Royal Society for Music History of The Netherlands


The (Royal) Society for Music History of The Netherlands from 1868



The Royal Society for Music History of The Netherlands (KVNM) was founded in Amsterdam on 19 November 1868 under the name Vereeniging voor Nederlandsche Muziekgeschiedenis (Society for Music History of The Netherlands, VNM). The designation Koninklijk (Royal) was granted in 1994. The KVNM is the oldest musicology association in the world, closely followed by the English Royal Musical Association, which dates from 1874. The KVNM's founding father was Dr Jan Pieter Heije (1809-1876), a medical doctor in Amsterdam. His other pursuits included posts as secretary of the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Geneeskunst (Association for the Promotion of Medicine), chairman of the supervisory board of the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag, and secretary-general of the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst (Association for the Promotion of Music). Heije’s aim was to establish an institute for thorough historical research into the history of Dutch music. His initiative was a resounding success: within four months the society boasted 590 members. On 10 December 1868 Heije published a programme of work in which he urged everyone to pass on the results of their research so that he could register and publish them centrally. The first Berigten (Messages) series (about the composers Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and Carolus Hacquart) appeared in 1869 in the journal Caecilia. In the autumn of 1869 the first VNM printed music publication, Sweelinck’s Regina Coeli, appeared along with a short biography and bibliographical annotations by H. Tiedeman. Three yearbooks were published under the title Bouwsteenen (Building Blocks) in the seventies, and the first concert of early music tracked down by the VNM was held in Amsterdam on 15 April 1878. Three essential elements that evolved within that first decade continue to define the society to this day. The first of those key elements is the society’s aim to collect and publish material to make it accessible to those interested. Secondly, from the beginning, the VNM recognised the interrelationships between scholarship and practice. And finally, the VNM was and is a society whose members are active and involved.

Collecting and publishing

Collecting and publishing material about the history of Dutch music was a fitting pursuit for the second half of the nineteenth century, the period that saw the rise of modern humanities source research. Outstanding examples of this trend are the publication of the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach starting in 1851, and the Palestrina edition starting in 1861. The VNM also started to publish several ambitious series: the first issue of the society’s journal Tijdschrift van de VNM appeared in 1882, and the complete works of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (see picture), Jacob Obrecht and Josquin des Prez began appearing in 1894, 1908 and 1922 respectively. These series laid the foundations for the VNM’s tradition of publishing early music from The Netherlands which has earned the society its international standing. The VNM began broadening its publication policy in the 1960s to include Dutch music from other periods. A striking example is the publication of Eduard Reeser’s three-volume Stijlproeven van Nederlandse muziek 1890-1960 (Anthology of Dutch Music 1890-1960) between 1963 and 1977. Books also began to appear, such as the letters and documents of Alphons Diepenbrock (from 1962 onwards) and specialised works on organs and campanology. Today the society publishes books, journals and music editions in many fields, among which new scholarly editions of the complete works of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Jacob Obrecht, Josquin des Prez and Johannes Ockeghem. Several publications are the result of international collaboration, including the New Josquin Edition (a collaboration with the American Musicological Society and the International Musicological Society) and the Répertoire International de la Presse Musicale (a collaboration with the University of Maryland, USA.) The VNM has sometimes drawn criticism for its emphasis on scholarly pursuits. However, these activities would be more accurately characterised as a massive, but essential, effort to make the music of important European composers accessible to musicologists and practitioners. Dr Daniel François Scheurleer (1855-1927), a banker, music scholar and Maecenas from The Hague, deserves an honorary mention here. Apart from serving as chairman of the VNM from 1896 to 1927, he also provided the funding that made many VNM publications possible. The KVNM is strongly committed to continuing its activities in this area, because sound scholarly music editions, as well as high-quality studies, will always remain of fundamental importance.

The VNM and musical practice

The concert held in 1878 provides early evidence of the fact that the VNM recognised the interaction between scholarship and practice. There are several moments in VNM history that bear witness to this important idea. The Josquin publication might not have come about were it not for choirmaster Anton Averkamp. As early as 1915 Averkamp had lamented the fact that the complete works of Josquin were not available. As VNM vice-chairman, Averkamp invited Albert Smijers, who had recently received his doctorate in Vienna, to join the VNM board in 1919. This invitation was to have far-reaching consequences. Smijers initiated the publication of Josquin’s works in 1922 and, following a successful lobby by the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst and the VNM, was appointed the first Dutch professor of musicology in 1930. The VNM asked Gustav Leonhardt to join the editorial staff of its second Sweelinck edition. Symposiums held in 1984 and 1986 in preparation for the New Josquin Edition were organised in close cooperation with the Holland Early Music Festival (Holland Festival Oude Muziek) and the renowned ensembles that performed at the festival.

