Percival Price | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Percival Price

(Frank) Percival Price. Carillonneur, campanologist, composer, teacher, b Toronto 7 Oct 1901, d Ann Arbor, Mich, 1 Oct 1985; B MUS (Toronto) 1928, carillonneur diploma (Beiaardschool te Mechelen) 1927. His teachers in Toronto included his mother and, later, E. Lois Wilson (theory), Frank H.

Price, Percival

(Frank) Percival Price. Carillonneur, campanologist, composer, teacher, b Toronto 7 Oct 1901, d Ann Arbor, Mich, 1 Oct 1985; B MUS (Toronto) 1928, carillonneur diploma (Beiaardschool te Mechelen) 1927. His teachers in Toronto included his mother and, later, E. Lois Wilson (theory), Frank H. Burt and H. William Hawke (organ), Hayunga Carman (piano), and H.A. Fricker (orchestration).

Price's interest in carillons arose during a trip to the Low Countries in 1921, and his appointment that year as carillonneur at Metropolitan Church in Toronto was the first such appointment outside Europe. Moreover, the carillon on which he was to perform, donated by Chester Massey in memory of his wife, was the first carillon installed in North America. Price was appointed carillonneur at Park Ave Baptist Church, New York in 1925, but he did not assume the position and take charge of the church's new Laura Spelman Memorial Carillon until early in 1926. He continued his studies at the famous training centre for carillonneurs, the Beiaardschool in Mechelen (Malines), Belgium, where his main teachers were Jef Denyn and Jef van Hoof. Price was the first non-European to graduate. In 1932-3 he studied in Vienna with Arthur Willner (composition) and worked on The St. Lawrence, his major work, a 'romantic symphony' in four movements (Islands, Rapids, Flatlands, Mountains). He submitted this to the University of Toronto as a doctoral exercise, and, although it was rejected, it did receive performances, one (the premiere) under Reginald Stewart at the Promenade Symphony Concerts in 1934 and another by the TSO under the composer 30 Oct 1934. The work earned Price in that same year a travelling scholarship awarded by the Pulitzer Prize Committee to 'the student of music in America that may be deemed the most talented and deserving, in order that he may continue his studies with the advantage of European instruction'. In 1935 he went to Basel - his tenth trip overseas - where he studied conducting with Felix Weingartner at the Musikschule.

Meanwhile Price had been consultant in the design of the carillon at the Peace Tower (Parliament Buildings) in Ottawa and he inaugurated the bells 1 Jul 1927. That year he was appointed Dominion Carillonneur, in charge of the Peace Tower carillon. He retained the position until 1939. He was a driving force in the formation (Ottawa 1936) of The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America and served as president 1947-9 and later as archivist.

In 1939 Price joined the staff at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to teach composition and campanology and to serve as University Carillonneur at the Burton Memorial Tower. He retired from these positions in 1972 as professor emeritus, remaining active as recitalist, consultant, and lecturer.

As a recitalist Price performed on more than 100 carillons in many countries. On his travels he accumulated the wealth of documentation - verbal, pictorial, and sound-recorded - that made him a world authority on campanology. An early research trip took him to the USSR and the Balkan countries in 1930, and in 1933 he wrote The Carillon, one of the first books in English on the subject. His treatise 'Carillons of North America,' written the same year, was unpublished in 1990. In 1983 he published another book, Bells and Man, based on his realization that the bell is man's most universal musical instrument and an artefact of great social, religious, and iconographic significance. In 1982 his collection of artefacts, information files, notated and recorded music, photographs, and published materials was acquired by the National Library of Canada, where it became the basis both of its major exhibit ('Bells through the Ages,' 1986) and of one of the largest collections on campanology in the world.

Price's practical experience and theoretical grasp enabled him to work as a consultant and to effect reforms and innovations. During and after World War II he served as consultant to the Inter-Allied Commission on the Wartime Preservation of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas and to the Vatican Commission for the Restoration of Bells. Under the auspices of the Canadian Army's Enemy Science and Technology Investigation section he undertook a survey of the sequestration and destruction of bells for war purposes. He aided Austrian, Belgian, Dutch, West German, and Italian government commissions in locating their removed bells. After the war Price continued his research in Mexico, the Near East, China, East Germany, and other countries.

It is as a musician, however, that Price felt his strongest attraction to bells. He added the semantron (or semanterion), the struck wooden percussion board which preceded the church bell, to the carillon as a rhythm instrument. He placed a choir of 100 voices in a belfry and used a team of tenor ringers to produce Russian-style bell ringing on the carillon. His ideas have influenced the design of the modern carillon.

Price wrote several hundred compositions and more than 500 arrangements for carillon. His Kellosavel Variations were selected at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki as an outstanding Canadian work. Like many of his other pieces, the Canadian Suite (early 1930s) was written for performance on the Peace Tower carillon. Among the published carillon works is Air for Carillon (OUP and Fischer). In addition to carillon solos and duets, he has written for carillon and choir, and carillon and various instruments. Among the last is a three-movement Concerto for carillon, brass, and percussion. His works not using the carillon include the Yamachiche Suite for piano trio or strings and The St Lawrence. Among the performances of the latter are two by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Jerzy Bojanowski in 1973. Price wrote 4 compositions and 20 arrangements for handbells.

In 1975 Price was elected honorary president of the World Carillon Federation.


The Carillon (London 1933)

Campanology, Europe 1945-47 (Ann Arbor 1948)

'Mr. Handel and his carillon,' Guild of Carillonneurs in North America Bulletin, vol 20, May 1969

'Japanese bells,' Studies in Japanese Culture II (Ann Arbor 1969)

Bells and Man (Oxford 1983)

Other articles in The Bell Tower, Bulletin of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, The Church Monthly, Dalhousie Review, EMC, Galpin Society Journal, and Overtones.

Further Reading