Music Liedekens, 15th- and 16th-Century Dutch Polyphonic Songs
Sienna M. Wood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0208


Comprising present-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, the Low Countries produced many important composers in the 15th and 16th centuries, including Guillaume Du Fay, Gilles Binchois, Jacob Obrecht, Johannes Ockeghem, and Orlande de Lassus. Despite the importance of these musicians, the dominant language of their homeland, Dutch, appears in only a small portion of their musical output. The Dutch liedeken (sometimes known problematically as the “Dutch chanson” or the “Dutch lied” [see Timothy McTaggart’s “Susato’s Musyck Boexken I and II: Music for a Flemish Middle Class” (McTaggart 1997, cited under Selected Studies of Liedeken Repertory) and the introduction to his edition of Tielman Susato’s Musyck Boexken, Books 1 and 2: Dutch Songs for Four Voices (see Susato 1997, cited under Modern Editions) for discussion on this point)] is greatly outnumbered by the Latin motet, Italian madrigal, and French chanson, but the study of this repertory can offer new insight into the values and aesthetics of the society that played such an important role in the music of western Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Furthermore, in the context of the Reformation and the Dutch Revolt (also known as the Eighty Years’ War), the liedeken became a symbol of nationalism and served as an instrument of political, religious, and national identity for those who were fighting for their independence. The study of this repertory has been undertaken primarily by Dutch and Flemish scholars, and many of the sources listed in this article were created by these excellent researchers. However, much of their output has been published in Dutch, which is not a language widely used in the international scholarly community. This article was created with this wider audience in mind, giving preference to English and French sources when available.

General Overviews

No substantial survey of the liedeken is available in English. English-speaking researchers are advised to begin with McTaggart 1997 (cited under Selected Studies of Liedeken Repertory) and the English summary in Bonda 1996. Bonda 1996 is the most current, in-depth overview, having supplanted the earlier Lenaerts 1933, while Schreurs 1986 offers a more concise survey. For a broad view of Dutch songs from the medieval period through the 19th century, see van den Borren 1949. Bossuyt 1999 offers an important discussion of terminology, a persistently problematic issue for this region and this repertory.

  • Bonda, Jan Willem. De meerstemmige Nederlandse liederen van de vijftiende en zestiende eeuw/The Polyphonic Songs in Dutch of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (With a Summary in English). Hilversum, The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Verloren, 1996.

    The most comprehensive and up-to-date general source on liedekens. Includes a summary in English. An appendix contains a listing of all known polyphonic songs in Dutch that includes a list of sources (both printed and in manuscript), an alphabetical list of incipits, an alphabetical list of composers, and a coded catalogue of song families (showing textual concordances). Much of the catalogue-type data from this volume is contained in the Dutch Song Database (cited under Reference Works, Catalogues, Databases).

  • Bossuyt, Ignace. “Review of Musyck Boexken, Books 1 and 2: Dutch Songs for Four Voices by Tielman Susato by Timothy McTaggart.” Notes 55.4 (June 1999): 994–996.

    DOI: 10.2307/899626

    In addition to the review of McTaggart’s edition (Susato 1997, cited under Modern Editions), Bossuyt’s article includes an important discussion of the proper use of terms such as “Netherlandish,” “Flemish,” “Dutch,” “Franco-Flemish,” and “Low Countries” as they pertain to music history.

  • Lenaerts, René B. Het Nederlands polifonies lied in de zestiende eeuw. Mechelen, Belgium: Het Kompass, 1933.

    Before Bonda 1996, this volume was the standard source on liedekens. Its major flaw is that it excludes all pieces with obscene lyrics—both from the narrative sections and from the appendix—and thus significantly misrepresents the body of work.

  • Schreurs, Eugeen. Het Nederlandse polyfone lied. Peer, Belgium: Musica-Alamire, 1986.

    Containing fewer than 100 pages, this book provides a more complete overview than McTaggart 1997 (cited under Selected Studies of Liedeken Repertory), but it is more succinct and accessible than Bonda 1996 or Lenaerts 1933. The book was compiled following a radio series by BRT 3 dedicated to liedekens and includes many images of original print and manuscript sources.

  • van den Borren, Charles. Geschiedenis van de muziek in de Nederlanden. 2 vols. Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 1949.

    This two-volume book covers the history of music in the Netherlands from the medieval period through the 19th century. The first volume covers music until 1600, with an in-depth discussion of liedekens on pp. 376–392. The index for both volumes can be found in the back of the second volume.

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