Sheet music forms a special collection within the Royal Collections of the Netherlands. The oldest scores date from the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the heyday of Stadholder William V’s court orchestra. The library left behind at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam by King Louis Napoleon when he abdicated in 1810 also contained numerous volumes specially bound for him, including sheet music
The century of kings
The collection of sheet music grew considerably in the nineteenth century. The kings continued the efforts of their stadholder predecessors and promoted the musical tradition. King William I, for example, breathed new life into the court orchestra. The musicians not only played at royal dinners, musical soirées and balls but also performed in public concerts on Sundays at the Diligentia theatre in The Hague and accompanied the city’s French Opera which was flourishing at that time. And in 1826 the King established four conservatoires in the Low Countries: in Amsterdam, The Hague, Brussels and Louvain. King William III gave his support to young talent, and organised musical competitions.. The sheet music collection in the Royal Collections includes many orchestral pieces, opera scores and piano score reductions, tutorial works and compositions by recipients of royal patronage who were thus enabled to develop their musical talents.
Music for a wider public
The nineteenth century also saw more and more music performed in the home and community buildings. People played together in their own homes, but primarily music lovers came together in choirs and orchestras. As a wider public developed a love of music, so the number of people composing music for special occasions grew considerably. And many of them dedicated works to members of the House of Orange-Nassau. This trend reached a peak during the long reign of William III, but remained popular well after his death. The Royal Collections of the Netherlands contain the many fruits of these efforts. In particular such events as royal births, marriages, investitures, jubilees and deaths generated a flood of new commemorative compositions, but even when there was no special occasion the scores continued to flood into the palace. Whenever members of the royal family toured the country or paid an official visit, they were always welcomed with music and after the performance, the royal visitor frequently received a copy of the score.
The numerous letters which accompanied the musical tributes testify to their composers’ deep desire to honour a king, queen, prince or princess with a musical composition. For a long time it was customary to ask permission before dedicating a piece to a member of the royal family. Although this was sometimes denied, the gesture was usually gratefully accepted and so the collection of sheet music steadily grew. Not until the second half of the twentieth century did the flood of compositions slow, but to this day several new pieces a year are added to the Royal Collections of the Netherlands.
Many of the presented scores are produced with great care. They are often bound in leather or covered with velvet in a variety of colours, adorned with gold stamps and the edges of their pages gilded, with their title pages featuring elaborate calligraphy and illustrations.
In all, the collection contains about 6000 pieces of sheet music. Of the printed scores, those produced during the period of the stadholders in the eighteenth century form a special part of the collection. But also the handwritten scores give a good impression of the relationship between the Royal House of the Netherlands and the Dutch music world.