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What is ‘het Antwerps liedboek’?

16th century Antwerp: a cosmopolitan port city and the hub of the world. The city is bustling with languages, religions, nationalities and different means of payment. Fueled by the flourishing port, there is great urban diversity. The city is home to various communities with specific privileges and an ingenious political system is being set up. During the same period The Antwerp songbook was born.

The Antwerp songbook is a collection of songs, composed and published in 1544 by the printer Jan Roulans and consists of 221 old and new songs. The Antwerp songbook was a handy and practical booklet made for the inside pocket. The booklet was made to use like a record or videotape until it is worn, crumbled and finally completely wasted away. Which almost happened with the Antwerp songbook. Only one copy has survived the test of time.

And this one copy has come a long way. Today - almost 500 years and several reissues later - Het Antwerps liedboek is part of the Canon of Dutch literature. It is the oldest and most extensively printed songbook from the Low Countries that we have in our hands. The songs describe universal themes such as love, spirituality, class, gender roles and politics in a poetic, striking and at times contemporary-looking way. Through the songs, the Antwerp songbook offers us an insight into the functioning of an urban ecosystem that - although almost half a millennium older than ours - in some respects is remarkably similar to the Antwerp of today.