André Hazes stood in a centuries-long tradition. There is a direct line from the love-faithfulness he praised in ‘She believes in me’ to the eternal happiness that was poetically described by Joost van den Vondel three and a half centuries earlier in the words: ever found in the world…” Both of them brought an ode to unconditional love, however much their choice of words differed. Hazes would never have ventured into the image of ‘two souls, glowing forged together’, while Vondel probably would not have held out the prospect of ‘a future for both of us’. But the feelings were the same.
This unexpected connection between Hazes and Vondel is made plausible in the exhibition Ruud de Wild, Songbook. Travel along the most beautiful Dutch songs in the House of the Book museum in The Hague – also known by its former name Meermanno. The visitor is promised “a journey through the most beautiful Dutch songs”, which is somewhat chafing with the un-Dutch word Songbook in the title. This use of language probably bears the traces of the radio DJ Ruud de Wild, who acts here as guest curator and namesake. But there is hardly any further popularization. By means of pamphlets from earlier times, sheet music from the twentieth century and many open song bundles behind glass, the exhibition shows how the popular Dutch song has developed over the centuries. How it sometimes renewed itself. And how it – more often – reverted to traditional themes. It is not for nothing that the display is not chronological, but thematic. So that all the songs about love can be found together in one room. Just like all the songs about religion, parties, sailors and six other subjects.
The material has been collected by historians Garrelt Verhoeven and Martine de Bruin, who clearly know more about it than De Wild. They were also able to make use of groundbreaking research carried out twenty years ago by the now deceased song expert Louis Peter Grijp. This showed that many texts that have been mentioned as poems in historiography for many hundreds of years were originally written for singing. So they are not poems, but songs.
Grijp discovered that it was very common at the time to write lyrics to existing melodies. There was even a word for such texts set to existing music that is not in the Van Dale, but does have its own Wikipedia entry: contrafacts. For example, the thirteenth-century poet Hadewijch, whose poetry has been preserved, can now also be admired for the songs she wrote. Just like Vondel, by the way. His immortal stanzas about marital fidelity (and also, for example, about ‘Christmas night fairer than the days’) were not intended for solemn declamation, as the theater tradition dictates, but to serve as hymns. Conclusion: many of Vondel’s verses are also songs.
10 standout songs on Ruud de Wild, Songbook
If this new year ignites us (thirteenth century)
Little is known about the poet Hadewijch. She may have been a beguine, but she didn’t limit herself to religious or mystical poems. Her poetry is wonderfully versatile. See, for example, this New Year’s Eve song, whose medieval title simply stands for “When the New Year Begins.” A new year also means that everyone will soon start hoping for the coming of the season of love, according to Hadewijch. And when the time has come, the many lovers will also present themselves again – those who are going to suck in “the sweet love”.
Use of the minuses, that’s a game
That no one does ghetonen and mach.
And even though dies ceremony was not allowed then,
Hine const understand dies noe and plach:
How minne don’t want minne ende el
From all that he bescen that thought.
That magnifying glass and es not so fast
So of minuses, loupe es in of minuses.
2 GA Bredero
Most animals rest at night (1622)
The popular poet and playwright GA Bredero was a seventeenth-century writer who excelled in singing about love – with or without an amorous ending. In this song he describes the sad fate of a young lover who wanders lonely through the streets at night while “mercifully my dear” peacefully sleeping. Just as peaceful as the animals mentioned in the title.
I see it drifting swish
I see the bright Moon,
I see I have to stay
Just stand in despair!
Oh dear, want to rub me
With comforting admonition!
Bredero’s singing involuntarily evokes the atmosphere of Ramses Shaffy, who followed a similar route three and a half centuries later. But in his song ”t Is stil in Amsterdam’ he left the animals unmentioned.
Merck still how strong (1626)
Adriaen Valerius was a civil servant, later alderman and patrician – but best known as a poet. His best-known work was the collection Dutch Gedenck clanck in which he recorded a large number of beggar songs – partly of his own making – for eternity. This resounding example is about the relief of Bergen op Zoom during the Eighty Years’ War.
Merck how sterck now int werck sich already put!
Who’s all ty Soo fought our freedom:
See how he slaves, digs and drags with violence!
For our goods and our blood and our cities.
