A carillon is a musical instrument having at least 23 cast bronze cup-shaped bells housed in a free-standing bell tower (sometimes even portable) and played from a keyboard console.


The art of carillon playing originated nearly 500 years ago in Europe, particularly in Netherlands, Belgium and northern France, where the greatest concentration of carillons can still be found, with close to 400 instruments in use.

The intense interest for bells by the Netherlands resulted in the superior capabilities of their bell makers to seek perfection in tuning and timbre. Cities boasted several carillons, and even the smallest hamlet found a place for one. While the church or town hall tower was the most common site, carillons were sometimes located in an abbey or even a palace.

A decisive role in the development of the carillon was played by François and Pieter Hemony brothers.  They created a carillon to the town of Zutphen in 1643, after extensive studies, of unknown beauty and purity transporting them to the forefront of carillon production in the Netherlands. Today the name of Hemony is as much associated with fine bells as is Stradivarius with fine violins.

The art of making carillon bells almost died out by the 19th century why not look here.  It is only in the 20th century that carillon bell founding was revived and has surpassed the quality and tuning of 17th century bells.

How it is played

The carillon is played by a carillonneur from an organ-like console, sometimes called a clavier, (with wooden levers or batons and pedals).  The levers and pedals are attached to wires that control the cast iron hammers or ‘clappers’ inside each bell, striking them with the force given on the lever.  Because the motion is completely mechanical, the carillonneur can control dynamic expression through variation of touch.

The one or two ocataves of pedal keys permits the carillonneur to play the heavy bass bells with the feet, while still using hands in the middle and upper octaves. Up to six bells can thus be sounded at once, which is not generally done because of the muddy, dense effect of sound produced.

Across the world – Today

Though Europe boasts more carillons, there are carillions in America (Brazil – Canada – Mexico – Nederlandse Antillen – USA),  Africa,  Asia and  Australia.

The Nederlandse Klokkenspel-Vereniging organizes in cooperation with the City of Gorinchem an International Carillon Competition on the carillon of the ‘Grote Toren’ in Gorinchem.