On Wednesday 4 October Marieke Lefeber will defend her PhD thesis on bell playing clock melodies in the 18th century. Bell playing clocks may have had a certain simplicity, yet they were heard (and played) by a wealthy segment of the population. Although it was still commonplace in the 18th century for culture to be shared much more by all segments of society, not everyone had the same appreciation for the repertoire. Some loathed the corny songs whereas they made others laugh. The clock owners apparently belonged to the latter category.
Bell playing clocks are clocks in which the movement plays a programmed melody on a series of tuned bells at set times. This type of clock flourished in the mid-18th century. A large number of bell playing clocks have been preserved. These clocks provide an interesting musicological source for the music that the clock owners heard daily. What was the musical repertoire on 18th century bell playing clocks in the Netherlands, and what does this have to say about the clock owners’ taste in music? A collection of recordings by Melgert Spaander, a clockmaker from Zutphen, and eight bell playing clocks in Utrecht’s Museum Speelklok’s collection serve as the basis for this study.
Most bell playing clocks were either longcase clocks or table clocks. There was considerable English influence on the Dutch clock market: English clockmakers worked in the Netherlands, clocks for the Dutch market were made in England, and Dutch clockmakers ordered parts from England. Clockmakers virtually never made a clock entirely by themselves; many aspects, such as crafting the cabinet, were contracted out. Customers could commission a clock, buy one ready-made from a clockmaker, or lease or acquire one through an estate sale or lottery. The movements in bell playing clocks would have been made by clockmakers. A musician was recruited to help with the arrangements, however. Bell playing clocks were quite expensive, and owners predominantly belonged to a wealthy ruling class.