Celebrating 100 years of the ISU Campanile

History of the Campanile
History of the Bells
Glossary of terms
Inaugural Program
"Bells of Iowa State"
Images of the Campanile

Iowa State's Campanile

History of the Bells


Stanton and the bells Stanton with the bells, 1929



The first scientifically tuned chime of bells installed anywhere in the world was the one imported from John Taylor and Company of Loughborough, England, to form the beginning of what is now the Stanton Memorial Carillon.

The art of casting fine bells flourished during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Flanders. Such bells formed the basis of most of the great carillons of those days, many of which are still being played. For a century and a half thereafter the secret of tuning seems to have been lost, and the foundries of Europe, England, and America created a myriad of inferior bells.

Since 1895, a complete revolution of tuning has been effected. Bells surpassing those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are now being cast. John Taylor and Company (founded in 1366) pioneered in the research to discover the lost art of bell tuning, and developed the principle of five-point tuning. The direct result of its success was the birth of a new interest in the carillon, both in Europe and in America.

Bells which arrived at Iowa State in 1899 were the forerunners of the more than 160 carillons in the United States today. The largest bell in the present carillon weighs 5, 737 pounds, and the smallest 10 pounds. In all, the weight of the bells and their steel supports is nearly 30 tons.

The clapper of the largest bell weighs 275 pounds. Heavy clappers are counterbalanced to make playing easier. Clappers in the smaller bells are attached to springs to make rapid repetition possible. The pitch of the lowest bell is the same as the second B-flat below middle C. To play the carillon, 50 keys for the hands, and 24 pedals for the feet are used, the pedals being coupled to the hand keys, called batons.

Bell music is not native to the United States. Chimes and carillons are both importations from across the Atlantic. In England, bells have rung in peals or chimes for centuries. On the continent, the carillon has flourished in the Low Countries. Only in the twentieth century have carillons been created in any numbers on the British Isles, and it is only since World War I that most of the carillons have been erected in the United States and Canada.

The word carillon is French in origin and is dervied from the Medieval Latin quadrilionem (a quarternary), the carillons of that time being sounded on four bells. A group of four bells is now known as a chime. The word campanile is used to identify the tower in which a carillon is housed.

As far as range is concerned, the carillon begins where the chime leaves off. The carillon, in its smallest form, must have at least 24 bells in chromatic sequence, which would give a complete range of two octaves. Perhaps as good a definition of a carillon as any, is "a series of bell so hung and arranged as to be capable of being payed from a keyboard as a musical instrument."

The most famous carillons in the world are played by hand, since manual operation allows for direct control of the expressiveness of the instrument played by the carillonneur. Electrically or electronically activated carillons are less desirable because (1) the performer no longer has this control, and (2) carillon tones lose their clarity and pleasantness through electronic amplification.

On the Iowa State campus, there are regular performances around noon each weekday; occasionally at other times of day and on weekend. Recitals are given throughout the year and are listed in a calendar of events published by the Department of Music.



History of the Campanile  |  History of the Bells   |  Glossary of Terms
Inaugural Program   |  "Bells of Iowa State"  |  Images of the Campanile  
Edgar W. & Margaret MacDonald Stanton Memorial Carillon (ISU Music Dept.) 
Special Collections Department (ISU Library)

Comments: archives@iastate.edu
Iowa State University Library, Ames, IA 50011
Revised: 14 March 2000.