World's largest carrillons to be played for first time in 20 years

By TPN/Lusa, in News · 21-01-2020 09:42:00 · 0 Comments

The carrillons at Portugal’s Palace of Mafra, the world’s largest such instruments, are to be heard for the first time in 20 years on 1 February, with an inaugural concert scheduled for 2 February, the government announced.

"Mafra's carrillon will play again on 2 February," the minister of culture, Graça Fonseca, told a joint hearing of the parliamentary committees on budget and finance and on culture and the media, as part of the second reading of the draft state budget for 2020.

The day before that concert, however, the programme to inaugurate the restoration of the bells and carrillons of the National Palace of Mafra begins. This comprises a series of concerts and lectures to mark the end of restoration work that took a year and a half, the director of the national monument, Mário Pereira, told Lusa.

The inauguration precedes the installation of the National Museum of Music at the palace, which was also presented by Fonseca as among the government's "priority investments" for 2020, as part of its programme of rehabilitation of cultural heritage.

The program begins on 1 February with several recitals on the legacy of the Gato family, composers who served the Portuguese Crown in the 18th and 19th centuries. The carrillon in the palace’s southern tower is to play original songs composed for the instrument, arrangements for carrillon of baroque music, and others on Antwerp and Liége, the native cities of the men who cast the two carrillons, Willem Witlockx and Nicolas Levache.

The carrillons are to be played by the musicians Francisco Gato, Abel Chaves, Luc Rombousts, Ana Elias, Frank Deleu, Koen Van Assche and Marie-Madeleine Crickboom.

After the restoration of the six historical organs, which were re-inaugurated in 2010, the rehabilitation of the carrillons – which have not been played since 2001 – and bells will "reinforce one of the palace's singularities” - their monumentality, given that they have the largest set of bells in the world, and six historical bodies playing together, unique in the world,” the dierctor – the palace’s director stressed.

Also on 1 February, two lectures are planned, one on the legacy of Willem Witlockx, by Luc Rombouts, a Belgian musicologist and carrillon player from the city of Tienen.

On 2 February the blessing of the bells is to take place, followed by the post-restoration inaugural concert, in which Abel Chaves and Liesbeth Janssens are to play compositions by Vivaldi.

There are also to be several lectures on how the two carrillons – one in each tower – came to be ordered, by Isabel Iglésias; on the project to rehabilitate the carrillons and bell towers, by Luís Marreiros; on the sets of bells of Mafra, by João Soeiro de Carvalho; and on the acoustic study of the carrillons, by VincentDebut.

The palace is to undertake a programme of carrillon concerts throughout the year, with the participation of musicians from all over the world, which is currently being finalised, the director told Lusa.

Although the restoration works encompass the two carrillons, only the one in the south tower is to be functioning.

Restoration work, budgeted at €1.5 million, began in the summer of 2018, after the state of the bells and carrillons had become so bad that the area around the towers had to be cordoned off for fear that they might fall in bad weather.

The public tender was launched in November 2015.

The government at the time acknowledged the "urgent need to carry out the rehabilitation" of the bells and carrillons "in the face of their advanced state of degradation" and the "security risks, not only for the heritage itself, but for the users of the property and passers-by on the public road" in front of the palace.

The bells, some weighing 12 tonnes, had been encased in scaffolding since 2004 to ensure their safety, because their original wooden support structures had rotted.

At the time, Mafra's carrillons were classified as one of the "seven most threatened sites in Europe", by the Europe Nostra heritage movement.

Each of the towers contains a carrillon with multiple musical bells and a clock (that tolls the hour), while a set of bells for liturgical services is divided between the two towers.

The two carrillons and total of 119 bells constitute the largest set of bells in the world. Along with the palace chapel’s six historical organs and the attached monastery’s library, they are the most important heritage of the palace, which was in July last year classified as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).


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