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Although it is not immediately obvious to someone wandering or cycling through a Dutch city, it’s an inimitable part of a city and its atmosphere – the carillon music that mixes with the other city sounds. Since 1996, the notes of a carillon can also be heard around the Academy Building in Groningen every whole and half hour, either played automatically or on Tuesdays and on special occasions by carilloneur Auke de Boer.

History of the carillon

On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, in 1994 the 'Representatiefonds' of the University of Groningen decided to offer the university a major carillon for placement in the tower of the Academy Building. On 28 February 1996, the instrument was inaugurated by being played by Mr Romke de Waard, the brother of Prof. H. de Waard, the president of the 'Representatiefonds' at the time.

Major bells

This carillon is the only hand-played carillon with so-called major bells in the Netherlands. These new bells were designed by Dr André Lehr (Asten) and Dr A.J.G. Schoofs (Eindhoven University of Technology) and were cast by the Koninklijke Eijsbouts in Asten. The bells have an interval of a major third between the striking tone and the subsequent harmonic overtone instead of the usual minor third. This development is the result of using a computer programme that can establish the link between bell shape and level of the harmonic and other tones. The fact that this new tonal range was made possible by a scientific development was an extra reason for the president of the fund, the physicist Prof. H. de Waard, to go ahead with a carillon of major bells.

Automatic carillon

The bells of the carillon can be sounded in two ways. The first is by the carilloneur with the help of baton-like keys, as happens during the weekly session on Thursdays. This carillon keyboard has a double row of baton-like keys arranged in the same pattern as a piano keyboard. These keys are linked to a system of levers and wires connected to the clappers of the bells. The carilloneur can vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key. In fact, you could call a carillon a ‘tower piano’ with bells instead of strings.

With an automatic carillon, the bells are struck by electromagnetic hammers on their outsides, and no differentiation in intensity is possible. The hammers are driven by a computer which has been programmed by the carilloneur. The melodies are stored on EPROMs and currently a melody list of about 200 melodies is available.

Every half hour, a brief melody is followed by the striking of the hour or half hour. This melody usually lasts between 10 and 45 seconds and can be a section of a song or musical composition. The programme is usually determined by the time of year, national, regional or Christian holidays and, of course, events or activities at the University.

Recently, composer and graphic designer Joop Visser designed a unique series of 24 melo-rhythmic patterns for a daily programme.

Last modified:01 July 2013 2.26 p.m.
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