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Bells in Bach’s Vocal Works

Article: Bach's Bells

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 17, 2012):
Thomas Braatz contributed a new article on bells in Bach’s music.
Linked from:

Thomas Braatz wrote:
In this round of discussions, the topic of Bach’s possible representations of bells has come up on a number of occasions. My article attempts to summarize some of the material already treated by Bach commentators beginning with Spitta and increasingly receiving attention by Bach experts. I have examined their lists of compositions and have included most of their suggestions in my list at the end of the article, while also having eliminated a few that do not appear to fit or reveal the musical connection with bells. For those not interested in my lengthy digression on the etymology of ‘bell’ or on what little we know about the bells that Bach would have heard in Leipzig, I suggest going directly to the list at the end.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Evan Cortens who kindly helped me find some recent source material and to Charles Francis who previewed my article and made some suggestions which I have incorporated into the article. If anyone has additional questions or suggestions, please direct these to Aryeh.

Thomas Braatz

Peter Smaill wrote (March 17, 2012):
[To Thomas Braatz] This is an excellent monograph, bringing together in one place the subject and its associated background; thank you Thomas for the effort involved.

Only conjecturally by Bach, there is also BWV Anh 16, " Schliest die Gruft! ihr Trauerglocken!" of 9 November 1735 for the funeral of Hedwig Eleanora, Duchess of Merseburg. The death-bells are there in the incipit even if everything else is lost or doubtful.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 17, 2012):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Thomas Braatz contributed a new article on bells in Bachąs music.
Linked from: >
Fascinating documentation especially the rapid sounding of the high bell when death was imminent. That certainly seems to be the source for the high repeated note we hear in the cantatas.

Stiller records that there was a small interior "sacristy" bell which announced the entrance of the clergy at a service and the invitation to approach for communion (he doesn't note where the bells were similar to the
modern Catholic "Sanctus" hand bells.

Britten uses a similar repeated bell effect at the beginning of the Sanctus of the War Requiem. He linked the church bells with the bells of ambulances rushing through the streets during the Blitz:

The dropping pizzicato fourth in the bass of BWV 8/1 reminded me that Wagner used the same motif for the bells of the Grail Temple in "Parsifal":

I'm still wondering about the various melodic figures which seem to be programmatic of clockwork mechanism.

Thomas, are there any poetic or musical examples of the domestic Clock of Death?

And of course, there are the chime effects in the Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours":

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 17, 2012):
< Thomas Braatz contributed a new article on bells in Bachąs music.
Linked from: >
That's such a wonderful article. Fantastic resource! Thank you Thomas for that!

I wanted to just share that a friend of mine Cosimo Stawiarski has finished editing a Telemann cantata for Easter Sunday So du mit deinem Munde bekennest Jesum, TWV 1:1350 that has an obbligato glockenspiel in two arias. You can hear it here (I apologize in advance for the rather poor MIDI generated by Sibelius).

So du mit deinem Munde bekennest Jesum, TWV 1:1350

William Rowland “(Ludwig) wrote (March 18, 2012):
I have previously addressed this issue in previous posts based on historical documents as well as my knowledge as conductor, carillonneur. organist and musicological studies. First of all; in Kantata BWV 15, which Bach is now said not to have written and the only BWV work that specifically calls for real bells, the congregation had asked that Bells be installed and connected to the organ (I assume in the Pedal division but I have no proof of this) so that the bells in the tower could be rung from the console. According to the contracts--this was done.

In other cases, of bells used perhaps by Bach --the bells were installed in the Organ case or within it---these were very small bells and go under the name of Glockenspiel and were usually used on festive occaisions especially at Christmas time when the Cymbelstern was played---this stop is come posed of a number of bells seldom exceeded 8 and at the simplest---onely two bells--it was mounted on the case in full view of Parishioners and rotated when compressed air was vented to rotate it. One of Bach's Organ works calls for this stop although not by name--- by which we know the tune as the Christmas Carol Good Christians Rejoice.

The use of percussion in the Organ was mostly a Southern German introduction and signaled the Organbuilding downward slide of crassness that reached its peak in the Romantic age in theatre organ generated from the Organbuilding theories of Hope-Jones--where horrid hooting and honking diapasons, tibias and other stops on high wind pressures in extreme were the rage. Hope-Jones was not an Organbuilder, per se, but an electrical engineer who fancied himself as a builder of Organs of which few survive today.

