History of the Albany Carillon


In 1918, William Gorham Rice, first proposed that a carillon be obtained for Albany to commemorate the servicemen who served in the armed forces during World War I. In 1926, at a meeting of the Kiwanis Club, the suggestion was made a again and a committee was formed. Though public subscription, a carillon of 47 notes (actually 60 bells with double bells on the top notes) was installed in the tower of Albany City Hall (designed by H. H. Richardson). Over 25,000 citizens with the support of the Knickerbocker News and the Albany Evening Journal, donated to the effort. This was the first municipal carillon in the USA and the first built with funds by public subscription. The total cost was $63,000 and the carillon was installed by John Taylor and Co, of England. Each bell was inscribed as a memorial or to honor someone. For the dedication of the carillon, the world's foremost carillonneur, Jef Denyn of Belgium and for his first concert in North America presented a recital on Sept 18, 1927. About 50,000 people were present at the concert which included a halt to city traffic. For that concert, Jef Von Hoof wrote his famous Preludium quasi una fantasia and it received its world premiere that night. William Gorham Rice was largely responsible for the Albany Carillon. He was instrumental in the promotion of the carillon in North America. He wrote the first book in any language on the carillon and was the only person granted the title of honorary president of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America. He also served as commissioner of Civil Service for New York State and is considered to be the founder of the American Carillon Movement.

In 1933, a portable sound transmission mounted on trucks was used to enable the carillon music to be heard in other parts of the city. In 1935, the municipal Civil services Commission held an examination for the position of city carillonneur. In July of 1936, a special carillon concert was given by Floyd Walter. It was the most ambitious concert held until that date. It was given in honor of the 250th anniversary of the granting of the charter for the City of Albany, The concerts included music by Beethoven, Schubert, folk songs, ethnic tunes, patriotic songs and the Albany Charter March.

In 1947, the Albany Carillon in mentioned in the Memoirs of Ernie Pyle. By 1948, automatic roller electronic mechanism was become unusable and one set of the double bells disconnected. Regular concerts were given on Tuesday and Thursday, noon in the winter and evening in the summer.

In 1950, the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America held its annual congress at Albany. The congress was opened by Mayor Erastus Corning II. There were numerous concerts by Robert B. Kleinschmidt, Percival Price, Melvin Corbett and others. In 1959, an electric playing action was installed to replace the original badly deteriorated playing mechanism/ Eventually, the electric action was inoperative.

In 1986, Mayor Thomas M. Whalen II, initialed the restoration of the carillon as a tricentennial year Project. The range was enlarged from 47 notes to 49 notes and hour chimes installed. The restoration included 30 new bells, new console, new transmissions, and a new carillon practice room. The dedication concert was given by Ronald Barnes. The project received the preservation Merit Award from the Historical Albany Foundation in 1987. The 49 bells weigh over 27 tons and consist of 4 octaves, making it one of only about 100 concert level carillons in North America. The largest bell at 5'9" diameter weighs 10,953 pounds and the smallest only 27 pounds.

In 1989, Albany was the host to the congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America. Some of the nations' best known carillonneurs gave concerts and included Frank Della Penna and Milford Myhre.

In 1997, the 70th anniversary of the carillon was celebrated with the 200 anniversary of Albany as the State Capital. There were special concerts, displays, and other events. The Albany Carillon Book was also published.

In 1999, the Friends of the Albany Carillon commissioned a piece for carillon by internationally known composer, Robert Starer.

A special brass holiday ornament has been created. The ornament is shaped like the Albany City Tower and is available for $20.

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