Past and present

On 25 August 1914, the city center of Leuven was partly destroyed by German invasion troups. The university library was set into flames and lost its collection of 300,000 books, manuscripts and works of art. American universities donated a new library to the university. Famous architect Whitney Warren designed a building in neo-renaissance style with an elaborated iconographic program. Sixteen engineering societies donated a carillon in memory of the American engineers who died in the Great War. The carillon consisted of 48 bells, one per then American state. The bourdon, which strikes also the time, was called Liberty Bell of Louvain. The building and the carillon were inaugurated on 4 July 1928.

In the 30ies the instrument was played regularly by American Arthur Bigelow, who was at the same time student at university and city carillonneur of Leuven. When the new library was hit by gunfire on 17 May 1940, it suffered a loss of 900,000 of books. Fortunately, the tower and carillon escaped the inferno. After the war, the instrument was not played any more and fell into disrepair.

In 1979, Californian carillonneur Margo Halsted visited the instrument and was shocked by the bad condition of this splendid instrument. She led a fundraising action in the USA and in Belgium for a major renovation and expansion of the instrument, which was realized in 1983. Since, the carillon is played on a regular basis and participates in academic and other events. University carillonneur Luc Rombouts plays music from all cultures in support of an inclusive and caring society. The triennial Leuven carillon ‘cantus’ is attended by 4,000 students and is the biggest carillon event of the planet.

 

Facts and figures

Number of bells 63
Total weight of the bells 35,349 kg
Weight of the bourdon 7096 kg
Pitch of bourdon f sharp, connected to B flat in the keyboard
Bell-founders 32 Gillett & Johnston (1928), 31 Eijsbouts (1983)
Manual playing system mechanical baton-type keyboard
Automatic playing system quarter chimes on non-programmable mechanical barrel
Carillonneur Luc Rombouts
Regular recitals Tuesdays and Thursdays in the academic year from 7 to 7.45 pm
Summer concerts 4 Thursdays in August from 8.30 to 9.30 pm
Accessibility of the tower from Monday till Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm

Significant inscription

Interpres variae sum vitae voce sonora:
Fortunam celebro sit bona sitve mala.
Sit pax in Terris, concordia regnet in orbe:
Ex alto cunctis haec pia vota cano.

(My sounds reveal the changes of life:
sing about fortune in good and bad days.
Let there be peace and understanding on earth:
This is my wish to you all from this tower.)

Inscription from 1983 on bell n°4

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