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Official website of the Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival
7 October 2020

The Kremlin Chimes on the Spasskaya Tower Will Be Put on Hold

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On October 9 at midnight (Moscow time) the Kremlin Chimes on the Spasskaya Tower will be temporarily put on hold owing the start of the works on equipping the bell-tier of the tower part with a number of additional bells.

Until 1935 the bell tier of the Moscow Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower was entirely occupied by bells. Depending on the historic period of the Russian history they had always been tuned to play a different melody. Throughout decades the beautiful sounds of the tolling bells have been regarded as the music symbol of the Russian state. Originally, there were 35 bells on the tier: one striking hour, nine for striking quarters and twenty-five for the chimes.

Since 1935 the bell-tier of the Spasskaya Tower has had only 17 bells, but only some of them are used to strike quarters and hours. Whatever melody performed by the Spasskaya Tower bells, it has lacked the previous intensity and expressiveness due to the limited number of bells. Brief tolling bells passages make it almost impossible to recognize the melody performed.

In 2017 the Executive Office of the President of the Russian Federation supported the initiative put forward by the Public Council of the Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival to equip the tier with additional bells. A working group was set up and includes representatives of the Presidential Executive Office, Russia’s Ministry of Culture, the Federal Guard Service of the Russian Federation and the ‘Church Ringers Society’ Regional Public Organization. The project is being carried under the aegis of the Spasskaya Tower Festival with participation by the Foundation of Saint Andrew the First-Called.

After the works have been completed, the bell-tier of the Spasskaya Tower will acquire twelve additional bells and regain its beautiful full-octave sounding.

Bells on the Spasskaya Tower

From 1851 to 1935 the bell-tier of the Spasskaya Tower was entirely occupied by bells. All in all, there were 35 bells: one striking hour, nine for striking quarters and twenty-five for the chimes.

During this period, the bells on the Spasskaya Tower Clock represent a selection of bells representing different times. It contains both Dutch bells of the late XVII — early XVIII century (apparently acquired by Peter I), and bells without inscriptions, which (judging by their relief decor) belong to the XVII century, as well as bells made by order of Empress Catherine II specially for the Spassky clock in 1769 by the Semyon foundry Gavrilovich Mozhzhukhin.

In 1852, by the imperial permission of Emperor Nicholas I, the tunes “If our Lord is Glorious…” and “March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment” were tuned. The works were carried out by the master brothers Butenop.

After the shelling of the Moscow Kremlin in 1917, the watch was damaged. Immediately after the move of the Soviet government to Moscow, efforts were made to restore damage to the Kremlin, including the Spasskaya Tower Clock with a bell ringing. It is believed that Lenin said: “We need this clock to speak our language.”

A search was organized for craftsmen to restore the mechanism and install the revolutionary music. The country’s leadership turned to Nicholas Behrens, whose father was a watchmaker, worked for the Butenop Brothers company and took part in the previous reconstruction of the clock. He was able to tune the score of the chimes, as Lenin wanted, to play The Internationale and “You Fell as a Victim”. The work was accepted by a special commission of the Moscow City Council in August 1918.

New tunes were played until 1932. Then the melody “You fell a victim” ceased to sound, and five years later the commission recognized the musical sound of the chimes as unsatisfactory. Since 1938, the performance of the Internationale was also discontinued.

After 1996, on special devices, using the minimum number of bells, the musical compositions “Glory” and “Glinka’s Patriotic Song” were selected, and since 2000, two phrases from the melodies “Anthem of Russia” and “Glory” have been performed on several bells, you can hear them every three hours immediately after the end of the quarter and hour battle.

There is no information about the fate of the bell selection in the pre-war and post-war years. We can only state the fact that only the bells remained in the openings of the tower, and they are not fully equipped.