Medieval Bells

st-lazarus-autunThe following image came from a post by an art historian friend from Facebook. I was immediatly intrigued by the configuration of this image. The image comes from one of the capitals of St Lazare Church in Autun, Burgundy. It depicts three men: one seems to be holding a set of bells (cymbala) or suspended… the other two are playing the bells with hammers. The set is made of six bells (three for each player) and two others, one held by one of the players and the other hanging from the man’s clothes in the center.

This kind of bell set depiction suggests to me some of the symbolic medieval music theory representations, most often of Pythagoras and his tuning scheme, as shown in the following image from Franchino Gaffurio’s Theorica musicae (1492).

pythagorasIt is interesting to notice that the capital depiction could serve a didactic function, used by Medieval theorists to describe pitch relationships, or of how Pythagorean tuning works: the set of bells represent the natural hexachord (ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la) needing an extra bell to the semitone mi-fa.

Here is an example of bell use in Francesco Landini’s famous ballata Ecco la Primavera. Depictions of bell sets seem to be primarily, which makes their actual use in ensembles difficult to determine.

Here is another use of bells, in the so-called bell choir, in a performance by Ensemble Dicantus.

Here is a very interesting conference by Chritopher Page in Gresham College about English medieval church bells.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. carlarbond says:

    Stupid question: I assume that there is some religious symbolism, with the central figure basically hanging from a cross?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That is one of my readings.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. nicotano says:

    Articolo molto interessante, anche per i video proposti. Grazie. :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love it! I play in a handbell choir and also play solo handbells.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dulcedelgado says:

    Muito interessante!

    Liked by 1 person

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