Concerto d’Amsterdam and Geert Mak showed, in this concert, how the Netherlands in 1672 struggled to fend off the French, but easily gave in to their music. Music was very important to Louis XIV. The Sun King promoted art and culture to the greater glory of himself and of France. This represented an enormous stimulus for sculpture, painting and architecture and for music. He commissioned composers to write pieces for him, and many concerts and plays were staged. Often the king himself also participated. The whole of Europe feared the French king, but at the same time admired his court culture, an admiration that had major consequences for the history of music, but also for architecture, furniture and cookery, for example. In Het Rampjaar 1672 – In Music and Stories , text and music are interwoven to make the second bloodiest war on Dutch territory tangible. A story, and certainly as told by Geert Mak, are able to move, disturb or amaze. The music adds a wonderful dimension to this period of Dutch history.
Our correspondent Jacob John Shale was at the concert at the Walloon Church in Amsterdam and afterwards secured this exclusive interview with Geert Mak
The first thing I wanted to ask was in relation to a previous interview of yours I had heard, where you were talking about the mistake of viewing a lot of European culture as emerging in isolation. You gave the instance of Rembrandt. You said it was a mistake for him to be regarded as a solitary genius.
Oh yes. Rembrandt also came to this church with Jan Six – Jan Six was a great friend of his – and after the church, they went to the house of Jan Six and spent a whole afternoon looking at all kinds of pictures and paintings Jan Six had brought with him from Italy. Really, it was a ritual, to look at Italian artists. Everybody was influenced by each-other. So it is totally nonsense to talk about national art. For instance, the poets, music: they stole everything from each-other. So all kind of songs in Dutch were in fact Italian songs or French songs.
I always think of the height of that cross-cultural pollination of Europe as being Modernism. Would you say that this is something that is still on going to the same extent or would you say that it has diminished?
I think there is more exchange than ever. Because of the internet, of course, and the possibilities to travel. The trip to Italy cost at least two months. To come to Rome from here took a year. The Italian trip was very important for youngsters, I think everywhere in Northern Europe, especially here. Every educated man in the seventeenth century with rich parents spent at least a gap year in Italy. And there they met each-other, they influenced each-other. I think that when you go to Versailles, there you see, for instance, the French King really wanted to develop a national art, a national culture. But when you are honest, and you walk through Versailles, it is also very impressive, but in the end not very interesting. It is the seventeenth century palace of Donald Trump. What makes art interesting is always the exchange of cultures, always. National art is almost dead.
To return to your speech. What would you say explains the contemporary urge amongst the Dutch to ‘be English’, to appeal to the Americans?
For a few years, when the Dutch went together with Belgium at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Netherlands could be a small but important power on the European field. But with the independence of Indonesia, when the Dutch lost this colony, they projected their feelings more onto the United States and the Anglo Saxon world. Everything has forgotten it, but before the Second World War the Dutch intellectuals were specially oriented on Germany. My mother, for instance, read all the German classics, much more than the English or the Americans. Only after the Second World War did America become very popular in Dutch society and among intellectuals. I think now that the orientation on America is very, very strong. I think Holland is the most Americanised country of all the European countries.
Do you think that is in a sense regrettable? That Germany literature, for instance, is not so prominent?
For sure it is regrettable. I think it will change slowly. Now it is changing, but it took more than half a century after the Second World War before it changed. Of course, it is a very interesting culture, and we are living next to it. The Dutch are very German, too. They don’t want to be. The Dutch want to be British or Americans.
Please note, the readings are in Dutch.
Photo by VINCENT MENTZEL
Further tour dates
November 25, Lutheran Church, Woerden
November 26, Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague
November 27, Theater De Maagd, Bergen op Zoom