What is the origin of the common bell chime motif?
There is an 8-note motif that is used by the chimes on bell towers, clocks and doorbells throughout the western world.
It is A-F-G-C, C-G-A-F then repeated. It can be hard at the beginning of Miles Davis version of the song "If I Were A Bell" from Guys and Dolls.
What is the origin of this motif?
I thought I knew the answer to this - but a bit of research showed me I was only half right.
I'd have said that the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, the UK's Parliamentary building, was the origin. However, it appears I'm wrong - it was the trigger for its popularity but not its origin.
The set of tunes is, though, known as the Westminster Quarters.
Wikipedia helped me out -
This chime is traditionally, though without substantiation, 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's Messiah. This is why the chime is also played by the bells of the so-called 'Red Tower' in Halle, the native town of 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 Civil Law, 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 (1775-1847).
In the 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.
Incidental information - the clock is not called Big Ben, the bell that chimes the hours is Big Ben, the clock is just the clock of the Palace of Westminster & actually doesn't really have a name.