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In memoriam prof. dr. Louis Grijp

On January 9, 2016 Louis Grijp passed away due to a brain tumor at his home in Driebergen-Rijsenburg at the age of 61. He gained international renown both for his research in Dutch song and music culture, and as musician in the ensemble Camerata Trajectina.

Louis was born on January 23, 1954, in The Hague and passed away peacefully. He will be buried in a private ceremony. He is survived by his wife Annemies and their children Tessel and Floris.

Louis studied musicology at Utrecht University and guitar and lute at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. From 1990 on he was affiliated with the Meertens Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He went on to occupy leadership and coordinating positions at Meertens, including head of the Documentation and Research Centre for Dutch Song. In 2001 he added a position as professor of Dutch Song Culture, Present and Past, at Utrecht University. In 2003 he became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

‘Voetenbank’ (Database of ‘metrical feet’)

The Dutch Song Database was Louis’s creation, his life’s main project, his magnum opus: it constituted the convergence of his research, the accompanying documentation, and his musical practice. The idea for the Dutch Song Database was conceived in 1981, when pianist Louis Houët  of the KRO (Catholic Radio Broadcasting) commissioned Louis Grijp to write lute music for a radio-play commemorating the birth in 1681 of writer Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft. The radio-play was Hooft’s Geeraerdt van Velsen (one of Hooft’s best-known dramas); it contained imbedded songs for which the producers imagined some soft lute music as background while the texts were recited. According to Louis that was asking for trouble, for Hooft had not included any musical notation. The request initiated Louis’s life-long fascination with tracing and discovering music for which no notation was extant. As a young musicologist at Utrecht University he worked on many different projects, but was soon concentrating on ‘his subject.’ During a research appointment at the NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) Louis developed a method enabling him to use a song text’s meter (metrical feet) and rhyme scheme to find a suitable melody or melodies for it. Unique was Louis’s use of a digital database for this work, making him one of the pioneers in the use of digitization for arts research. This database became known as the ‘Voetenbank’ because it counted metrical feet in order to determine the kind of metrical pattern which could be matched to extant music.


In 1991 Louis graduated cum laude from Utrecht University under the supervision of Riet Schenkeveld with his dissertation Het Nederlandse lied in de Gouden Eeuw (Dutch Song in the Golden Age). In it he discusses at length ‘the mechanism of the contrafact’, the manner in which melodies and sometimes also song texts were reused to write new songs (‘contrafacts’). Such writing of new texts to existing melodies is something we in the 21st century witness only in this (peculiarly Dutch) custom at weddings and parties. But in previous centuries even the most venerated Dutch authors – Vondel, Hooft, Bredero – used this technique. Writing a contrafact has an important practical aspect, for an audience can join in the singing immediately and one does not need to incur the considerable expense of printing music. But contrafacts can also have a provocative aspect: a text mocking Geuzen (16th-century revolutionary ‘Beggars’), written on the tune of the well-known Beggars’ song ‘Wilhelmus’, has greater import than a similar song written on an unknown melody.  Studying contrafacts generates a great deal of information about social structures: who reacted to which author, group, or event? Who was in which network?

Dutch Song Database

With the Voetenbank that resulted from his doctoral work at Utrecht University Louis moved to the Meertens Institute in 1990, where he was cheek by jowl with the forerunner of his database, the card files of the Dutch Folksong Archive. These card files were ‘truly the Valhalla’[i], as he himself said in a 1995 interview. One of his colleagues there was Fred Matter, whose 1979 Bredero edition had been a great source of inspiration. The Voetenbank was renamed the Dutch Song Database, and where possible more detailed song descriptions were added. The Meertens- and Folksong Archives were mined for initial supplementary material, but Louis was highly successful in obtaining project grants which enabled him to exponentially increase the project’s geographical and temporal reach, locating hitherto unknown sources in places and for times never accessed before. From 1991 the initial 5,700 brief song notes grew to more than 170,000 detailed descriptions in 2016. The Song Database covers the 12th to the 21st centuries, has many extant texts and music in transcription or scan, and is based on sources from more than 300 different libraries and archives. In the past 25 years, more than a hundred colleagues, practicum students and volunteers have expanded the Song Database to its current breadth and depth, always assisted by an inspiring and enthusiastic ‘boss’ who was at the same time the Database’s major and most demanding user.

