The "Parsifal" bells

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John F
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Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY

The "Parsifal" bells

Post by John F » Sat Jun 01, 2019 3:33 pm

In Acts 1 and 3 of Wagner's "Parsifal," the approach of Gurnemanz and Parsifal to Montsalvat is accompanied by "transformation music" in which we hear Montsalvat's enormous bells. Just how that sound was made has never been clear to me, but now here on YouTube we can see what the instrument(s) were and still are.

First we hear a modern recording of the passage with a still photograph of the setup at Bayreuth. Dominating the picture are four enormous drums or barrels, made to Wagner's specifications, whose diameters correspond with the four pitches of the bells. But the clip goes on to show that the actual sound comes not from those barrels but from a special stringed piano-like instrument, to the left of the barrels in the photo. Maybe those barrels are there to reverberate to the sound coming from the stringed instrument to provide additional reverberation and weight.

For a lot more about those bells, at Bayreuth and elsewhere, this article is enlightening:

In the recordings made at Bayreuth in 1927, conducted by Karl Muck, Wagner's original instruments are presumably used.

This clip includes more music from "Parsifal" acts 1 and 2 recorded in the same sessions at Bayreuth with Karl Muck and Siegfried Wagner conducting.
John Francis

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