The Bells

One thing that the Russian and English churches have in common is that both have complicated and distinctive bellringing traditions. Russian ringing often starts with just a single bell, and the single ringer gradually adds in more and more bells, in ever more complex rhythmic patterns. The short film linked below was made in 1996 when the Russian church was still re-establishing itself, and is a fascinating glimpse into the art of Russian bellringing.

Rachmaninov weaves the characteristic sound of Russian bells through much of his music, and in the All-Night Vigil you can particularly hear them pealing out in the triple soprano lines at the end of movement seven, and again at the end of the first section of the Gloria, when the choir divides into eight voices; some parts provide the fast rhythmic patterns of the smaller bells against solemn tolling in the other voices. As Pavel Markelov, the bellringer in this film says: ‘Small and medium bells can sound beautiful, but without the big bell, there is no heart. It is the big bell that provides the heart.’ The same goes for Rachmaninov’s music.

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