Featured in The World As We See It , or as we missed it. Group, August 2010
Located on Aspen Island, Lake Burley Griffin, the National Carillon was a gift from the British Government to the people of Australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Capital. Queen Elizabeth II accepted the National Carillon on behalf of Australians on 26 April 1970. John Douglas Gordon, after whom the Aspen Island footbridge is now named, played the inaugural recital.
Carillons have a minimum of 23 bells. With 55 bronze bells the National Carillon is large by world standards. The pitch of the bells ranges chromatically through four and one half octaves. The bells each weigh between seven kilograms and six tonnes. Cast in England by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, they are fine examples of the art of bellfounding.
The National Carillon tower was the prize-winning design of Western Australian architects Cameron, Chisholm & Nicol. The design of the tower comprises three angular columns clad in striking quartz and opal chip. Each shaft is a triangle in plan and each is aligned with one of the three sides of a central equilateral triangle. Each of the shafts serves a different function: the highest contains a passenger lift, the next a steel staircase, and the lowest is a service shaft. The maximum height of the tower is 50 metres from ground level. The first floor is approximately halfway up the tower and contains the chamber for the clavier that operates the bells, a practice clavier for recital preparation, and a shower and dressing room. Above this is the carillon chamber itself, and lastly, at a height of 36 metres above ground level, is a small viewing and function room called ?Chimes’.
The Carillon was constructed with a concrete frame and site-fabricated, by positioning and jointing the cladding, erecting self-climbing formwork on the inside and infilling stage by stage from the bottom with reinforcement and concrete. An aperture had to be left in the centre of the floor to allow the biggest bells to be hoisted to the carillon chamber, since they were too large to pass up any of the three shafts.
With the tower rising to a height of 50 metres, this allows the music of the bells to drift across Lake Burley Griffin and through Kings and Commonwealth Parks. The tower is lit at night, providing a magnificent landmark in the National Capital.
Carillonists play the suspended stationary bells from a keyboard of wooden batons and pedals, called a clavier. A system of individual cables and wire linkages draws soft iron clappers on to the bells as each wooden baton or pedal is struck by the carillonist. A separate mechanical system of operation allows the quarter hour striking of the Westminster chimes.
Much variation of musical expression is obtainable in the hands of a competent carillonist. Carillon ?schools’ are well established in Europe and North America and carillonists regularly participate in international recitals. The carillon can also be played in concert with other instruments.
The National Carillon is played on a regular basis during the year by both local and visiting carillonists. It is often used to celebrate national days and is played in conjunction with other events such as Australia Day.
All styles of music are represented, from compositions specially written for the Carillon to popular song arrangements and improvisation. The best place to listen to the National Carillon is one where you have an unobstructed view of the tower and usually within a radius of one hundred metres. Approximately five minutes after the conclusion of the recital, the carillonist may be greeted at the base of the tower.