The bells

Instruments from Berlioz’s period were rediscovered and restored, right down to the famous bells of the “Dies Irae”

Bells have been introduced into orchestral writing to produce effects that are dramatic rather than musical. The timbre of low-pitched bells is appropriate only for scenes of a solemn or tense character. High-pitched bells, on the other hand, give rise to more peaceful impressions; there is something rustic and artless about them which make them particularly suitable for religious scenes from country life. That is why Rossini made use of a little bell in G to accompany a graceful chorus from the second Act of William Tell, the refrain of which is “voici la nuit”. Meyerbeer on his side needed to use a deep bell in F to give the signal for the massacre of the Huguenots, in the fourth Act of the opera of that name. In addition he was careful to make that F the augmented fifth of the B natural played by the bassoons below. Assisted by the low notes of two clarinets in A and B flat this gives the passage the sinister timbre which evokes the feelings of terror and fear which permeate this immortal scene.

Extract from the Treatise on Instrumentation and Orchestration, Berlioz

The Bells during the 2009 Berlioz Festival


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