Music in the Time of Vermeer: De Muiderkring (The Muiden Circle)
by Adelheid Rech
by Adelheid Rech
The Muiden Circle, a name given to a group of figures in the arts and sciences who regularly met at the castle of Muiden (fig. 1) near Amsterdam, brought together some of the Netherlands's leading figures of cultural life. When the famous Dutch poet Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft (fig. 2) took over sheriff and bailiff duties for the "Gooiland"1 in 1609, he was given the medieval castle Muiden2 to live in. There, for the following four decades, Hooft spent his summers in the castle where he invited his friends to entertaining summer gatherings. Among his most notable guests were the poets Joost van den Vondel and Caspar Barlaeus, the Secretary of the Orange Stadhouders Constantijn Huygens, the organist Dirk Sweelinck (son of the Amsterdam composer and organist Jan Pietersz. Sweelinck) as well as the wealthy merchant and poet Pieter Roemers Visscher with his daughters Anna, a well-known poetess and excellent flautist. Other visitors included Maria Tesselschade (fig. 3) , who possessed an enchanting voice and considerable talent for musical composition and poetry, together with her friend Francisca Duarte sr.
During these out of the ordinary summer gatherings everyone enjoyed the generosity of their host Hooft. Here, they had the opportunity to discuss the news, read poetry and philosophy, their latest literary efforts and, of course, to make music. Moreover, Hooft possessed a fine sense for the "dernier cri" (the latest thing) in the musical field. Huygens, who entertained important international relationships and possessed significant musical talents of his own, made significant contributions including his excellent accompaniment on the lute and theorbo. A well-known "schoolplaat" (fig. 4) from 1928 gives us an impression of De Muiderkring.
Maria Tesselschade ("Tesseltje") was no doubt the charming center and principal muse of this sophisticated circle. Her curious nickname, "Tesseltje" or "Texel damage," was given to her by her father who had lost a ship's freight in a heavy storm near the isle of Texel three months before her birth. "By all accounts, she was exceptionally comely, as well as gifted in viol, lute, harpsichord and song.
Like her sister, she was a skilled translator and commentator from Latin, Greek and Italian and a fair poetess in her own right."3 In any case, Maria maintained a close friendship with Hooft and often provided the circle with inspiration for poetry or ingenious wordplays. Their correspondence is one of the finest in Dutch literature. The list of her admirers reads like a directory of Dutch letters of the first half of the century: Bredero, Heinsius, Barlaeus, Vondel, Constantijn Huygens and Hooft being merely the most eminent.4 However, her lifelong friendship with Constantijn Huygens was marred by his deep resentments for her conversion to Catholicism which he did not hesitate to express in poems or contemptuous remarks. The well-known poet Gebrand Adriaensz. Bredero wrote at least two very sensitive elegies in her honor in which he relates the story of her name in a metaphorical manner. Perhaps they were put to the music of the popular Engelsche Fortuyn.
In a painting by Jan Adam Kruseman (fig. 5) are portrayed group of elegant ladies and gentlemen of the Muiden Circle assembled in a dark room who are listening attentively to the lady standing on the right. Kruseman portrayed the company in 1852, some two centuries after the Muiden Circle, so the painting must be based on existing portraits. The work has been on loan to Muiden Castle since 1943.
A poem by Constantijn Huygens to Maria Tesselschade concerning her conversion to Catholicism
Peter Davidson and Adriaan van der Weel: A Selection of the Poems of Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), Amsterdam 1996, pp. 126–127.
Mijn' Tong en was noijt veil, mijn' Penne noijt verkocht,
Mijn' Handen noijt in strick van Goud of Diamanten,
Mijn' Vrijheid noijt verslaeft, om met fluweele wanten
De waerheid aen te gaen, en anders dan ick docht.
Ja Tong, en Penn, en Hand, en Vrijheid zijn verknocht
Aan 't Vorstelick bevel dat onse Vrijheid plantten,
En tegen 't Spaensch geweld sijn weer-geweld dorst kanten,
En Babels (lijdt noch eens mijn' rondheid) vuijl gedrocht.
Maer 't Wereldsche gesagh en gaet niet aen de wortel
Van 'theilighe Gewiss. 'Ten is geen' strydigh' eer,
Een eeuwigh' God t'ontsien, en een' bescheiden' Heer,
Die lyden kan, en moet wat uyt de Waerheid bortel'.
Dus eisch ick U strengh recht; geen' gunste, geen' gena',
Beroemde, maer, eilaes! BeRoomde Tesselscha.
My tongue was never hired, nor my pen e'er sold
My hands were never snared by gold or jewels,
My freedom ne'er enslaved, so that I handled
The truth with velvet gloves, against belief.
Yes, tongue, pen, hand and freedom all have served
The princely order that our freedom sowed,
'Gainst Spanish force its counter force opposing,
And Babel's filthy creatures (I'll speak plain).
But worldly power strikes never to the root
Of holy knowledge; 'tis no contentious use
To fear eternal God, and a prudent Prince
Who can and does suffer what truth my yield.
So I ask justice of you, and no grace,
Famous, alas, but Papist Tesselscha.
A little love song by Maria Tesselschade