, can play a melody with full harmonies, scale and arpeggio passages in single and double notes. A peal of hemispherical bells was specially constructed for Sir Arthur Sullivan's Golden Legend. It consists of four bells constructed of bell-metal about 1 in. thick, the largest measuring 27 in. in diameter, the smallest 23. They are fixed on a stand one above the other, with a clearance of about ¾ in. between them; the rim of the lowest and largest bell is 15 in. from the foot of the stand. The bells are struck by mallets, which are of two kinds — a pair of hard wood for forte passages, and a pair covered with wash-leather for piano effects. The peal was unique at the time it was made for the Golden Legend, but a smaller bell of the same shape, ¼ in. thick, with a diameter measuring about 16 in., specially made for the performance of Liszt's St Elizabeth, when conducted by the composer in London, evidently suggested the idea for the peal. (K. S.)


  1. See “The Keyed Harmonica improved by H. Klein of Pressburg,” article in the Allg. musik. Ztg., Bd. i. pp. 675-699 (Leipzig, 1798): also Becker, p. 254, Bartel.