The Hemony Brothers
A decisive role in the development of the carillon was played by the brothers François (c. 1609-May 1667) and Pieter Hemony (1619-17.02.1680), born in Levécourt (Lorraine), sons of the church bell founder Peter Hemony or of his brother Blaise. Initially, both worked independently until they were commissioned to cast and deliver a carillon to the town of Zutphen in 1643, which, after extensive studies. The carillon they created brought the Hemony brothers to the forefront of carillon production in the Netherlands. They settled in Zutphen until 1657. Between 1657 and 1664 François ran a workshop in Amsterdam becoming the inspector of bells and guns, while Pieter worked in Ghent. From 1664 to 1667, they worked again together in Amsterdam. After the death of François, Pieter managed the workshop alone until his death in 1680. In all, they had produced 51 carillons, of which about thirty have survived, most of them only in part.7
Through painstaking research, the Hemony brothers became expert craftsmen and accomplished metallurgists. I order to improve bell tuning they sought the assistance of musicians capable of advising them on matters of timbre and especially the inner tuning of the bells. They found the most influential bell expert they ever could wish for in Jonkheer Jacob van Eyck, the blind organist, carillonneur and recorder player, composer of the famous Der Fluyten Lust-Hof and director of the carillons in Utrecht.
After the famed French music theorist Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) had discovered the overtones of a string, it was Jacob van Eyck who first understood how to systematically analyze the overtones of a bell. (For details about a bell's pitches and overtones see below "The shape and acoustics of a bell"). Van Eyck demonstrated his method with a wine glass by whistling at the pitch of the fundamental or one of the overtones of the glass, which, in the case the whistled note was conform with one of those tones, began to resonate at that tone, thereby producing a sound. Constantijn Huygens, a distant cousin of Van Eyck, wrote about this experiment with great astonishment to his friend, the musician and music theorist Johan Albert Ban (1597/98-1644), and also to other learned gentlemen of that time, Mersenne, René Descartes (1596-1650) and Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637) became aware that Van Eyck was able to whistle all sorts of overtones out of a bell without even touching them. But while the scientists sought for a physical explanation of this mysterious phenomenon Van Eyck put it to use by making a practical link to the comparison of the overtones which he had been made to sound individually. He came to the conclusion that by altering the bell's profile, their tunes could be controlled. This was the first time in the history of bell founding that concrete and measurable information concerning bell notes was related to the measurements of the bell's profile.
The Hemony brothers may have come into contact with Van Eyck during their studies 1643 for the commissioned carillon in Zutphen, since Van Eyck was serving there as advisor for the municipality. Together they experimented with bell profiles and systems of tuning. Van Eyck established the best pattern of partial tones to constitute such a chord that would be heard as a unity at the moment the bell is struck. This "tone" he called slagtoon (the strike note which defines the pitch of the bell). The Hemonys appropriated Van Eyck's findings and developed from them a method of tuning. Consequentially, they cast their bells somewhat thicker than necessary. Afterwards, the bell was placed on a lathe and the correct sound was attained by removing material from the proper parts of the bell's interior surface. This method of bell-tuning has remained the most customary until the present day.
The Hemonys not only produced the purest euphonious bells of their time but were also the first to make chromatic carillons and extend their compass to more than three octaves. Thus, they developed the carillon into a complete musical instrument.
Unfortunately, after the death of the Hemony brothers (Pieter died in 1680) no one was capable of attaining the same quality in bell founding and particularly in tuning, including their pupils (except perhaps Claes Noorden and Melchior de Haze, probably a Hemony pupil). Apart from the lack in true talent for bell founding, the decline of quality may have been due to the fact that the Hemonys, like other founders, jealously kept their art of tuning in secrecy (together with the physical composition of the bronze), later even called the "bell-founders" secret." Only a few founders, like Melchior de Haze (1632-1697) from Antwerp, Andreas Frans van den Gheyn (1696-c.1730) from Leuven and Willem Witlockx (d. 1733), likewise from Antwerp, excelled in bell founding even though their tuning ability was inferior to that of the Hemonys. The death of Witlockx in 1733, certainly the most important founder of the time, marked the end of a true Golden Age of carillon history. At about the same time other founders of reputation, Alexius Jullien, Antoine Bernard and Jan Albert de Grave died as well. In the second half of the 18th century, only Andreas Jozef van den Gheyn, from the renowned bell founding family in Leuven, cast a number of good carillons; lighter in weight than those of the Hemonys, and higher in pitch. He was the last bell maker steeped in the art of tuning, and with his death in 1793, this art died too.
With the French Revolution and the occupation of Europe by Napoleon that followed, many carillons were requisitioned in order to obtain material for casting cannons. In addition, the carillon declined in importance with the evolution of the bourgeois musical culture, which took place mainly in concert halls and private salons. The carillon's time-keeping function had also been superseded by the perfection of indoor clocks and pocket watches. Nevertheless the carillon never entirely vanished from the daily life in Holland and Flanders, and the traditional post of the municipal carillonneur was maintained by most of the towns.