Clock Melodies: Clocks Chime History and Sounds

Clock Melodies: Clocks Chime History and Sounds

A clock chime is a tune or a set of melodies that plays at intervals upon a set of bells to mark the passage of time. A variety of melodies exist, many associated with a particular location or bell tower that originated or popularized them. The popular melodies chiming out from Grandfather Clocks are produced by hammers striking tubular bells or gong rods. All clocks differ in tone and have their unique voices and even when the same melody is played there may be significant variations. Most Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks have chimes and it is important to pick a clock with the tune that is going to be pleasant to the ear.


Westminster Chimes

Find a full selection of Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks with Westminster Chimes here.

Westminster Chimes is also known as the Cambridge Quarters, from its place of origin, the church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge, England. The Westminster Chime melody comes from George Fredrick Handel’s aria, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” but people commonly associate the Westminster Chimes with Big Ben at the House of Parliament in London. The chime spread to the United States of America in December 1875. It was first sounded at Trinity Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
This chime actually has lyrics. It's attributed to William Crotch in 1794. The lyrics are as follows:
"Oh, Lord our God
Be thou our guide
That by thy help
No foot may slide."

Howard Miller Clocks play the same traditional and joyous Chimes of Westminster melody as the Westminster Quarters heard in the streets of central London for over 150 years.

Listen to Westminster Chime for Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks


Whittington Chimes

Whittington Chimes used to be referred to as “chimes on eight bells” before the name Whittington became common. Currently, it is also called St. Mary's Chimes that come in four different variations. The tune originated with the bell tower of the church of St. Mary le Bow in London, England. 

In the 14th century, the chimes became famous through a customary English theatre legend that connects them with Dick Whittington. The story tells that the young boy was an unhappy apprentice as a house waif who was treated poorly. One day, he was  running away from his master, and heard the tune ringing from the bell tower of the church of St Mary-le-Bow in London. The penniless boy heard the bells seemingly saying to him "Turn again Dick Whittington". Dick returned to London upon hearing the bells, where he went on to find his fortune and became the Lord Mayor of London four times. According to tradition, Whittington used the tune as a campaign song for his three returns to the office of mayor. A short version of the campaign song goes:
“Turn again Dick Whittington,
Right Lord Mayor of London Town.”

Listen to Whittington Chime for Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks


St. Michael’s Chimes

The story of the St. Michael’s Chimes has a significance for the United States as a part of the heritage. The bells, cast in London, were installed in the St. Michael Church steeple in Charleston, South Carolina in 1764. The British took the bells back to England during the Revolutionary War. When the war was over, a Charleston merchant bought them in order to bring them back to America. In 1823, the bells were sent back to London to be recast when cracks were discovered in them

In 1862, the bells were moved to Columbia, S.C. for safe keeping during the Charleston siege. Unfortunately, when the Sherman’s army set fire to the area, nothing but only fragments of the bells were saved. These were sent back to London once more to be recast again, where the original molds still stood. The eight bells were reinstated in the St. Michael steeple in February 1867. There was a great rejoicing by the entire city as the bells rang out on March 21st, seeming to say: "Home again, home again, from a foreign land!"

Listen to St. Michael’s Chime for Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks


Ave Maria Chimes

Ave Maria Chimes was originally composed by Franz Schubert as a prayer of safety for Ellen Douglas and it was originally called “Ellens dritter Gesang” or Ellen’s Third Song which was inspired by the Sir Walter Scott epic poem "The Lady of the Lake." In the poem, in the rebellion between the Scottish clan and King James, Ellen with her exiled father hides in a cave and sings a prayer calling upon the Virgin Mary for help and comfort. The first words of the prayer are ‘Ave Maria,’ which means ‘Hail Mary’. The Roman Catholic church adapted the song to the prayer Ave Maria: 
“Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! Hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!”

However, it’s a misconception that Schubert originally wrote the melody as the setting for the Catholic prayer. The composition came into usage as clock chimes in the 1940s.

Listen to Ave Maria Chime for Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks


Bim-Bam Chimes

Bim-Bam Chimes originally were called Normandy chimes. Instead of one chime on the hour, there were two and it was a musical dual tone, instead of a single, (often harsh sounding) single hourly strike. Nowadays, it ​​is a descriptive term for the two-note chimes which sound only at the half hour and hour. With most clocks, mechanically-driven hammers strike the two tuned chime rods to produce the distinctive tone.

Listen to Bim-Bam Chime for Grandfather Clocks and Floor Clocks


Triple Chimes 

Most common chime tune for the clocks is Westminster Chime. However, with the development, some clocks are made with multiple tunes that can be selected. Westminster, St. Michael's, and Whittington chimes are the most common combination for the triple-chime clocks. But it is important to keep in mind that there are different variations for different clocks. 


More about clocks:

➤  Tubular Clock Chime Movement
➤  Grandfather Clock Buyers Guide

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