Multivalent Researcher

At the Meertens Institute, and later at Utrecht University, Louis expanded his area of research from the early modern period  to the present: ‘From Hadewijch to Hazes’, as his initial oration as professor at Utrecht University was titled, from renaissance song to dialect music and song festival, from individual songs to Dutch music in general. He was particularly interested in the relationship between ‘folk’ music and ‘art’ music. As main editor of the monumental Een Muziekgeschiedenis der Nederlanden (A Music History of the Netherlands, 2000) he seized his chance to highlight not only classical music but also popular and folk music. With a keen sense for both the spirit of the times and for new, immediately relevant research topics, he saw opportunities for publishing articles and editions which have proven key to further research and are often cited. In his dissertation, with its marriage between music and literature, he had already signaled that he would not be circumscribed by the borders of musicology, his main discipline. In his later work he added disciplines like ethnology and art history, and he supported music retrieval projects. He was an adept and valued collaborator, as the co-authorship of many of his published works testifies, and he was an active contributor to international groups such as the Kommission für Volksdichtung. His heart remained with Dutch song, however, especially if he was able to perform the results of his research with his musical ensemble Camerata Trajectina.

Camerata Trajectina

Louis’s research accomplishments and the Dutch Song Database are intrinsically bound up in his work as artistic director of and lute player in Camerata Trajectina. In an interview he himself said: “If I were to do only research, I would stagnate, if I were to only perform, I would miss the research very much[ii].’ With this ensemble he was able to perform the songs about which he wrote. Many of the group’s recordings are new to the repertoir
e, in the sense that musical reconstruction was necessary to render historical songs playable and singable. At the same time, Camerata’s performances were hardly archival editions: with its unique arrangement style, the ensemble brought (and brings) songs to life. Both their enormous repertoire and their ability to connect that repertoire to current concerns have earned them the justifiable reputation of being advocates for Dutch music from the Middle Ages to the Golden Age.  The ensemble added lustre to many important national commemorations and annually enriched the program of Utrecht’s Early Music Festival, this past spring with a beautiful CD featuring the music of the English composer John Dowland, the last CD made under Louis’s leadership. In 2014 Camerata Trajectina celebrated its 40th anniversary; as crowning celebratory moment, Camerata’s entire oeuvre was made accessible via the Song Database. All of their recordings can now be heard via the Database website.


Louis’s work received many distinctions and awards. For his dissertation he received the Erasmus Studieprijs (Erasmus Study Prize, 1991). This was followed by the Penning van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis (Medal of the Royal Society for Dutch Music History, 1995), the Vierjaarlijkse prijs voor oudere taal, cultuur en letterkunde van de Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal en Letterkunde in Gent (Quadrennial Prize for older language, culture and literature of the Royal Academy for Dutch Language and Literature, 2004), the Visser-Neerlandiaprijs van het Algemeen Nederlands Verbond (Visser-Neerlandiaprize of the General Dutch Union, 2005, together with Frank Willaert), and the Kruyskamp-prijs of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Kruyskamp Prize of the Society of Dutch Literature, 2012, with Willaert and Veerle Fraeters). Acclaimed CD-projects are the Antwerps Liedboek (2004) and the box Onder de groene linde (2008). In 2014 the Dutch Song Database received the Nederlandse Dataprijs (Dutch Data Prize) for humanities and social sciences.

Louis-Peter Grijp Lecture Series

Louis meant a great deal to his discipline, and we want to commemorate that importance in an annual lecture. He worked for the development of a research area, rather than on his personal research agenda; more particularly, he worked to develop a method which has already served to answer numerous research questions and which remains a source of inspiration. His teaching, executed with great pleasure, expertise and verve, managed to captivate a younger generation and engage them in ‘his’ subject. In order to give concrete form to the resulting ‘Grijp school’, the Research Group on Dutch Song and the Meertens Institute have set up the Louis Peter Grijp lecture series. This will take place annually on or near ‘The Day of Dutch Song’ (May 10, the day on which, in 1932, the Wilhelmus became the Dutch national anthem), given by a leading researcher in the area of song. The first lecture will be given by Mike Kestemont on May 10, 2016; its subject will be the computational methods whereby it might be possible to determine the authorship of the Wilhelmus.  

It is difficult to imagine the Meertens Institute without Louis Grijp. He was an extraordinarily successful and driven researcher who infused his research and led his research group with unparalleled passion. In addition he was very much concerned with the Institute as a whole. Above all, he was a pleasant and lively colleague who, to the end, thought along with others and about the future of the Meertens Institute. We will miss him tremendously.  

Hans Bennis (Director, Meertens Institute)

Martine de Bruin (Project Leader, Song, Meertens Institute)

Els Stronks (Professor, Utrecht University)

Translation: Hermina Joldersma

Photo by Annemies Tamboer: Louis on June 19 2015 during a concert in Zwolle. He is holding his favorite instrument: a reconstruction of a Dutch zither.  The original was excavated from a boat that sank in the Zuiderzee between 1620 and 1630. 

Links, if you would like to express your condolences. 

Biography Louis Grijp (in Dutch) 

Publications Louis Grijp

[i] Koenen, L. (1995). “Hadewych zingen gaat je niet in je kouwe kleren zitten”. Akademie Nieuws (35), 2-5 (

[ii] Rek, W. de (1995, 19 oktober). Van zangprieel en minnezucht. Utrechts Nieuwsblad.