The origins of Bells are lost in the historical past--they were found in nearly every form and shape over 6000 years ago. In the Bible---Priests wore them attached to their clothing and took off in the Bronze age and nearly every civilization has had them in their culture and I am including American aborignees. The modern development of the Bell began in the Netherlands and in what today is France, Beligium. It was here that it was learned that if you mix Tin with copper+ tin you could have a very nice sounding bell. But used along---an ugly horrid clunk that one hears in many colonial Spanish Bells of South America, Mexico and California not to mention those in Spain alone. Bells come out of the mold sounding with their one chords both harmonius and dissonant. It was during the 14th century that it was learned how to tune bells so that they could sound melodies and thus originated teh Carillon. This art was lost and it was the Hemony Brothers, of the low countries,who regained this knowledge by figuring out how to make a bell's fundamental sound become more prominent while keeping the other higher harmonics in correct porportion. Their bells were the Strads of thier time, (are very much treasured today--they have barely survived wars,bombings, famine and plagues through the centuries but because secrecy was the rule of the day)---when the Hemonys died off--their methods of tuning bells were lost. This was again discovered in England by the White Chapel firm and it simply means that bell metal should be composed of something in the order of 75% copper and 25% Tin---the more copper the more of a clunky sound one gets. For English Change Ringing bells ---this means that somewhat copper and other metals must be added or otherwise the Bell when swcould shatter into pieces because of the physical forces at work in a swung bell. However, with stationary bells--as in a Carillon --- this is not a necessary consideration and a higher Tin content allows a more musical sounding bell--which are tuned on a lathe---shaving metal here and there to get the desired pitch and tonal qualities that a bell founder seeks. Bells are rung by a number of methods--some very dangerous to the health of the bell (clappering)but the primary ones are by mounting on a wheel which is then attached to a rope that is pulled; and the attachment of wires to a clapper attached to a keyboard which when a key is pressed the bell sounds. Today there is another method---looked down upon by the North American Guild of Carillonneurs and other profesional group--electrically. An exception to this are heavy bells of 20 tons or more because one could break one's hand or arm or leg trying to ring such bells. The 20 ton C tune bell at Riverside Church in NYC is rung in this manner.

Contrary to what Mr. Bratz states---it is traditional (from the middle ages onward) in the case of a death to ring the bourdon of a set of bells---a bourdon is the largest and lowest pitched bell and can be of any pitch in the set of bells but generally speaking large bells are prefered for this weighting anywhere between 500lbs to 100 tons or more. Although true if someone is dying a high pitched bell might be rung but not often because the purpose is to announce the dying and small bells do not carry well over long distances as do heavier low pitched bells do. Tradition has it that such a bell is rung to announce the dying and then death and then at the time of the burial service and bell. The bell should be struck at the beginning of the tolling--the number of years of the persons age. Then proceeds mornfully thereafter --usually with the clapper covered in a leather cover to get the most profound sound.

Mr. Bratz apparenly does not know the traditions and signals of ringings ---curfew, death and dying, palgue birth, Time holy days (All Saints tradition has bells ringing through the night), summoning to church, court , war annoucements because if he did he would not be making many of the claims that he does. The way bells are rung announces why they are rung. In the days before Newspapers, telephones, radio and television--bells were important in announcing news events as well as playing music for the pleasure of the local inhabitants. These were universal ringing traditions only vary by the number of bells in the Church or municipality's tower througout Europe. An example of a bell that was rung for Fire, War and Peace--is the famous Rowland (English/ Dutch spelling) in the municipal tower Ghent which was cast back around the 14th century. It is part of a Carillon set and narrowly escaped being melted down not only by Napoleon but also Hitler for Cannon.

Over all Mr. Bratz hypothesises are sound but it would behoove him to get some practical knowledge of Bells other than from books.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 18, 2012):
Ludwig wrote:
< is the famous Rowland (English/ Dutch spelling) in the municipal tower Ghent which was cast back around the 14th century. It is part of a Carillon set and narrowly escaped being melted down not only by Napoleon but also Hitler for Cannon. >
Hitler had cannons?


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Last update: ýMarch 31, 2012 ý17:51:52