About the Carillon

Carillons are the world’s largest musical instruments. They consist of a series of fixed bells which sound when struck by clappers. A set of bells must contain at least 25 chromatically tuned bells (two octaves) to qualify as a carillon.

The development of the carillon, as distinct from single bells or peals of swinging bells, dates back to the 13th and 14th Centuries. The earliest carillons were played mechanically. The first true carillon to be played manually was built in Flanders about 1480.

The University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon, located in the clock tower of the Quadrangle on the Camperdown Campus, was dedicated on Anzac Day, 25 April 1928. It commemorates the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who died in World War I. The Carillon and the Great Hall Organ are the Ceremonial Voices of the University.

Originally, the Carillon consisted of 62 bells giving 49 notes, the top octave bells being in duplicate. The instrument was played at a keyboard of manual and pedal levers. For a short time, a pneumatic keyboard was also used.

In 1973, the top bells were returned to the original founders for recasting and, at the same time, five additional small bells were cast. The rebuilt carillon now has 54 bells and a range of four and a half octaves. The lowest note (called the bourdon) is G on the bottom line of the bass stave (A flat in terms of pitch). This bell weighs approximately four and a half tonnes. The 23 lower bells were cast by the Taylor bellfoundry, of Loughborough, England. The upper 33 treble bells were cast by the Whitechapel bellfoundry of London.

The National Carillon in Canberra, dedicated in 1970, is a sister carillon to the University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon.