4 October 2017 from 10:30 to 11:30

Promotion Marieke Lefeber on bell playing clocks in the 18th century

'De wanhebbelijke liefde', misschien de scène van de weduwnaar Joost bij Lucia, 2de toneel uit het gelijknamige stuk van C.J. van der Lijn, Cornelis Troost, 1720 - 1750
"Unseemly Love, perhaps a scene of the Widower Joost with Lucia, 2nd scene from the play ""De wanhebbelijke liefde"" by CJ van der Lijn ", Cornelis Troost, 1720 - 1750, Rijksmuseum

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.

Musical repertoire

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.


Marieke Lefeber. © Museum Speelklok
Marieke Lefeber. © Museum Speelklok

Short, simple melodies

Due to the technical and acoustic limitations of bell playing clocks, relatively short, simple melodies were programmed. The melodies usually had a Dutch title, but there were also French and a few English titles, too. In any case, many of the melodies originally came from France. Dances, especially minuets, and songs were the most popular choices for bell playing clocks. Clock owners would have heard serious songs set to the melodies, for example about politics or love, but the vast majority were drinking songs, songs about comical, waggish courtships, and even risqué songs. The most widely programmed melody on bell playing clocks has the standard title ‘Allemande ik prees weleer’.

Familiar melodies

The bell playing clock owners would have been familiar with the melodies not only from their clocks. Bell playing clock melodies were also available as sheet music and heard in the theatre, as house music for royalty and on organ clocks, but most of all in the carillon repertoire (as far as popular music is concerned), as well as published in books featuring instrumental tunes and songbooks. Although some of the books of instrumental tunes were for ‘traditional’ professional musicians, most were used by the more affluent Dutch who took lessons from professional musicians. The songbooks featuring the most bell playing clock repertoire were likewise intended for the well-to-do circles.


The research has been made possible by a contribution from the Meertens Institute,  Museum Speelklok, J.W. Strengers Frankfort Fonds (part of Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds) and the Dr. J.J.L. Haspels Fonds (onderdeel van de Stichting Vrienden Museum Speelklok).

Start date and time
4 October 2017 10:30
End date and time
4 October 2017 11:30
PhD candidate
Marieke Lefeber
Zet hem op een ton. Repertoire op bellenspeelklokken in het achttiende-eeuwse Nederland
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Emile Wennekes