A carillon is a large musical instrument consisting of at least 23 bells tuned chromatically to create a concordant harmonic effect.
The carillon evolved during the late 15th century in the Low Countries (Holland, Flanders and Northern France). The first documented carillon with a mechanical keyboard was 1487. Now there are over 650 throughout the world.
Towering over 50 metres in height, the National War Memorial Carillon has been prominent in Wellington’s skyline since the 1932 Anzac Day dedication ceremony.
The original 49 bells were private donations in memory of World War One casualties. A 1926 invitation by the Wellington War Memorial Carillon Society to purchase bells met with immediate success from the public. Each bell has a name and dedication inscription. One is dedicated to Leslie Beauchamp, brother of writer Katherine Mansfield. Other bells bear the names of military units and specific battles. A list of the inscriptions found on the original 49 bells is taken from a 1932 publication. The British firm, Gillett & Johnston cast the bells in Crydon, England.
Since 1984, the Carillon has been substantially rebuilt and enlarged. 20 mid range bells have been replaced and 21 smaller treble bells have been added. To mark the 50th anniversary of the ending of World War Two, the Government donated in 1995 four large bells - Grace (Aroha), Hope (Tumanako), Remembrance (Whakamaharatanga) and Peace (Rangimarie). These bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England. In addition, National Carillonist Timothy Hurd donated 5 smaller bells.
The Carillon has 74 bells ranging in size from 10kg to 12.5 tonnes with the ‘Peace’ bell being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. With a combined weight of 70.5 tonnes, the Carillon is the third largest in the world and has a musical range of 6.5 octaves.
How is the Carillon played?
The Carillon is played by a keyboard (or clavier) consisting of rows of wooden keys which the Carillonist plays with their hands and feet. The bells themselves do not move as they are bolted to a frame. Under each bell is an iron clapper (or arm) which is attached by a system of levers and wires to the Carillonist’s clavier. The sound produced is controlled by the amount of energy used, so it is a pure mechanical action. The National War Memorial Carillon’s clavier is one of the most modern in the world and was designed and built by the National Carillonist Timothy Hurd.
- Gladys Watkins (1932-1936) - see her biography on the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography website.
- John Randal (1937-1950, 1954-1983) - read a biography.
- Selwyn Baker (1950-1954) - view a film clip of him playing the Carillon.
- Timothy Hurd QSM (since 1984) - read a profile of Timothy.
John Hylton Randal was born in 1912 in Wellington. He was educated at Lyall Bay Primary School, Wellington College, Victoria University and Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music in Organ Playing. He had a distinguished career in the Public Service but music was his passion. He served as Organist and Choir Master at St James Presbyterian Church 1934-44, St Peters Anglican Church 1944-48, and St Thomas's Anglican Church 1950-59. He gave frequent organ recitals in various Wellington churches and in the Town Hall.
He studied the Carillon under Gladys Watkins and became Acting Carilloneur in 1943 until 1949. He was concerned with extending the repertoire that was light on music representing the local culture of the time.
Each bell in the carillon had two clappers. The western clappers were connected directly to the hand clavier. The eastern clappers were driven by electro-pneumatic activators, which, in turn, could be driven from either a piano-like keyboard, or by a wide loop of punched paper similar to that used in a player piano. Recitals of the time commonly used all three methods of playing music. John spent many an evening and weekend repairing the existing paper rolls and creating new ones. He carefully transcribed sheet music to new rolls by punching the holes in the rolls on the good dining room table, which was appropriately protected by fiberboard otherwise used as an air-raid blackout blind. He arranged traditional Māori music and popular songs of the time for the clavier.
He became Carilloneur in 1953 and continued extending the repertoire, this time by arranging (Soldiers of the Queen) and writing for the clavier (In Memoriam – a piece that sounded all of the 49 bells of the time). He gave lessons to aspiring pupils.
John played in Carillon recitals in Australia, Canada, USA, England, Eire, Holland, Belgium, France and Germany; represented New Zealand at International Carillon Congresses at Douai, France 1974, Amersfoort, Holland 1978 and Logumkloster, Denmark 1982. He was a member of the Guild of Carilloneurs in North America. He served as Carilloneur until his death in 1983.
The Carillon is heard in over 200 hours of live concerts each year. The Carillon can also be heard on ceremonial days and when teaching sessions are taking place.
The Saint Lazarus Memorial Organ
On 18 October 2007, the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem gifted a magnificent Erben-designed pipe organ to the National War Memorial. The Dedication Ceremony was conducted in the presence of H.E. The Governor General and the Grand Duke of the Order, His Highness the Grand Master Don Francisco de Borbon y Escasany, Duke of Seville. The organ dates back to 1857 and was originally from a church in Ellsworth, Maine, United States of America. This instrument is used in ceremonial programmes and concerts.
Sound Excerpts performed by Timothy Hurd QSM, National Carillonist
From Assembled Masses (1998) [mp3, 990kb] by Timothy Hurd and John Gibson. Commissioned by the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, with the assistance of Creative New Zealand, the piece was conceived as a showcase for the additions to the range of the instrument 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 3 1/2 hours. In this excerpt from the start of Day 7, ascending chromatic scales set against descending single bass notes build up incredible resonances on the bells.
Lake Music (1970) [mp3, 4mbs] by New Zealander Terry Vaughan. Commissioned for the opening of the Canberra Carillon. This piece 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. A native of Whangarei, Terry Vaughan 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.
Venetian Gondolier's Song No.1 by Felix Mendelssohn [mp3, 3.3mbs]. From his collection of keyboard pieces entitled Songs Without Words, this arrangement shows some of the quieter subtleties possible on a mechanical-action carillon.
Fantasia No.1 for carillon by Staf Nees (excerpt) [mp3, 1.2mbs]. Nees was former director of the Royal Carillon School 'Jef Denyn' and City Carillonist in Mechelen, Belgium. This excerpt shows some marked contrasts typical of the Flemish playing style.
England’s child : the carillon and the casting of big bells / Jill Johnson