The instrument now known as the glockenspiel is a mixture between the fusion of two other different instrument types, the actual glockenspiel with real bells and the metallophone. The actual glockenspiel is made of a set of bells of different ranges. One or more musicians play a number of overlapping melodic sequences. The exact number of musicians required for carillon’s mechanical playing action truly depends on the size of the instrument.
In Germany the fixed bells playing in churches or town hall belfries is known as Beiern. There are many places where the sequence of notes is played by an automatic mechanism performed by a clockwork device. This type of music is still very much an active and exciting part of local tradition in many areas in Germany and a great tourist attraction. Smaller glockenspiels worked on the same notes sequence principle.
The first composer that wrote music for the glockenspiel in the orchestra was Georg Friedrich Handel who included the piece in his oratorio Saul (1738). He used an instrument called carillon that had a range of two and a half octaves and had metal bells – or bars – that were played througha chromatic keyboard. The final sound was supposed to be like of metal hammers beating on anvils.
For his Magic Flute (1791) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a glockenspiel which was basically the same as the one Handel had used. He used the glockenspiel to define Papageno, the bird catcher with his magic bells.
The Dutch idea of replacing the complicated bells with simple bars was widely embraced in the first half of the 19th century as it was a more practical asset. The result was the keyboard glockenspiel where the bars were struck by small hammers controlled by keys. This new instrument made it possible to perform parts which had previously been written in keyboard style.
Today the keyboard glockenspiel or the celesta invented in Paris in 1886 by Auguste Mustel is used to play older parts containing chords and mostly difficult glockenspiel parts.
In wind bands the bell lyre is used, as this is a portable version of the glockenspiel created for marching bands that was already widespread in Germany in the 19th century. Today this instrument is used in many countries, but mainly in the USA.