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Westminster Quarters striking six o'clock
The Westminster Quarters
is the most common name
for a melody used by a set of clock bell
to strike the hour. It is also known as
the Westminster Chimes, or the Cambridge
Chimes from its place of origin, the church of St
Mary the Great, Cambridge.
The melody consists of five different permutations
of four pitches in the key of
. The pitches
The permutations are:
- g 4, f 4, e4,
- e4, g 4, f 4,
- e4, f 4, g 4,
- g 4, e4, f 4,
- b3, f 4, g 4,
played as three crotchets
and a dotted minim
different sequence of these permutations is played at each
quarter-hour: one set at the first quarter, two sets at the half,
and so forth, as follows:
hour strike is followed by one strike for the number of the hour by
Big Ben (e3) (one strike for one o'clock, two
strikes for two o'clock, etc.).
||(4) (5) (1)
||(2) (3) (4) (5)
In other words, a cycle of five permutations, (1), (2), (3), (4),
(5), is repeated twice during the course of an hour. For a clock
chiming mechanism, this has the advantage that the mechanism that
trips the hammers need only store five sequences (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
instead of ten. The mechanism then plays two complete sets of five
sequences for each complete hour. In musical terms, the first and
third quarters finish on the dominant
(B), whilst the second and fourth
quarters (the half and full hours) finish on the tonic
(E). This produces the very satisfying
musical effect that has contributed so much to the popularity of
This chime is traditionally, though unsubstantiatedly, believed to
be a set of variations on the four notes that make up the fifth and
sixth measures of "I know that my redeemer liveth" from Handel
. It was written in 1793
for a new clock in St Mary the Great, the University
Church in Cambridge.
There is some doubt over exactly who
composed it: Revd Dr Joseph Jowett, Regius Professor of
, was given the job, but he was probably assisted by
either Dr John Randall
(1715-99), who was the Professor of Music
from 1755, or his brilliant undergraduate pupil, William Crotch
mid-19th century the chime was adopted by the clock
tower at the Palace of Westminster (where Big
Ben hangs), whence its fame spread.
It is now
possibly the most commonly used chime for striking clocks
The chime is also used in some doorbells
and school bells
. Most Japanese and
Taiwanese schools play the chimes to signal the end and beginning
According to tradition, the tune has words: "O Lord our God/Be Thou
our guide/That by thy help/No foot may slide." An additional
rendering of the lyrics changes the third line: "O Lord our God/Be
Thou our guide/So by Thy power/No foot shall slide." A variation on
this, to the same tune, is sung at the end of a Brownie
meeting in the UK. "Oh Lord
our God/Thy children call/Grant us Thy peace/And bless us all".
According to an inscription in the clockroom of Big Ben, the lyrics
are "All through this hour/Lord, be my guide/And by Thy power/No
foot shall slide."
The melody of the Westminster Quarters has been used in many other
clocks. Among the musical works that make specific reference to the
- Louis Vierne, the French
organist-composer, quoted the tune repeatedly in his organ piece
Westminster. But his tune is slightly different from the
- A London Symphony, by
Ralph Vaughan Williams,
quotes the quarters at the beginning and end of the piece
(according to the quotation, only a quarter of an hour has passed,
although the symphony is considerably longer).
- A very similar melody occurs in Johannes Brahms's Symphony No. 1, 4th movement, beginning at m. 30,
played by solo Horn in the key of C major. The composer wrote that
it was a quotation of an alphorn call he had
heard. This melody predates the quarters; although the symphony was
not performed until 1876, Brahms's sketches for it date from
- The Westminster Waltz, a 1956 piece of light music by Robert
Farnon, similarly quotes the chimes a number of times during
the piece. For many years, it was used as a linking theme for the
radio programme In Town
- Alan Menken, American musical
theatre composer, quotes the chimes during the overture and
denouement of the 1994 musical adaptation of "A Christmas
- The theme tune to Yes
Minister (a satirical British sitcom), written by Ronnie Hazlehurst, is based on the
- The introduction to "Workaholic" by 2
Unlimited. A sample from this version is also played at
Stadium on offensive plays
resulting in the Yankees scoring a
chimes (in a marching band
arrangement) are also used in the introduction to "Carmen Ohio", the school anthem of The Ohio State
University. This is a reference to the familiar bell
tower of Orton Hall on the OSU campus, the bells of which play the
chimes on the quarter hour.
chimes, played by the brass section of the Pride of the Rockies
Marching Band, introduce "Ah, Well I Remember," the Alma mater for the University of
- The chimes (originally from a nearby clock tower) are the basis
of the Portsmouth F.C. chant
Pompey Chimes. The original words as printed in the
1900-01 Official Handbook of Portsmouth FC, were: "Play up Pompey,
Just one more goal! Make tracks! What ho! Hallo! Hallo!!"
- Claude Gagnon quotes the quarters in his composition for guitar
trio Alice au pays des merveilles (1995). Not only is the
tune quoted, but it is used as the basis for composition.
- The Cheap Trick song "Clock Strikes Ten" references the quarters in the
Norwegian band Turbonegro uses the
melody in a part of their song "The Age of Pamparius".
- Fans of both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs used
this tune in their songs about Emmanuel Adebayor prior to his move to
Manchester City; the difference
being that one praised him and the other was somewhat racist.
- The beginning of the chimes is also used by Arsenal and rival supporters alike in football chants commenting upon either the
occurrence of the Arsenal team toying with their opponents: "Same
old Arsenal, taking the piss!" for fans of the former, or the
occurrence of unsportsmanship from the Arsenal team: "Same old
Arsenal, always cheating!" used by the latter.
- Japanese schools from elementary level to high school use the
chimes to indicate the start and finish of classes.
- The song "London" from Patrick
Wolf's first album Lycanthropy uses the quarters as a
bridging point at various points.
- Several electronic civil defense
sirens such as the Federal Signal
EOWS use the hourly chime for testing
- Eddie Van Halen used the chime
for the background harmonies for his guitar solo in "Jump".
- The tune is used in the guitar solo of the song "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" by the Irish rock
- Claimed for example by Harrison, "Tolling Time", note 16 in Music
Theory Online 6/4, October 2000.