A set of chimes is a pitched percussion idiophone instrument consisting of 22 or fewer cast bronze bells, similar to a carillon (from medieval Latin Cymbala, meaning “bells”). They range from two to twenty bells. Although the Voorslag (automatic clock chimes) of the Netherlands and Belgian can reach as high as three octaves. One of the principal purposes of the bell chime is to announce the upcoming hour striking of a church or town hall tower clock. It may also play at the half, quarter, and even eighth hour on occasion.
Sequences of miniature beehive-shaped bells numbered 4 to 15 were introduced into Western monasteries in the 9th century. Western chime-bells, like Chinese chime-bells, were mounted horizontally and struck with mallets. The instrument was famous as a Cymbala. The histories of the chime and the carillon are nearly identical until they arrived in North America. Chimes with 10 to 20 bells became popular in France and Great Britain in the late 18th century. And by the mid-19th century, they were similarly popular in the United States.
In North America, the chime was the predecessor to the carillon. The early chime market in North America consisted of the Meneely bell foundries, both located on the Hudson River in the upstate New York; McShane in Baltimore, Maryland; Van Duzen in Cincinnati, Ohio; Jones in Troy, New York; and Stuckstede in St. Louis, Missouri. The Meneely foundries dominated the market; before both ceased operations in the 1950s, they cast a combined total of more than 65,000 bells.
Bell bronze is used to make chime bells. The weight, profile, or form of a bell affects its note and tone quality. It generates a sound that contains overtones or partial tones that are not always harmonically related. The bell shape needs a proper modification to generate a beautiful, harmonically related series of tones. However, there was little to no effort made to tune the bells for chimes. The chime varies from the carillon in that; it has a narrower range and may not have a full 12-note (chromatic) scale.
Until the twentieth century, its bells lacked an inner tuning, or a set mathematical connection of partials (component tones of a bell’s complex sound) to allow the use of harmony; it also lacked dynamic variation. Automatic clock chimes, on the other hand, generate completely harmonized music of significant complexity in Belgium and the Netherlands. Also, their bells have an inner tuning.
The clock-chiming mechanism has always consisted of a drum pegged to trip the levers that are connected to bell hammers. They are rotated by a hanging weight and operated by the clockworks. The “Westminster Quarters” (formerly “Cambridge Quarters”) is the most famous chime music in English-speaking countries. It consists of four notes E–D–C–G in various combinations. It was Composed in 1793 at Cambridge University to use with the new clock at Great St. Mary’s Church. Its later employment in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament in London (1859) gave rise to its current moniker. Other noteworthy chime songs include “Bells of Aberdovey,” “Turn Again, Whittington,” and “Holsworthy Tune.”