4 Joost van den Vondel
Waer became more loyal (1637)
Vondel wrote this verse for his play Gijsbrecht van Aemstel, as an ode to the conjugal love between lord of the castle Gijsbrecht and his wife Badeloch. He put his noble words in the mouth of the Rey van Burghzaten, the choir of castle residents that comments on the fears Badeloch has to endure while her Gijsbrecht defends the city of Amsterdam against the Kennemers and the Waterlanders.
Where did the righteous become faithful
than between man and woman
in the world ever found?
Two souls glowing forged together
or wired and connected
in love and sorrow.
5 Author unknown
Lord Halewijn (1838)
Lord Halewijn sang a song
all who heard that wanted to be with him
And a royal child heard that
She was so beautiful and so loved.
Zi stood before her father:
‘Oh, father, may I go to Halewijn?’
‘Oh no, thou daughter, no, thou not:
They go, and don’t turn back!’
Thus the opening lines of a famous ballad that had already circulated in the Middle Ages before a more or less definitive version was published in 1838. The song tells how sweet-voiced Halewijn seduces a king’s daughter into the forest with him, where she discovers that he has bloodthirsty plans for her. But she manages to behead the serial killer and returns home victorious.
There was held a banquet
The head was placed on the table.
6 JH Speenhoff
The civic guard/Here come the civic guards (1903)
Anyone who can effortlessly clap along to this marching rhythm, but who has never really paid attention to the lyrics, might think that the poet-singer JH Speenhoff wrote a song of praise about the then civilian militia of Rotterdam. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the armored Speenhoff was making fun of the militia of the time. “Here come the shooters, here they come”is not the correct text – it reads: “Here come the gunmen, they are paralyzed.” Because only with the help of a hearty gulp came “the male putters of Rotterdam” in action.
Here come the guards,
they are paralyzed,
the male putters
Oh what a glitter!
What guts do they make!
That comes from the bitter
And the sense of duty.
7 Jean-Louis Pisuisse
Man dare to live (1917)
Immortal motto of the Dutch cabaret: take matters into your own hands, don’t let others tell you what to do and what to believe. The text was written by the timber merchant Dirk Witte, who, according to experts, lived such a bourgeois life that it seemed as if he had meant those stinging words for himself – so bourgeois was his existence. The first version is written by master comedian Jean-Louis Pisuisse, and Ramses Shaffy also sang it many years later. Just like Wende Snijders and many others.
Life is wonderful, life is beautiful
but – fly out into the sky, and don’t crawl into a cage
man, dare to live!
Your head in the air, your nose in the wind
And don’t give a damn how anyone else thinks it!
Keep a heart full of warmth and love in your chest
But be a monarch on your square meter!
What you seek no one else can give you!
Man, dare to live!
8 Annie MG Schmidt and Harry Bannink
On a Beautiful Whitsun Day (1965)
Hundreds of other songs could just as well have been in this place, because the oeuvre of Annie MG Schmidt (text) and Harry Bannink (music) is almost inexhaustible. What they all have in common is a typically Dutch pitch in which a laconic kind of lyricism combines sublimely with perspective, irony and recognisability. Two fathers sing about how their daughters will one day break free from paternal authority:
She could be pregnant tomorrow
it’s still possible today
it could be from the wallpaper
or be a French singer
or someone from The Hague…
9 André Hazes
She Believes in Me (1980)
Call it a life song or a love song. André Hazes himself, the best blues singer in the Netherlands, described his genre as ‘life pop’. He exchanged the traditional accordion waltzes for the catchy pop rhythms of his generation and thus created a sound all his own. After his death, ‘She believes in me’ grew into the title song of a much-watched documentary and a much-visited musical. In fact, this song is also a contra-fact, because Hazes wrote the lyrics to the existing ‘She believes in me’ by American singer-songwriter Steve Gibb.
she was sleeping,
I asked her last night
“Wait for me”
Maybe I’ll be free earlier tonight
She nodded yes
But she knows me (oh yeah)
Now I’m standing in front of you
I lingered in the pub again…
10 Maarten van Roozendaal
Don’t Save Me (2000)
Your heaven is hell to me
A heaven with you is hell to me.
A fiery start to this new century: the free-spirited song of Maarten van Roozendaal, who died much too early. Let everyone adhere to a faith of their own choosing, says the text:
Put a rock under your pillow
Burn a candle for me
Slaughter a lamb
But don’t save me.
This singer is not waiting for redemption from a higher power:
Let me put my ass against the crib
let me this godless song
raise your hands to heaven
but don’t save me.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 20, 2022