Perspectives on Early Music in Flanders

From historically informed performance to historically informed experience
Early music is big in Flanders. The situation has changed since the 1970s or 1980s, when early music was a niche repertoire that only appealed to connoisseurs: alongside the standard classical and romantic repertoire, it is now the most often performed segment in classical programming – and the one that attracts the biggest audiences as well.

Supply and demand have gone hand in hand: whereas early music used to be the exclusive domain of a few specialised festivals such as Musica Antiqua – Flanders Festival Bruges and, somewhat later, Laus Polyphoniae – Flanders Festival Antwerp, it is now a significant part – if not the absolute mainstay – of the classical music on offer at all the major concert halls: AMUZ, BOZAR, Concertgebouw Brugge, de Bijloke, deSingel, and Flagey.

What exactly ‘early music’ is cannot be defined in detail here, and neither does it need to be. Nor do we need to go into exactly how ‘early’ (in terms such as early music and frühe Musik) or ‘ancient’ (musique anciennemusica antiquamúsica antigua) it is.

Although ‘early music’ was initially understood to mean the repertoire of the Middle Ages up to and including the Baroque, this description has changed significantly over the last thirty years. 

More and more often, the repertoire of the classical, romantic and early twentieth century periods is performed in a historically informed manner and brought under the banner of ‘early music’ internationally.

The standard term for this kind of performance is ‘HIP(P)’ (historically informed performance practice). Much has been written about the hows and whys of historically informed performance, especially with arguments for and against, in the spirit of ‘historical authenticity’ or recreating it as precisely as possible. Aside from the debate over content, other authors have identified the authenticity movement as an academic, aesthetic, sociological or economic phenomenon (1).

In this text, we will understand historically informed performance as the aim for a performance practice that responds as well as possible to customary practice (or what we know about it) at the time when the work in question was created. An approach of this kind can be used to perform Dufay, Beethoven, Mahler, or Stravinsky in a historically informed manner – or even the electronic compositions of the serialists from the 1950s.

Below, we will use the terms ‘early music’ and historically informed performance in the broad sense of the terms. We will briefly consider the recent history of the early music movement in Flanders, situate a few current tendencies and risk a few predictions for the near future.

1 Historically Informed Performance Practice in Flanders, 1950-2000

Previous history

The interest in ‘early music’ in the broadest sense of the term clearly does not come from nowhere, neither in Flanders and Belgium, nor internationally. The historical interest in the performance of early music dates back to the eighteenth century. After initiatives to revive the music of Handel and his contemporaries in England by the Academy of Ancient Music in London (1726), the trend spread to the continent.

In the nineteenth century, the Belgian François-Joseph Fétis founded the magazine La Revue musicale in Paris (1827), where he organised the first concerts historiques in 1832. The adage ‘when it rains in Paris, it drizzles in Brussels’ also applied in the nineteenth century, perhaps even more so than today, because when Fétis was appointed the director of Brussels Conservatory in 1833, he continued the series of historic concerts there. The repertoire consisted of music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, performed on early instruments that mainly came from his own collection.(2) Among Fétis’ successors as directors or librarians at Brussels Conservatory, we find key figures in the renaissance of early music, including the director François-Auguste Gevaert, who was considered an authority on Gregorian chants and also organised historical concerts, and the librarian Alfred Wotquenne, who published the collected works of Grétry and catalogues of the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Christoph Willibald von Gluck.(3)

Elsewhere in the country, specifically in Mechelen, a tradition arose of organ accompaniments to Gregorian chants and the performance of Renaissance polyphony in large choirs.

Key figures included Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, who became the first director of the School voor Godsdienstige Muziek in 1878, later to become the Lemmens Institute, and Jules Van Nuffel who founded the Sint-Romboutskoor in 1916 and directed the Lemmens Institute from 1918 onwards. As well as being performed, the music was published in Romanticized adaptations. As ahistorical as they may have been, these editions did make the music accessible again for the first time in centuries.

An important personality in the first half of the twentieth century was Paul Collaer. In 1933, he founded the Association des concerts anciens et modernes, and later the Société de musique ancienne. When he became the director of the NIR in 1936 (Nationaal Instituut voor Radio-Omroep, the forerunner to today’s Flemish broadcasting corporation, the VRT), he promoted both old and new music there.(4) From an international perspective, Safford Cape was significant as well: also in 1933, he founded his pioneering ensemble Pro Musica Antiqua in Brussels. Musicologically, his approach was based on his own research but especially also that of the musicologist Charles Van den Borren, incidentally his father-in-law, who specialised in the music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The influence of Pro Musica Antiqua’s recordings would have a long-lasting effect on the image of music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.(5)

Huelgas Ensemble

From 1950 onwards

The historical roots of the early music landscape in Flanders today can be found in the years following the Second World War. After modest beginnings in the 1950s, renowned ensembles that are still famous today mainly began to make a name for themselves in the 1970s (Table 1). Groups such as La Petite Bande, Ensemble dell’Anima Eterna, Collegium Vocale and Huelgas Ensemble were often founded by one or more of the ‘big names’ that still adorn today’s early music landscape. Musicians such as Paul Dombrecht, Philippe Herreweghe, René Jacobs, Sigiswald, Barthold and Wieland Kuijken, Jos Van Immerseel, and Paul Van Nevel each played a key role in the development of a historically informed performance practice, both in Flanders and internationally, in their search for historically appropriate instruments with the corresponding playing and performance techniques and tunings.

