New Music 101

Nederlanders: Merchants of Music, Then and Now

The Dutch (or Low Landers) dominated European musical life during the Renaissance, and emerged again after the Second World War as a force in new music.  In this short concert at Toronto Reference Library’s Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium (Yonge Street, one block north of Bloor), Continuum touches on music of the 16th century and the late 20th and early 21st centuries, written by composers from what is now The Netherlands.  This theme also demonstrates continuity with the past in art music; it was in recognition of the connection to the past that the name “Continuum” was chosen by a group of graduate students at UofT 29 years ago for its fledgling new music group.  

This concert also serves as foretaste of upcoming events in the Toronto concert season.  The modern Dutch contribution to music is explored in Gaudeamus: Deconstructed and Reconstructed, Continuum’s co-presentation with the Canadian Section ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music), the Music Gallery and Arraymusic, April 3 – 5. 


  • Josquin des Prez – La Bernardina, Ile fantasies de Joskin (arranged for piano)
  • Richard Ayres – music-with-running-from-left-to-right-and-back-again (violin, piano, drums)


  • Aaron Schwebel, violin
  • Stephanie Chua, piano
  • Ryan Scott, percussion

Josquin (circa 1440 – 1521) was born in Hainaut (Flanders), served as choirboy in Saint-Quentin (French-Flemish border town), and worked in Aix-en-Provence, Ferrara, Milan, possibly Hungary, Rome, back to France, back to Ferrara, finally living out his days in Condé-sur-l’Escaut (near the France/Belgium border). Richard Ayres (1965 – ) was born in Cornwall England, spent part of his childhood in Ethiopia, and studied in Germany, England and the Netherlands, before settling in the Netherlands.

Josquin was the prime exponent of the last phase of what is known as the Netherlandish School, a style of polyphonic music developed in the Burgundian region in the 15th and 16th centuries. During the periods of stability (which alternated with marked instability – invasions, whole scale destruction, plague) the region was a centre for cultural activity.

Both towns associated with Josquin’s early life, Hainaut and Saint-Quentin, were part of the Dukedom of Burgundy.  Hainaut was transferred though marriage (and at the extinction of the male line of the Burgundian dukes) to the Habsburg Netherlands in 1482, and to the Spanish Habsburgs in 1556.

What we can take from these few facts is that Josquin came from an area and a time that was marked by support of the arts, and by internationalism (or more accurately, inter-overlordship) – a place where border trade was important, and a time when borders, hence allegiances were fluid.

While in the Renaissance Italy was the magnet, more recently the Netherlands has been mecca for contemporary art in general and music in particular, drawing performers and composers from all parts of the world to study and live.  In the background of both periods is the wealth necessary to finance the arts: in the renaissance, through trading in textiles, spices, international banking, the church – or simply the trade of territories themselves; in modern times the wealth of the Netherlands derives principally from North Sea gas, but also from early investment in technology, from design, and from banking (that is, until the recent economic meltdown.)  Means meeting with the mixing of people and ideas – this is the underpinning of the extraordinarily vibrant musical activity in both places and times. 

To explore these and other ideas around local and global sound in music, be sure to attend the roundtable discussions of Gaudeamus: Deconstructed and Reconstructed, April 3–5.

  • New Music 101
  • Monday March 17, 2014, 7 pm
  • Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium, Toronto Reference Library
  • 789 Yonge Street, north of Bloor
  • Free admission