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 Glockenspiel

Glockenspiel

(Ger., also Stahlspiel; Fr. (jeu de) timbres, carillon; It. campanelli, campanette)

A percussion idiophone, a Metallophone with tuned metal bars (usually of steel) of graduated length, arranged in two rows like the piano keyboard (in the Hornbostel and Sachs system it is classified as an idiophone: set of percussion plaques). Modern nomenclature includes the abbreviation ‘glock’ and the American use of ‘bells’, a term now universally recognized though frequently confused with Tubular bells. In Germany ‘Glockenspiel’, also means Carillon and is further applied to the smaller diatonic sets of bells known in England as Chimes.

There are two types of orchestral glockenspiel: the open type, played with mallets (the glockenspiel has sometimes been confused with another mallet-played instrument, the dulcimer); and that with a keyboard mechanism.

Maximum resonance is obtained by the bars being supported on felt (or similar insulation) or otherwise suspended at the nodal points. The instrument with a miniature piano keyboard has a compass of two and a quarter to three and a half octaves; small metal hammers strike the bars from below. The mallet-played instrument is struck with small hammers consisting of flexible cane shafts mounted with heads of wood, bone, plastic, rubber or, in rare cases, metal.

The glockenspiel usually has a range of two and a half octaves (F–c''), but at the end of the 20th century an instrument of three octaves (F–e'') with a damping mechanism operated by a foot pedal was in wide use. Instruments going down to C are also found.

Metallophones in the form of graduated metal plates struck with beaters have existed in East Asia for over 1000 years (examples include the Javanese saron and gendèr). In Europe, the earliest known reference to a glockenspiel-type metallophone was made by Grassineau (Musical Dictionary, 1769).

The earliest use of a glockenspiel dates from this period. Handel’s instrument, which he called a ‘carillon’, consisted of a series of metal plates (or possibly small bells) with a compass of two octaves and a 4th, and had a chromatic keyboard. Half a century later Mozart scored for a glockenspiel (strumento d’acciaio) in Die Zauberflöte (1791), to represent Papageno’s magic bells. This instrument has been described by Berlioz and Gevaert as a series of small bells operated by a mechanism of keys.

The mallet-played orchestral glockenspiel did not make a firm appearance in the orchestra until the middle of the 19th century. In England at this period, mention is made of an interesting form of glockenspiel: the ‘New Patent Educational Transposing Metallic Harmonicon’, an inspiration of Thomas Croger, in which the metal bars were removable for transposition, rendering the instrument – according to its inventor – ‘useful in schools where singing is being studied’. From Wagner onwards writing for the orchestral glockenspiel suggests a frequent employment of the mallet-played instrument though in circumstances such as Puccini’s operas Turandot and Madam Butterfly (campanelli a tasteria), Dukas’ L’apprenti sorcier, Debussy’s La mer, Respighi’s Pini di Roma and Honegger’s Fourth Symphony, an instrument with a piano action was obviously intended. The better-known examples of the use of the orchestral glockenspiel include the Dance of the Hours (La Gioconda) by Ponchielli, the Bell Song (Lakmé) by Delibes, Strauss’s Don Juan, Tchaikovsky’s suite Nutcracker, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony, Holst’s suite The Planets, Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, Copland’s Third Symphony, Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas, Orff’s Oedipus der Tyrann (three glockenspiels, one with keys) and Boulez’s Pli selon pli. An important part is given to the glockenspiel in Siegfried Strohbach’s Concerto in G (1959) which is scored for two flutes, glockenspiel and string orchestra.

In the orchestral repertory the glockenspiel has been the most freely used of all tuned percussion instruments. The keyed glockenspiel was, at the end of the 20th century, used relatively rarely, as the mallet-played instrument is superior in tone and offers through choice of mallets a greater variety of colours. Even parts written specifically for the keyed glockenspiel, such as that in Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie (1946–8), were sometimes assigned to the mallet-played instrument. Composers often employ its bell-like tone imitatively. The music for the instrument is written in the treble clef, usually two octaves lower than sounding.

In musical notation a single line or a space in the staff (most often the second from the bottom) is allotted to the tenor drum.

Reference (with liberty): New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, (editors), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

"Glockenspiel" Teachers:

  • Anna Kokenyessy
  • Christopher Michael
  • Garabet Nerces
  • Ibrahim Jaber
  • Mia Ionica Popescu
  • Szymon Pawel Urbanszyk

Page created at: 02-06-2015

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