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 Music for Five Bells


(The Curate) "being at home and not being reasonably hindered shall cause the bell to be tolled."

When staying at 'The Old Hall', Jervaulx,
it was this sentence from the first printed prayer book that inspired Joop Visser to begin and write Music for five Bells, as indeed Jervaulx Abbey had five.

The Jervaulx Abbey Home Page

The abbey of Jervaulx was founded in 1156 by the abbot John de Kinstan for the Cistercian order. Early 12th-century manuscripts describe John de Kinstan and a company of twelve monks getting lost on their way through thick woods as they travelled from Byland Abbey in Ryedale, Yorkshire to another abbey at Fors. They were guided to safety by a vision of the Virgin Mary and Child, who said "Ye are late of Byland but now of Yorevale". This they took as a good omen and when they returned from Fors this site was chosen to establish their abbey on. The name derives from the nearby river Ure or Yore ­ 'Yore vale' altered to the in later times more fashionable French spelling 'Jervaulx' by a former Marchioness of Ailesbury.



pdf sheet music JERVAULX BELLS 1

pdf sheet music JERVAULX BELLS 2


The Bells of the Abbot of Jervaulx:

1. Jervaulx Abbey at one time had five bells, one of which was presented by the Abbey of Byland. The monks used to cast the bells themselves, regular foundries were started in the 14th century.
2. These bells were for different uses. The pich of each bell is unknown.
One bell thought to be from the abbey is now in St Gregory's Church in Bedale, the 8th bell, it was founded by Johannes de Staford in c.1350. It is pitched to E.
3. If the five bells were a set , or could be used as such is unknown. It seems fair to say 'most probably not.'
4. Cirencesters are known to have used sound for meditational and medical purposes
5. The first printed prayer book bears the sentence: "(The Curate) "being at home and not being reasonably hindered shall cause the bell to be tolled." ­ There were a fair few Josephs amongst the curates.
These are points composer Joseph Johannes ( Joop )Visser concentrated on when living next to the Abbey. It all comes down to a simple question: "What five bells would I have chosen, and what would such choice permit to create "

The exercise has now developed into the idea that the player, the campanologist or 'Beiaardier' as the Dutch say, chooses any smaller group of tunes and (as the prayer book ordered the abbot to): "being at home and not being reasonably hindered shall cause the bell to be tolled.".
The 'tolling' being different from the way a carillon is played needs an editioned: "as in meditation rather than in a performence." The pieces are somewhat neutral in expression. So the player being himself and wanting to be responding to an audience, all related to her/his skills and moods ( merry, sad, angry, exhilarated, or what have you) makes the merit during the meditation.

The series: 'Pieces for two different sets of 5 bells in Jervaulx Abbey' and 'Bells for Jervaulx', make together the 'Music for Five Bells', and have been composed in 2002 / 2003; they have been recorded in 2003 with Auke de Boer as the 'beiaardier' (= campanologist)

Jervaulx is unusual in that it is still privately owned, although open to the public. Most monastery lands and buildings were given away or sold at the time of the Dissolution and here at Jervaulx as elsewhere, stone was taken to help construct the houses that were built over the succeeding years. What was once the Gatehouse of the Abbey can be seen on the right-hand side of the entrance, now a private house and much altered, but its stonework betrays its origins.

The Abbey was built according to the usual plan, with a large church, facing east, a square cloister to the south and the Chapter House, where the business was done after readings of the Chapters, and the Parlour, where the monks were allowed limited conversation, leading off from the Cloisters to the east. There were many other buildings, where the monks slept and ate, the kitchens, the abbots somewhat grander accommodation and the lay brothers buildings. As you wander round, the sheer size of the site reveals what a once thriving community there was here.

The church has suffered severely and little now remains but the ground plan. There is a fine round-headed doorway on the south-west however, which has Norman dog-tooth decoration. The Church was completed in the thirteenth century and had forty supporting buttresses. Some floor tomb stones survive, together with a much weathered stone effigy of a knight in armour, made in Durham. The figure is that of Henry Fitzhugh who died in 1307 and was one of the abbey's benefactors. The wooden rood screen which once separated the choir monks from the lay brothers was removed and is now in Aysgarth church to the west of Jervaulx.

The Chapter House is reached by descending from the cloisters and five of the original six columns supporting the vaulted roof remain to their full height. Again, this is unusual and helps to provide a real feeling of the proportions and appearance of this once important building within the abbey.

Jervaulx, because of its present ownership, has a rather different atmosphere to the other abbeys and priories. It is a little overgrown, without signs and has low walls consisting of piles of carved stonework from the abbey ruins. It is extremely atmospheric because of this and has a charm of its own which some more manicured sites do not.


From the same series comes a piece for five bells in two voices


Poems written by Joseph John Visser in Jervaulx after a journey following Saint Cuthbert's path and the footsteps of Saint Columba


Joseph J. Visser Composer