Playing the carillon
The carillon is played using a clavier (keyboard) consisting of rows of wooden keys which the carillonist plays with their hands and feet.
The bells themselves do not move – they are bolted to a frame. Under each bell is an iron clapper, which is attached by a system of levers and wires to the clavier. As it is purely mechanical, the volume of the carillon varies according to the force used to play the clavier.
The National War Memorial Carillon’s clavier is one of the most modern in the world, and was designed and built by National carillonist Timothy Hurd.
The carillon is heard in over 200 hours of live concerts each year. It is also played on ceremonial days and when teaching sessions are taking place.
Listen to audio of some carillon performances by National carillonist Timothy Hurd.
‘Assembled Masses’, 1998
This work, by Timothy Hurd and John Gibson, was commissioned by the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, with the assistance of Creative New Zealand. It was conceived as a showcase for the extended range of the carillon after additional bells were added in 1996–97. An improvisatory framework, using a separate motif for each day of the three-week festival, produced a very large work for solo carillon, lasting approximately three and a half hours.
In this excerpt from the start of day seven, ascending chromatic scales set against descending single bass notes build up incredible resonances on the bells.
Listen to an excerpt from ‘Assembled Masses’ [MP3, 1MB, 1 min 3 sec]
‘Lake Music’, 1970
This piece, composed by Terry Vaughan, was commissioned for the opening of the Canberra carillon. It has become something of a theme song for the Canberra instrument: the lake referred to is Lake Burley Griffin, where the carillon is ideally situated on a man-made island, far away from urban sonic pollution. Vaughan, originally from Whāngārei, was founder of the original Kiwi Concert Party and worked for many years in musical theatre in Australia. This is one of only two pieces he composed for carillon.
Listen to ‘Lake Music’ [MP3, 4MB, 4 min 18 sec]
‘Venetian Gondolier’s Song No.1’
Composed by Felix Mendelssohn, from his collection of keyboard pieces entitled Songs Without Words, this arrangement shows some of the quieter subtleties possible on a mechanical-action carillon.
Listen to ‘Venetian Gondolier's Song No.1’ [MP3, 3.3MB, 3 min 37 sec]
‘Fantasia No.1 for Carillon’
Staf Nees, who composed this piece, was former director of the ‘Jef Denyn’ Royal Carillon School, and was city carillonist in Mechelen, Belgium. This excerpt shows some marked contrasts typical of the Flemish playing style.
Listen to ‘Fantasia No.1 for Carillon’ [MP3, 1.2MB, 1 min 17 sec]
Updated on 21st October 2015