Music in the Time of Vermeer: Conclusion

Apart from the personal enjoyment found in listening to or making music in company, music has an additional effect which is as important today as it was in the seventeenth-century Netherlands: the capacity to build a bridge between different classes, different religions and different opinions. Music promotes respectful contact irregardless of nationality or religion. This is particularly meaningful where people with different histories must live in very close contact with each other—whether in our present day multicultural societies or those of past centuries.

The musicologist Frits Noske wrote in the preface to his study of the seventeenth-century Dutch motet, Music Bridging Divided Religions:

"Nowhere was the reconciling force of music during a period of religious conflict more evident than in the Dutch Republic. [There is] overwhelming evidence that the works of all [the various Roman Catholic or Protestant composers] were performed by adherents of both confessions, either at home or during sessions of the municipal collegia musica. The existence of this practice does of course not belittle the differences of dogma between the Churches of Rome and Geneva; it shows, however, that in Holland the general belief in music as a reflection of Divine Harmony overcame the religious antagonism provoked by a minority of clergymen, priest and laymen. In other words: the same people who on Sundays were damned from respective pulpits with invectives like "papist" and "heretic" joined their voices and instruments during weekdays to worship God or even to celebrate a saint. The cult of sacred music in the United Provinces was marked by an implicit (or explicit) ecumenical tendency."1

The "belief in music as a reflection of Divine Harmony" may have changed over time, but its "reconciling force" becomes always evident wherever people from different countries and different religions come together to make music whether in international orchestras or choirs, at international religious or other meetings, or in a rather private atmosphere.

We have taken a look at a very special century in the history of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces which was, despite the political and clerical restrictions and decades of war, indeed a Golden Age for the cultural life in this country. In no other century can we find such a concentration of great painters. The writers Hooft, Van den Vondel, Bredero and Cats produced some of the best of the Dutch literature brought forth the numerous beautiful song-books even though there was a conspicuous lack of, which despite the lack of a court or the church patronage.

I would like to close this little overview to the music in the Dutch seventeenth century with a few sentences by Louis Peter Grijp:

"Now we can better understand the paradox of the blossoming art and the diminishing music of the Dutch Golden Age. After all, they are both the outcome of the same bourgeois culture and we can also start to see parallels between them. Painters, like musicians, felt the lack of patrons in church or court. Otherwise, the role of art patron was adopted by the cities—just as they had musicians in service, so they commissioned works from artists. As we see it today, the strength of Dutch art lies not so much in its history pieces as in still lifes, landscapes, marines, portraits and genre painting and suchlike. Similarly, the strength of Dutch music lies not in the intricate polyphonic or Baroque compositions, but in that simplest of all genres—the song, that enjoyed an incomparable bloom here. This musical strength lay in the sheer delight in singing found among people of all classes, in an appetite for music that was fed and stilled not so much by composers as by poets. And it was the same people who were consumed by a desire for paintings and who bought them for their homes."2

Adelheid Rech
October 2005

Principal Sources

  • New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians – Grove Music Online: Low Countries
  • The Hoogsteder Exhibition of: Music & Painting in the Golden Age, eds. Edwin Buijsen and Louis Peter Grijp, The Hague, Zwolle 1994.
  • Een muziekgeschiedenis der Nederlanden, chief editor: Louis Peter Grijp, Amsterdam 2001.
  • Goldberg. The Early Music Portal (Leonora Duarte: Baroque Women IX)
  • Wikipedia. De vrije encyclopedie – Nederlands: / Kunst, cultuur en religie

Additional Sources (monographs only)

  • D.J. BALFOORT: Het muziekleven in Nederland in de 17de en 18de eeuw, Amsterdam 1938,
    rev. by R. Rasch, The Hague 1981.
  • Een muziekgeschiedenis der Nederlanden. Chief editor: Louis Peter GRIJP, Amsterdam 2001.
    [with CD-ROM]
  • The Hoogsteder Exhibition of: Music & Painting in the Golden Age, eds. Edwin BUIJSEN and Louis Peter GRIJP, The Hague, Zwolle 1994.
  • F. PEETERS et al: The Organ and its Music in the Netherlands, 1500–1800, Antwerp
  • J. van BIEZEN: Het Nederlandse orgel in de Renaissance en de Barok, Utrecht 1995.
  • F. NOSKE: Sweelinck, Oxford 1988 (Oxford Studies of Composers, 22).
    D. van den HUL: Klokkenkunst te Utrecht tot 1700, met bijzondere aandacht voor het aandeel hierin van Jhr. Jacob van Eyck, Deventer 1982.
  • D. LASOCKI, ed.: The Recorder in the 17th Century. Proceedings of the International Recorder Symposium Utrecht 1993, Utrecht 1995.
    [incl. R. van Baak Griffioen: 'A Field Guide to the Flowers of the Fluyten Lust-hof', 159–175; T.R. Wind: 'Jacob van Eyck's Fluyten Lust-hof: Composition, Improvisation, or ...?', 177–195]
  • L.P. GRIJP: Het Nederlandse lied in de Gouden Eeuw, Amsterdam 1991.
  • A.T. van DEURSEN, E.K. GROOTES and P.E.L. VERKUYL, eds.: Veelzijdigheid als levensvorm:
    facetten van Constantijn Huygens leven en werk, Deventer 1987. [incl. L.P. GRIJP: 'Melodieën bij teksten van Huygens', 89–107; F.R. NOSKE: 'Huygens de musicus: enkele aspecten', 129–140; R.A. Rasch: 'De muziekbibliotheek van Constantijn Huygens', 141–162]
  • F. NOSKE: Music Bridging Divided Religions. The Motet in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic, 2 vols. Wilhelmshaven 1989.
    [with social and musical background of the Dutch Republic and a chapter to Constantijn Huygens and his Pathodia Sacra et Profana]
  • S.A.M. Bottenheim: De opera in Nederland, Amsterdam 1946, enlarged by P. Wander, Leiden 1983.
  1. Frits Noske, "Music Bridging Divided Religions. The Motet in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic." vol. I, 7, Wilhelmshaven 1989. (Paperbacks on Musicology 10. Edited by Andrew D. McCredie in coll. with Richard Schaal)
  2. Louis Peter Grijp, "Music in the Golden Age," in: Music & Painting in the Golden Age, eds. Edwin Buijsen and Louis Peter Grijp, The Hague, Zwolle 1994, 78.