What is the sound of mourning? In early modern England, the toll of a bell, rung once for each year of a person’s life, announced death and called mourners to funerals.
These funerals, or obsequies, could be lavish. This manuscript details the spectacle of a knight’s funeral, including expenses for attire and banquet as well as payments to preacher, herald of arms, grave diggers, and “ryngars.” Typically, bells were rung right after a person’s death as well as before and after the burial. A ringer tolling the “lich bell” might accompany the corpse in a funeral procession.
Death also inspired powerful musical responses, found in the elegies that composers wrote for departed friends, teachers, and patrons. Like the tolling of bells, these musical tributes captured the sound of a person, a community, or a nation in mourning.