ANTWERP. A tour of the city's noteworthy musical attractions
THE stillness of the noontime air was broken by the silvery sounds of the carillon as it pealed forth the melody of Pierlala, an old 18th-century Flemish folk tune. This shimmering sound was just the beginning of an hour-long recital that the ``town carillonneur'' - Jo Haazen - gives each day at Antwerp's famous cathedral. Playing from his own manuscript arrangement - as all the best carillonneurs are wont to do - he controlled with his fists and feet the levers at the keyboard. The levers operate the hammers that strike each of the 47 chromatically tuned ``dead hung'' bells in this, the city's largest and most famous carillon. The bell tower rises some 400 feet into the air, a spire that dominates the skyline of the ``old city.'' Almost every church in Antwerp has a carillon of its own, and the ringing of their perfectly cast bells provide the city with one of its most characteristic musical sounds.Skip to next paragraph
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Since the 15th century, Antwerp and nearby Mechelen have been the world's most important centers for learning the art of the carillon. Most of the best carillonneurs have, at one time or another, studied here.
During the Renaissance, Antwerp was as famous for its composers as for its carillons and carillonneurs. Flemish composers fanned out across Europe to dominate and control the music at the courts of France, Germany, Austria, Italy, England, Spain, Poland, and Hungary as well as at the papal court.
Composers such as Johannes Ockeghem, who began his career here as a boy chorister at the cathedral in Antwerp in 1443, and Ciprano de Rore, who was born in the city in 1516, were among the most important of the Renaissance composers, surpassed in fame only by Ockeghem's pupil, Josquin Des Prez, who is considered one of the greatest composers of all time. His music is part of the rich Flemish heritage, and his works regularly appear wherever great choral music is sung.
The sounds of the city's carillons and the glorious harmonies of Flemish choral music are only part of the many musical delights - both old and new - that can be discovered in this center of Flemish culture and tradition. A musical excursion Antwerp
A butcher shop may sound like a funny place to begin a tour, but for the visitor who is interested in Flemish music, the Vleehuis (Flemish for ``butcher's house'') with its concert series of Old Music is a striking place to start. A masterpiece of late Gothic architecture, it is built of brick with ``fat layers'' of white stone for aesthetic contrast. The main hall, with its 25-foot vaulted ceilings, originally provided stalls for 62 butchers. On the second floor there was a meeting room, a chapel, and a bridal room. (Butcher's children were expected to marry other butcher's children.)
The Vleehuis today is an impressive museum of Flemish culture centered around an important historical collection of musical instruments. The most noted part of the display is formed by the harpsichords. Between 1579 and 1667 the Rucker family of Antwerp built the most famous harpsichords in the world, noted both for the mechanical improvements the Ruckers introduced to them and for the beauty of their tone. Flemish painters Van Dyck and Bruegel, among others, painted the lids of such harpsichords. Even the soundboards were decorated in tempera with fruit, flowers, birds, and insects, surrounded by blue scrolls.
Concerts of early music are given on Sunday afternoons at the Vleehuis. (This year's series concluded March 22.) One recent concert featured French music of the early 1700s for combinations of recorders, cellos, and harpsichord. The most fascinating work on the program was Jean Barri`ere's Sonata in B-flat for cello and harpsichord. The second movement was a showpiece of virtuosity for cellist; the third was remarkably romantic with its rich harmonies that moved slowly from one chord to another, mostly built out of double and triple stops and chords played as arpeggios. Chamber concerts
Sunday morning concerts that feature the Chamber Orchestra of the Flemish Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are highly popular, especially with parents who want to take young children to a concert. The Campo Gallery, which seats about 500, provides a pleasant ambiance in which to enjoy the music.