Society life

As a society the VNM has had its share of ups and downs since 1868. In the beginning, the members themselves were very active. This is illustrated, for example, by Jan Pieter Heijes’s request to the members to report their latest discoveries to him. This request met with an enthusiastic response and the results were published in three yearbooks, entitled Bouwsteenen, in 1872, 1874 and 1881. The subjects in the first edition of Bouwsteenen give a good impression of the material amassed by the members:

I. Composers, musicians, patrons of the arts and music writers
II. Organs, Organists and Carillonneurs
III. Instrument makers
IV. Church singers
V. Music printers and Publishers
VI. Portraits
VII. Medals and Commemorative coins
VIII. Miscellanea


The yearbooks reflect a veritable excavation of the archives and bear witness to an incredible eagerness. But then, in 1894, the major international projects began, especially the Sweelinck, Obrecht and Josquin editions. Obviously these projects consumed all the VNM’s resources, financial and otherwise, due in part to a thoroughness hitherto unseen in the Netherlands. While carrying out source research for the Obrecht edition, Johannes Wolf travelled extensively through Italy, Switzerland and Germany (1907-1908) at the society’s expense. Albert Smijers did the same for the Josquin edition in 1919 and 1920. These journeys were necessary for proper source research. It was impossible to order microfilms and it would be decades before the Internet would provide information about that kind of material. However, the inevitable result of these and other costly activities was that the VNM gradually evolved from a learned society into an academic publisher.

The VNM after 1960: broadening horizons

From the mid-sixties onward the VNM's publications reflect a broadening of interest in the period after 1600, and awareness of the society’s function as a professional association for musicology in the Netherlands began to increase. This development was in line with the social context of the time, just as the source studies had reflected the reigning spirit of the age in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The old VNM was a symbol of the established musicological elite, especially during the interwar period and in the forties and fifties. Not surprisingly, there came opposition to this, the main argument being that the discipline of musicology included more than the history of music in The Netherlands prior to 1600. The VNM broadened its scope considerably under the chairmanship of Eduard Reeser (1957-1971), as witnessed by the increase in the range of topics discussed during society meetings. On the initiative of chairman Paul Op de Coul, in 1989 and 1990 the VNM organised symposiums on Dutch music in the 1980s and musicology in the Netherlands in the 1990s. These were watersheds in the evolution of a relatively exclusive society, focused primarily on traditional scholarship, into an open society functioning as a forum for all musicologists and music history enthusiasts in the Netherlands.
The KVNM intends to stay upon this path. Up and coming musicologists are offered opportunities to publish in the Focus series. The Forum Commission plans the broadest possible programmes for the semi-annual society conferences. The KVNM participates in projects with other organisations, such as the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst, MuziekGroep Nederland (Netherlands Music Group), Stichting Samenwerkende Nederlandse Korenorganisaties (Netherlands Association of Choral Organisations) and the Vereniging voor Muziektheorie (Music Theory Association).

Developments until 2000
The conferences held in 1997-2000 focused on, among others, the following themes: recent developments in Dutch musicology, primarily in the areas of music and cognition, feminist musicology and music theory (Kruispunten, Spring 1997); Black American Music in Europe (Spring 1998; in cooperation with the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), Benelux Branch); Utrecht City of Music (Autumn 1998; in cooperation with the 1998 Festival of Dutch Music); the composer Henk Badings (Spring 1999; in cooperation with Stichting Evocantes (Evocantes Foundation)); evolution in early music practice (Authenticity and the Changing Face of the Middle Ages, Spring 2000.) The 1999 Autumn Conference was devoted to presentations on research in progress. The KVNM established a Werkgemeenschap Docenten Muziekgeschiedenis (Music History Teachers Study Group) in 1999. It began as an informal consultation group for music history teachers at Dutch conservatories. The study group discusses issues like the content of Music and Cultural History Studies in a multicultural society and the training of Culture and Art Studies secondary school teachers.


Recent developments

The formation of a completely new Board in 2011 was a relatively novel occurrence in the history of KVNM. It afforded the association the possibility to reconsider its internal structure and associated objectives with a sharp and critical lens. The new Board’s most pressing question quickly arose: is KVNM ready for the twenty first century? The result of internal reflection led to this realization: KVNM must develop into a more professional organization. Only in this manner can the association maintain its prestigious ‘royal’ title and renew its respected reputation into the future. Above all, KVNM, as an association of active musicologists, must fare comparably to international organizations. While the Netherlands recognizes a relatively small scholarly music sector, the KVNM believes that there is sufficient possibility to realize this ambition; with an emphasis upon maintaining and strengthening contact between the scholarly music sector and the music sector in general.