Carillon Music of 1780’s Belgium brought back to life on About Towers, the new album by WÖR – and how!
Release Date: 21st January 2021
Label: ARC Music
Formats: CD / Digital
Belgian ensemble WÖR have just come up with something pretty special. They’ve taken a series of manuscripts of music written for carillon (I’ll tell you about it in a moment…) and reworked the tunes using their eclectic collection of ancient and modern instruments to deliver a collection of music that is a sheer delight.
A few words of explanation are necessary before we go any further. A carillon is a collection of bronze bells – usually 49 of them to cover a four-octave range, and ranging in weight from 400kg to 4 tonnes – suspended in a bell tower. From around the late middle ages, professional Carilloneurs would compose, collect and adapt melodies and play them on the carillon for various events and occasions. The carillon is, effectively, the oldest mass musical means in history! Anyone who has spent time close to the church or cathedral in a northern European town or city has almost certainly heard the carillon in action, and the tradition is strongest in Flanders and The Netherlands. WÖR has reworked a selection of carillon tunes in a way that gives them new life whilst remaining thoroughly respectful to the compositions and the traditions. And it’s all an absolute delight!
WÖR is an ensemble of highly accomplished musicians from around Belgium. Each member of the band is a serious student of his chosen instrument and has a long experience in a wide range of musical genres. Fabio Di Meo (baritone sax), Jeroen Goegbuer (fiddles, mandolin and banjo), Pieterjan Van Kerckhoven (bagpipes, soprano sax and piano), Bert Ruymbeek (accordion) and Jonas Scheys (guitars and double bass) are all experts in their respective fields and clearly have a great attraction to and respect for the traditional music of their homeland, yet this is no work of dry scholarship. This album is fun, and the band’s presentation of these ancient tunes is nothing short of exhilarating.
Carillon is, of course, delightful in its own right, but the tunes here are given a huge extra dimension. The early roots of the music remain recognizable but the instrumental twist that WÖR applies adds an edge that is sometimes jazzy, sometimes folky, but which never fails to lift the music to a full-bodied new level. The basic composition may have a classical influence or may be derived from roots that are altogether more pastoral; the tunes are sometimes simple and jaunty, sometimes remarkably complex, but in all cases, they are played faultlessly and sympathetically by a tight and perfectly structured group of musicians.
And I’m struck by how familiar many of the tunes sound. There’s a remarkable similarity, emphasized by the reworking, between these tunes and much of the traditional music of these islands. It is certainly reassuring proof that we’re far closer to our mainland European neighbors than Messrs Johnson and Farage would like to suppose…
The album arrives in a package that is rammed with information concerning the history of carillon and of each of the tunes. Details of the composer, the location in which the piece was first played and the popularity and geographical evolution of each piece enable the listener to become fully immersed in this tradition and provide a useful aid to the overall enjoyment of the album.
As for the music itself. Every single track in this collection is wonderful. The instruments blend perfectly together and fiddle, mandolin, accordion and saxophones all take their turn in the limelight, often during the same tune, and guitars and double bass provide a rich foundation throughout. It all adds to a sound that is full, rich and satisfying. And although these tunes all originate from Belgium, France or Germany. It’s easy to detect strains that are familiar in Celtic, Iberian or Scandinavian music – a testimony to the efficiency of carillon as an early mass medium!
I could pick out tracks such as Berlo, Aria, Rosalie, d’Afnemen or Bien Amoureux as potential highlights, but really that would be splitting hairs. I love everything about this album. Perhaps the only track I will pick out for special mention is Fiocco, a solo carillon piece performed by the band’s guest Liesbeth Janssens, a carillonneur from the Cathedral of Antwerp. It’s a thoroughly wonderful piece of music that has the added benefit of demonstrating the starting point for everything else on the album.
It’s still only January, but I have a strong feeling that I’ve already heard one of my 2021 Albums of the Year!
Watch the Official Video to Cecilia, a track from the album, here: