Carillon News

January 16, 2003

Our Savior's Church, Copenhagen


Christianshavn is a unique section of Copenhagen that was founded by King Christian IV. During his court, music flourished in Denmark. The first stone for the Church of Our Savior (Vor Frelsers Kirke) was laid in the Christianshavn quarter in 1682 during the reign of King Christian V, and construction of the church and tower edifice--designed by Norwegian architect Lambert van Haven--continued  until 1694. It was dedicated as a parish church on 19 April 1696. The Church of Denmark is a Protestant Lutheran church such as it has been since the Reformation.

The baroque organ facade was carved out of wood by Christian Nerger in 1696. A three-manual organ was built by the brothers J. & P. Botzen between 1696 and 1700. It functioned for almost 200 years until it was replaced by A.H. Busch & Sons in 1889. The Busch organ was radically rebuilt and a fourth manual added in 1939 by Marcussen & Son. Since then there have been more renovations by Poul-Gerhard Andersen.  The facade pipes, a zimbelstern, and a cuckoo are all that remain of the original organ, and seven of the Busch ranks still exist. The facade consists of the Great 16’principal, the Positive principals 8’and 4’and the 16’Pedal principal--all made of tin. The largest facade pipes bear the inscription: "DEO ET C5 GLORIA" (Glory to God and Christian V). A bust of the king stands between the front pipes of the Rückpositiv. Two elephants on pedestals seem to be supporting the organ case. These powerful animals had particular significance to the monarch, who in 1693 established the Order of the Elephant as the highest Danish honor. The organ currently has 54 stops on four manuals and pedal, mechanical key action, and electric stop and combination action.

In 1699 a large mechanical clock was fabricated and installed in the tower by Swiss clockmaker Johann Mercki. This clock still performs several functions: it moves the hands of the clock face, strikes the quarter and hour bells, and opens and closes the louvers on the sides of the tower.

Lauritz de Thurah, architect to the Royal Danish Court, designed the stunning spire which was built between 1749 and 1752. He took his inspiration from Boromini's tower of the chapel of St. Ivo in Rome (c. 1660) which itself is reminiscent of the Abu Douluf Minaret in Iraq that dates from c. 850. Atop the Copenhagen tower, Lauritz placed sandstone figures of the four Evangelists and an octagon which leads to an external spiral staircase. It is this stairway winding around the steeple that is the distinguishing feature of these three spires. Visitors of the tower of Our Savior's Church climb 400 steps, see the clockworks, circle the spire four times, and reach a height of 295 feet for a bird's-eye view of Copenhagen. On top of the spire is a gilt ball supporting a figure of Christ holding a banner.

Thanks to the initiative of Paul Sophus Rung-Keller (1879-1966), the first major carillon in Scandinavia was installed in the Church of Our Savior, Christianshavn in 1928. Several years earlier, Rung-Keller had been sent to Holland to inspect a small number of church bells--tolling bells--that were to be shipped to Denmark, and it was there that he discovered carillons. In Amsterdam he noted that the surroundings--the canals, tall towers, etc.--bore similarities to the setting in Christianshavn. So, when planning a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in 1917, Rung-Keller borrowed bells to play melodies. The Danes were fascinated. Money was collected, all by donation, and a 33-bell carillon was cast in Denmark by De Smitske and Brouderslev and hung in the tower of Our Savior's Church in 1928. Inscriptions on the bells gave the names of the donors;        Rung-Keller's bell says "donated by the organist." He was organist of the church from 1903 to 1949 and, of course, the first carillonneur. This was the beginning of the carillon art in Denmark. With his historical and technical knowledge of bells and carillons, he became a pioneer of the greatest importance in Scandinavia. He inspired an interest in the carillon as both a religious and folk instrument and worked to build a carillon tradition in Denmark.

Organ professor Aksel Andersen succeeded Rung-Keller as consultant and was just as enthusiastic. In vain, Aksel pushed for the education of carillonneurs in conservatories. However, during the 70s he developed the idea for training carillonneurs at a church music school in Løgumkloster. Aksel died in 1978, and the program began the following year. The school has enabled serious study of the carillon, and a higher level of playing and a better status for carillonneurs in Denmark have resulted.

Ulla Laage was awarded the school's first diploma for a carillonneur in 1982. She had  been playing the carillon of the Church of Our Savior since 1974, and in 1983 Ulla was officially appointed as carillonneur. This was the first official carillonneur's position in Denmark, and it is unique in that organists who take a position in a church where there is a carillon and have the duty to play it are now urged to become proficient on the carillon. Laage was awarded the Scandinavian Carillon School's final diploma in 1989 following advanced studies. She is vice-president of the Nordic Bell Committee, a member of the Nordic Society of Campanology and Carillon. She serves on the international committee of the World Carillon Federation, and is a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America.

By 1979, Our Savior's carillon was deteriorating and a strong storm in the autumn suddenly influenced its fate. Due to rust, one bell fell, and given the deficient tone quality of the bells in general it was decided to replace the instrument rather than restore it.  The Dutch firm Petit & Fritsen installed a new carillon in 1981. The 48 bells were made of a traditional bronze alloy of 80% copper and 20% tin. The bourdon weighs 2.1 tons and sounds C. The smallest bell, also a C, weighs 24 pounds. The range is four octaves, chromatic, with the exception of the lowest semitone (C-sharp). It plays in concert pitch. The inscriptions from the old bells were transferred to the new ones. The new carillon was played for the first time on the first Sunday in Advent, 1981, and was formally dedicated in the spring of 1982. Dutch carillonneur Leen 't Hart was the consultant for the project and played the dedication recital.

Thanks to the tradition that Rung-Keller established at Christianshavn, carillon music became an institution--a natural part of daily life in the neighborhood. The instrument is used liturgically on Sundays and holidays, and as a concert instrument on Saturday afternoons. A special concert series during the summer months features guest carillonneurs from Denmark and abroad. Another local tradition is a recital for students of area schools; it occurs at the end of each semester, sending them off to Christmas and summer vacations. Special recitals mark the birthdays, weddings, festival days, and other special occasions for the Danish royal family. Even visits to Denmark by foreign heads of state, days of national mourning, and inaugurations of significant buildings can't escape commemoration with the music of Our Savior's carillon.

The tower and church are open to visitors daily from April through October. Although the tower is closed from November through March, the church is open during that period. There are special hours on holidays. Ulla Laage plays the carillon on Sundays at noon, and on Saturdays at 5:00 pm. To find the Church of Our Savior follow Torvegade to the Christianshavn quarter, and take a left on Fkt. Annægade. The church is on this street between Dronningensgade and Trinsessegade.

A compact disc recording of the organ and carillon of Our Savior's Church is available for 150 kroner, postpaid, from Ulla Laage; Vardegade 2 itv; DK 2100 Copenhagen Ø; Denmark. Organist Jans E. Christensen plays Bach, Leopold Mozart, Eberlin, Franck, and Rung-Keller. Carillonneur Ulla Laage plays Rung-Keller, Clarke, Johnson, and Laage.

Related Content

July 27, 2022
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series appeared in the June 2021 issue of The Diapason, pages 18–19; part 2 appeared in the July 2021 issue, pages 12–…
July 27, 2022
Gloria R. Werblow Gloria R. Werblow of Cary, North Carolina, died June 5. Born July 11, 1938, in New York, she began her carillon studies with Janet…
June 24, 2022
The idea for the carillon The idea of having a carillon on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington was the inspiration of Herman B. Wells (…