For other uses, see Carillon (disambiguation).
For the study of bells and related musical instruments, see Campanology.

The carillon in Munich's Olympiapark
Percussion instrument

Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.242.2
(Sets of bells or chimes)
A traveling carillon at the Colorado Renaissance Festival in June 2008

A carillon (US /ˈkærəlɑːn/ or UK /kəˈrɪljən/;[1] French: [kaʁijɔ̃]) is a musical instrument that is 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 sounded 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 that connect to metal clappers that strike the inside of the bells, allowing the performer on the bells, or carillonneur/carillonist to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

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 installed at the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, in London.[2] A carillon-like instrument with fewer than 23 bells is called a chime.

The carillon is the second heaviest of all extant musical instruments, only ranking behind the largest pipe organs. The heaviest carillon in the world (at Riverside Church in New York City) weighs over 100 tons,[3] whereas the Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia weighs 287 tons.

In German, a carillon is also called a Glockenspiel; while the percussion instrument called a "glockenspiel" by English speakers is often called a carillon in French.


In medieval times, swinging bells were first used as a way of notifying people of fires, storms, wars, and other events. A ringing of bells 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 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 making use of a baton keyboard. The word "carillon" is from the French quadrillon, meaning four bells. Bell towers were often used to alert the city of the time of day, and just before the strike of the hour bell a few higher tones were struck to gain the attention of the city-folk.

Musical characteristics

The clavier (keyboard) of the 56-bell carillon at the Plummer Building, Rochester, Minnesota
Carillonneur Brian Swager plays the carillon at the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste (John the Baptist) in Perpignan, France.

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:

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

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.[4]

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 may be taken into consideration."[5]

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,[6] 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.[7]

The carillonneur or carillonist is the title of the musician who plays the carillon. The carillonneur/carillonist 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.

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.[8]

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 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.


World's first international Carillon school, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" is in Mechelen, Belgium, where the study of campanology originated. Students from all over the world come to study campanology here. Other carillon schools include the Netherlands Carillon School[9] in Amersfoort, Netherlands.

In North America, one can study the carillon at the University of California, Santa Barbara, 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, Missouri State University, and Berea College in Kentucky, 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,and Marquette University.

The George Cadbury Carillon School was opened in 2006 and is the only carillon school in the United Kingdom.[10]

Another international carillon school, the Scandinavian Carillon School[11] 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 and most Wednesday evenings with performances from Robin Austin, his students, and guest artists.[12] Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, completed its carillon of 48 bells in 2009, ninety years after the first bells were hung in 1919.[13] Middlebury College in Vermont has a 48-bell carillon located in the steeple of the college's Mead Memorial Chapel.[14]

Good illustrations of the tradition includes Sather Tower[15] at UC Berkeley, and the Rockefeller Carillon at the University of Chicago — the latter of which is the largest single musical instrument in the world.[16]

Composers for carillon

Notable carilloneurs

Mechanical gallery

Main article: List of carillons

Number of carillons by selected countries and regions (data September 2006):

Region Surface area
Number of
Netherlands 41,526 182
Belgium 30,528 89
Flanders and Brussels 13,683 66
Wallonia 16,844 23
Nord, France 5,743 15
Côte d'Or, France 8,763 5
Denmark 43,098 23


Instrumental (1927)
O Canada and the Royal Anthem, God Save the King, performed by Percival Price using carillon bells at the Peace Tower in Ottawa

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Gallery of notable carillons

  1. ^ "Carillon", Chapel, US: Duke .
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See also


  1. definition of carillon in the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries
  2. "Picture Gallery – Regal, Marble Arch (15)". Retrieved 27 October 2015
  3. "The Riverside Church: The Carillon". New York, NY: The Riverside Church in the City of New York.
  4. Frank Steijns.
  5. Guild of Carillonneurs in North America.
  9. Utrecht School of the Arts, Faculty of Music, archived from the original on 2012-10-18
  10. Carillon Summer series, IA State, 2008.
  11. KMS, DK: Locus Dei, archived from the original on 2007-07-31.
  12. The Class of 1892 Bells: Princeton University Carillon, USA: Princeton.
  13. Long-awaited Bell to Complete Smith College Carillon, Smith College, 16 March 2009.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-12-14. Retrieved 2012-03-26.
  15. "Campanile", Landmarks, Berkeley heritage.
  16. "Carillon", Rockfeller, U Chicago.
  17. De Zingende Toren (Dutch)
  18. Cultuurcampus Vleuterweide (Dutch)

Further reading

  • Boogert, Loek, André Lehr, and Jacques Maassen. 45 Years of Dutch Carillons, 1945–1990. Asten, the Netherlands: Netherlands Carillon Society, 1992. ISBN 90-900345-0-1.
  • Huybens, Gilbert. Carillons et Tours de Belgique. Ghent, Belgium: Ludion Editions, 1994. ISBN 90-5544-019-1.
  • Keldermans, Karel, and Linda Keldermans. Carillon: The Evolution of a Concert Instrument in North America. Springfield, IL: Springfield Park District, 1996. ISBN 0-9652252-0-8.
  • Lehr, André. The Art of the Carillon in the Low Countries. Tielt, Belgium: Lannoo, 1991. ISBN 90-209-1917-2.
  • Swager, Brian. A history of the carillon: its origins, development, and evolution as a musical instrument. Document (D. Mus.). Indiana University, 1993.

External links

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Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Carillon.
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