The carillon — how, when, where
Fire, invasion, a royal birth, the time of day… bells have signalled, alerted and celebrated elements of daily life since medieval times.
By AD 1500, a combination of rhythmic bell chiming and clock tower jingles announcing the hour strike led to the emergence of the carillon. This occurred in the Low Countries of Europe, where cities competed to build the biggest carillons for prestige and entertainment. In 1642, the art of tuning bells was perfected by brothers François and Pieter Hemony, after which the carillon became a bona fide musical instrument, playing mostly arrangements of folk music and, by the 18th century, original compositions as well.
The bell casting process at the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry
Carillon culture declined in the 19th century due to changing cultural tastes and trends. But by 1900, interest revived, particularly due to the virtuosic concerts of Jef Denyn, city carillonneur in Mechelen, Belgium. Sadly, a number of carillons in Belgium were lost during WWI, but soon after, impressive memorial carillons were installed in the United States and commonwealth countries, and Belgian carillons were rebuilt. Carillon performance developed further as an art form with the Royal Carillon School ‘Jef Denyn’ in Mechelen as its champion.
Casting the new bells for the Peace Carillon at Park Abbey, Leuven
Today, there are 650 carillons in more than 30 countries worldwide.
In 2014, UNESCO recognized carillon culture in Belgium as a best practice in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.