The Gamelan in Dutch Music
In 1920 musicologist Jaap Kunst undertook an assignment from the Dutch Government in Indonesia Government in 'Nederlands Indië' assessing the entire musical archipelago of the region. Primarily he began studying gamelan music in Java and Bali. Later he traveled to the Molucca Islands, the Sunda Islands, Nias and Celebes.
The Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam contains a large collection of Jaap Kunst’s photographs and wax rolls as well as an extended musical instrumental collection.
Kunst was the author of numerous publications related to Dutch Indonesia of that period. The earliest reference to gamelan performance in the Netherlands was the account of a costumed parade on May 5, 1857 in Delft, in honor of the Delft Student Union anniversary. One of the groups participating was with a gamelan performed by students of the Royal Academy, with dancers preceding them. The gamelan, that, on this occasion was carried, was part of the ethnographical collection of the Academy in Delft. Another unusual example of a cultural event is the dance performance by monarch MangkunegoroVII’s daughter, given in the Palace Noordeinde in 1937. Via a direct radio connection with Java, the gamelan musical accompaniment was heard in her father’s palace in Solo in the Far East.
Prior to World War Two there was a significant Javanese population in the Netherlands which organized cultural events. Various groups were established like “Insulinde”, “Ardjoeno”, “Bintang Mas” and “Tangkuban Prau”.
As of 1940, weekly gamelan and dance performances were staged at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. In 1941, Bernard IJzerdraad heard Javanese music for the first time in the Indonesian Institute (today known as the Tropical Museum). Assisted by Jaap Kunst, then the curator and director of the music department, a copy of a ‘slendro’ gamelan was constructed out of metal rubbish. Jaap Kunst, Bernard IJzerdraad, Ger van Wengen and other enthusiasts, known as the “Babar Lajar”, gave gamelan performances during the war years and thereafter at the Tropical Museum and on their own self-built gamelan.
Following the group’s collapse in 1956, Javanese musicians visiting the Netherlands utilized the Tropical Museum gamelan frequently. The early members of “Babar Lajar” also continued performing at the Tropical Museum or relocated their activities. Ger van Wengen, for example, initiated an educational program for children regarding gamelan playing in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.
Ernst Heins began in 1966 with frequent performances on the century old gamelan in the Tropical Museum. Today in the Netherlands there are numerous gamelan ensembles that solely focus on classical gamelan music from Java and Bali. The majority of the leaders of these groups have studied theory and practice in Indonesia. Moreover gamelans can be found in private ownership and in foundations.
Literature: The books listed below are available for reference in museum and university libraries:
Onno Mensink | Gamelan en andere gong-spel ensembles van Zuidoost-Azië,
(publication of the Municipal Museum of The Hague, 1982).
Other books on this subject are countless.
Jaap Kunst | Music in Java. Its history, its theory and its technique (The Hague 1973)
Jaap Kunst ½De Toonkunst van Bali (Weltevreden 1925)
B. de Zoete en W. Spies | Dance and drama in Bali (London 1958)
Ernst Heins e.a. | Wajang kulit: Het schimmenspel van Java, Indonesië (Amsterdam 1973), Hedi Hinzler | Wajang op Bali (Den Haag 1975).
Due to the intense presence of the Dutch in Indonesia in the 19th and 20th centuries, a large collection of gamelans has been built up in the Netherlands. The most interesting collections are today located in the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, the Municipal Museum of The Hague, Museum Nusantara in Delft and Museum Bronbeek in Arnhem. There is in private ownership of the Ensemble Multifoon in Amsterdam a Javanese gamelan tuned in the Western 12-tone system.
The Javanese gamelan was first heard in Europe during the World Exhibition in Amsterdam (1883) and in Paris (1878 and 1889). In addition to skeletons and results from archeological excavations, the visitors now encountered Indonesian people directly. The gamelan played in Paris is likely to be the same one played at the International Colonial Exhibition in Amsterdam (1883) and is now located in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. In 1898, a Javanese folk ensemble at the World Exhibition in Paris made a profound impression on composer Claude Debussy. A number of his piano works are clearly inspired by the gamelan music he heard at that time.
Balinese music was discovered at a later time in Europe and America. The first tour of a Balinese ensemble outside Indonesia took place in Paris in 1931. In that same year, the New Yorker Colin McPhee made an extensive study of Balinese music when he traveled to Bali. Other Americans, both composers and musicologists, influenced by the music of Java and Bali after 1940 include Mantle Hood, Lou Harrison, John Cage and Michael Tenzer.
Influences of gamelan music on Dutch composers
In the Netherlands, an expansive repertoire of contemporary music for gamelan has developed in the period after 1970. One of the first composers who undertook this venture was Ton de Leeuw with his composition Gending (1975). Thereafter, in 1977, the composition Liwung for gamelan pelog en tape by Will Eisma was completed. He composed this work for the instruments in the Municipal Museum in The Hague upon invitation by Onno Mensink.
Will Eisma composed subsequently another three works for gamelan:
Suara-Suara pada waktu fajar (1985) in commission for Elsje Plantema,
Mawar Jiwa (1992) in commission for Ensemble Gending and
Uguisu (1997) in commission for Shin Nakagawa in Kyoto, Japan.
As of 1988 numerous new works were composed by Klaus Kuiper, Barbara Woof, Chiel Meijering, Sinta Wullur, Paul Termos, Guus Janssen, Armeno Alberts, Jos Janssen, Roderik de Man, Jacob ter Veldhuis and others.
Leontien van der Vliet | Oost/West-relaties in de eigentijdse muziek; Nederlandse composities voor Javaanse gamelan nader beschouwd, Master’s thesis 1995, University of Amsterdam.
Nederland/Indonesia 1945-1995, een culturele vervlechting, [Z]OO producties, Den Haag 1995 (ISBN 90-74009-11-5). This book includes contributions by Sybrand Zijlstra, Ruud Spruit, prof. A. Teeuw, Peter van Zonneveld, Ernst Heins & Marleen Indro Nugroho-Heins, Sytze Smit, Edy Seriese, Dirk Vlasblom and others. One may also read the transcribed interview Sytze Smit conducted with Will Eisma.