The first scientifically
tuned chime of bells installed anywhere in the world was the one imported from John Taylor
and Company of Loughborough, England, to form the beginning of what is now the Stanton
The art of casting fine bells flourished
during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Flanders. Such bells formed the basis
of most of the great carillons of those days, many of which are still being played. For a
century and a half thereafter the secret of tuning seems to have been lost, and the
foundries of Europe, England, and America created a myriad of inferior bells.
Since 1895, a complete revolution of tuning
has been effected. Bells surpassing those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are
now being cast. John Taylor and Company (founded in 1366) pioneered in the research to
discover the lost art of bell tuning, and developed the principle of five-point tuning.
The direct result of its success was the birth of a new interest in the carillon, both in
Europe and in America.
Bells which arrived at Iowa State in 1899
were the forerunners of the more than 160 carillons in the United States today. The
largest bell in the present carillon weighs 5, 737 pounds, and the smallest 10 pounds. In
all, the weight of the bells and their steel supports is nearly 30 tons.
The clapper of the largest bell weighs 275
pounds. Heavy clappers are counterbalanced to make playing easier. Clappers in the smaller
bells are attached to springs to make rapid repetition possible. The pitch of the lowest
bell is the same as the second B-flat below middle C. To play the carillon, 50 keys for
the hands, and 24 pedals for the feet are used, the pedals being coupled to the hand keys,
Bell music is not native to the United
States. Chimes and carillons are both importations from across the Atlantic. In England,
bells have rung in peals or chimes for centuries. On the continent, the carillon has
flourished in the Low Countries. Only in the twentieth century have carillons been created
in any numbers on the British Isles, and it is only since World War I that most of the
carillons have been erected in the United States and Canada.
The word carillon is French in origin and
is derived from the Medieval Latin quadrilionem (a quaternary), the carillons of that
time being sounded on four bells. A group of four bells is now known as a chime. The word
campanile is used to identify the tower in which a carillon is housed.
As far as range is concerned, the carillon
begins where the chime leaves off. The carillon, in its smallest form, must have at least
24 bells in chromatic sequence, which would give a complete range of two octaves. Perhaps
as good a definition of a carillon as any, is "a series of bell so hung and arranged
as to be capable of being played from a keyboard as a musical instrument."
The most famous carillons in the world are
played by hand, since manual operation allows for direct control of the expressiveness of
the instrument played by the carillonneur. Electrically or electronically activated
carillons are less desirable because (1) the performer no longer has this control, and (2)
carillon tones lose their clarity and pleasantness through electronic amplification.
On the Iowa State campus, there are regular
performances around noon each weekday; occasionally at other times of day and on weekend.
Recitals are given throughout the year and are enlisted in a calendar of events published
by the Department of Music.