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Scenes

Nowhere do the bells ring as sweet …

The Salzburg carillon is enthroned high above the rooftops of the City of Mozart. With its 35 different bells, it enchants the hearts of visitors and locals alike.

Salzburg has always been a musical city. That said, it is perhaps no surprise that, amid the hustle and bustle of daily life, every now and then passers-by unexpectedly pause and become silent. Inspired, they raise their heads to absorb the magical sounds raining down on them from above. What are those tones – perhaps even the spirit of Mozart himself? But no. In fact, it is a harmonious progression of chords from the carillon which are currently breezing through the lanes of the Old City. As they have for the last 300 years …

When bells travel

It was the year 1701: Prince-archbishop Johann Ernst Graf Thun had a structure with rounded arches added to the top of the tower of the Neue Residenz to make room for the carillon. 35 bells would follow – manufactured by Melchior de Maze, a bell caster in Antwerp. In order to breathe musical life into them, Salzburg master gunsmith Franz Sulzer and workers from the brass works in Ebenau constructed an actuator mechanism for a brass cylinder with a two-and-a-half meters diameter. Head court clockmaker, Jeremias Sauter, drilled, cut and filed 7,970 holes into the brass plates. The complex mechanism of the carillon was activated by means of pins which would release the chimes in whatever order was required by the music. For 250 years, apprentice clockmakers would have to manually crank up heavy weights three times a day in order to set the carillon in motion. Thankfully, today this work is done by an electric motor.

The City at the Foot of the Bells

Did you know that every native Salzburger born within earshot of the carillon is known as a so-called “Glockenspiel Child”? That included Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the city’s most famous sons. You truly gain a sense of the historical significance of this musical attraction when you make your way up the stairs of the Salzburg Museum – not least because you end up standing face-to-face with the very heart of the carillon itself. This imposing construction consisting of cogs, a giant pulley and a brass cylinder never fails to fascinate.

Small, but oh my!

The last stage of the climb takes you up a wooden staircase. Once you have arrived at the viewing platform on the bell tower, you are greeted by a magical sight: Suspended there, high above the square, are the 35 bells whose melodies fill the Old City every day. The very smallest bells are lightweights at just 16 kg. while the big ones come in at a robust 380 kg. But they are all very musical, spanning almost three octaves. Their full repertoire consist of 100 separate pieces of music, with the selection changing from month to month. Which means, there is something for all tastes – be that Mozart operas, folk songs, and even the famous Salzburg Christmas carol “Silent Night!”.

 

If you don’t want to miss out on this acoustical must-hear, you need to listen closely at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. or 6 p.m. if you happen to be out in the historical district. Punctually at those times every day, the first bright notes ring out. Every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and every Friday at 10:30 a.m. from the end of March until the end of October, you can see how those notes are produced by visiting the carillon in person at the Salzburg Museum at No. 1 Mozartplatz – with unique panoramic views of Salzburg City thrown in!

 

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