Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/323

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

so-called. Occasionally, however, the ringing-bells are also used as part of the carillon, an apparatus being fitted up in the ringing chamber whereby the carillon and clock hammers can be simultaneously pulled off the bells before commencing the ringing of the peal.

The system of playing tunes on small bells, hung in a graduated order and struck by hand, is believed to be of some antiquity, as indicated by occasional illustrations of some such system in mediæval manuscripts; and it seems probable enough that so obvious a means of music-making in a simple form may be even older than any such records imply. But we first meet with carillon music in its greater form in the 15th century, when the steeples of the churches and hôtels-de-ville of Holland, Belgium, and North Germany made the country resound with the bell-music for which Belgium especially was famed during that and the three succeeding centuries. The Van den Gheyn family, of whom the most notable member, Mathias van den Gheyn, was born in 1721, were pre-eminent among the Belgian makers of carillons; Mathias himself having been also an organ-player and carillon-player. The family were of Mechlin, but migrated to Louvain, where the traditions of their manufacture are kept up by the firm of Aerschodt. Among the most celebrated and largest carillon-peals of the continent may be mentioned those of Antwerp (40 bells), Bruges (48 bells), Malines (44 bells), Ghent (48 bells), de Tournai (42 bells), de Boulers (39 bells), Louvain[1] (35 bells) [App. p.579 amends to "(two carillons of 40 and 41 bells respectively)"], etc. It is worth remark that this bell-music has had its special development in flat countries, where its loud and travelling sounds are heard with far more effect and at far greater distance than in hilly districts, where the sound is closed in, interrupted, and echoed back. Indeed, the instinctive feeling which has led to great sets of bells being placed in the towers of flat countries is analogous to the instinct which gave rise to the towers themselves. A flat landscape suggests the building of towers, which become far-seen landmarks, and connect one city with another; and what the towers were to the eye the bells were to the ear, sending greeting or warning from one city to another over a vast expanse of level landscape.

Carillon-playing in these cities of the Low Countries, however, was not always a mere piece of mechanism; it took rank as a branch of executive art in music, and required the culture of a musician to develop its resources. The Belgian and Dutch carillons were furnished with a keyboard, rough and uncouth enough indeed, but still such as enabled the carilloneur to perform pieces in two, or (by the aid of pedals and of the prolonged resonance of the bells) even in three parts. Compositions were written for or extemporised on them; and some of the 'morceaux fugués' for carillons by Mathias van den Gheyn have been collected and published (by Messrs. Schott & Co.). The bells which were intended thus to be played by hand were furnished with an inside clapper as well as the outside hammers, the clapper being connected by a wire with the keyboard below, and the hammer operated upon by the mechanical barrel, so that the same set of bells could be played either by machinery or by hand. The keyboard, though arranged on the same principle as the ordinary pianoforte keyboard, was a large affair with wooden keys, so far distant from one another as to admit of being struck with the fist without disturbing the keys on either side; for as the leverage of the key had to raise the weight of the clapper, which in the larger bells was considerable, and as the force of the sound depended also in great measure on the force with which the key was struck, it is obvious that mere finger work was out of the question. The keyboard in fact was analogous rather to the pedal board of an organ, and in some cases the largest bells actually were connected with pedal keys, so as to enable the player to strike a heavier blow than he could with his hands. It may easily be imagined that, on this system, carillon-playing was a matter of no small physical exertion, and required the performer to possess mens sana in corpore sano to have a chance of getting successfully through his task, for which he clothed himself generally in a suit of flannels alone, the hands being protected by thick gloves to prevent injury in striking the keys.

It was perhaps owing to these practical difficulties that the art of carillon-playing never seems to have been very extensively practised, and has now very much fallen into disuse. But the difficulty arising from the player having to contend with the weight of the clapper in sounding the bells was even more felt in the application of chiming machinery to the hammers which struck on the exterior of the bells. The chimes were sounded by means of a large barrel connected with and regulated by clockwork, by which it was periodically released, and driven round under the ordinary motive power of a weight, strong pins fixed on the barrel coming in contact, each at the proper moment, with levers which raised the hammers, and released them to fall upon the bell at the moment when the pin on the barrel quitted the lever. The barrel was 'pricked' for various tunes (generally seven or eight), a change being effected by shifting it slightly, on the principle familiar to every one in the 'musical-box' toy, which is in fact a carillon on a minute scale, playing on vibrating tongues instead of on bells. The application ot this principle, on the large scale necessary for carillon-ringing, is fraught with difficulties, which the rude and unscientific system still prevalent on the continent (and clung to, apparently, with the same kind of conservatism which leads the North German organ-builders to ignore all the refinements of modern mechanism) quite failed to meet. As with the clavier-system, the difficulty really lies in the weight to be overcome in lifting the striking hammer. As the pins on the barrel had to take this whole weight, it was necesary

  1. The Louvain peal has been reproduced, or nearly so, in the carillon made by Gillet and Bland for Cattistock church in Dorsetshire. [App. p.579 amends to say that "Aerschodt made the 33 bells for Cattistock Church, the machinery only being supplied by Gillet and Bland."]