Table 1: Overview of early music ensembles in Flanders, 1950-2000

EnsembleFounderFromToCore Instrumentation Stylistic period
Musica Polyphonica Louis Devos19501998Vocal & instrumental Baroque & classical
Alarius EnsembleRobert Kohnen, Wieland Kuijken, Janine Rubinlicht19541972Instrumental Baroque & 20th century
Parnassus EnsembleJohan Huys19661983 (6)InstrumentalBaroque & classical
Collegium Vocale(7)Philippe Herreweghe1970 Instrumental & vocalRenaissance – 20th century
Huelgas EnsemblePaul Van Nevel1971 VocalMiddle Ages, renaissance, 20th century
La Petite BandeSigiswald Kuijken1972 InstrumentalBaroque & classical
Capella Currende (8)Erik Van Nevel1974 Vocal Renaissance – classical, 20th century
Pandora (9)Marcel Ketels1976 InstrumentalMiddle Ages & renaissance
Telemann ConsortMarc Peire19762001Instrumental & vocalBaroque & classical 
Kuijken TrioSigiswald, Barthold, Wieland Kuijken1978 Instrumental Baroque & classical
Capilla FlamencaDirk Snellings19792013Vocal-instrumentalMiddle Ages, renaissance, 20th century
OctophorosPaul Dombrecht19842015InstrumentalBaroque & classical
Kuijken StrijkkwartetSigiswald Kuijken1986 InstrumentalClassical
Ensemble dell’Anima Eterna (10)Jos Van Immerseel1987 Instrumental Renaissance – 20th century
Vier op ’n rij (11)Bart Spanhove19872018InstrumentalRenaissance, barok, 20th century
Il GardellinoMarcel Ponseele & Jan De Winne1988 InstrumentalBaroque – 20th century
Ex TemporeFlorian Heyerick1989 Vocal & instrumentalBaroque – romantic
Il FondamentoPaul Dombrecht19892015InstrumentalBaroque & classical
Paul Rans Ensemble (12)Paul Rans1989 Vocal & instrumentalMiddle Ages & renaissance
RomanesquePhilippe Malfeyt19892004Instrumental Renaissance
UltreyaMartina Diessner, Peter Van Wonterghem1990 InstrumentalMiddle Ages – renaissance
More MaiorumPeter Van Heyghen & Kris Verhelst1993 InstrumentalRenaissance & baroque
OltremontanoWim Becu1993 InstrumentalRenaissance & baroque
La CacciaPatrick Denecker1995 InstrumentalMiddle Ages & renaissance
Zefiro TornaJurgen De bruyn1996 Vocal & instrumentalMiddle Ages – baroque, 20th century
Ensemble ExplorationsRoel Dieltiens19962010InstrumentalBaroque – romantic
Sospiri ArdentiGeert Van Gele1998 Vocal & instrumentalBaroque  
graindelavoixBjörn Schmelzer1999 VocalMiddle Ages – baroque
PsallentesHendrik Vanden Abeele 2000 VocalMiddle Ages & renaissance

One of the first post-war ensembles for early music in Flanders was Musica Polyphonica, founded by Louis Devos in 1950 for the performance of baroque repertoire. They made more than twenty recordings on the French label Erato, including a significant recording of the Messe des Morts by François-Joseph Gossec (1989); other projects covered the music of Fiocco, Schütz, Charpentier, Scarlatti, Graun, Zelenka, Mozart and others.

Between 1954 and 1972, the Alarius Ensemble was one of the most important pioneers, with members including Charles McGuire and Barthold Kuijken (flute), Sigiswald Kuijken and Janine Rubinlicht (violin), Wieland Kuijken (cello) and Robert Kohnen (keyboards); the young René Jacobs was regularly invited as a singer. The ensemble played both contemporary music on modern instruments and historic repertoire on historic instruments. As a contemporary music ensemble, the Alarius Ensemble was the forerunner of the later Musiques Nouvelles; as an early music ensemble, it was absorbed into La Petite Bande in 1972. (13)

Furthermore, the Parnassus Ensemble was founded in 1966. Many musicians who would go on to become ‘big names’ in early music took the first steps in their careers in this ensemble, in particular Paul Dombrecht (baroque oboe), Barthold Kuijken (traverso), Johan Huys (harpsichord), and Oswald Van Olmen (recorder and traverso). Two Dutch musicians also made their debuts with the ensemble: Janneke van der Meer (baroque violin) and Richte van der Meer (baroque cello). Between 1976 and 1983, the ensemble made various recordings of music from the German Baroque (Telemann, Johann Christian Bach, Fux and Buxtehude), and in 1979 they made a recording with René Jacobs and the Kuijken consort for the Accent label.

From an international perspective, a handful of established ensembles can be found that were the contemporaries of the Alarius Ensemble and the Parnassus Ensemble in the 1950s and 1960s. Examples include the Deller Consort (Alfred Deller, 1948), Pro Musica Antiqua (14) (Noah Greenberg, 1952), Concentus Musicus Wien (Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1953), Boston Camerata (Narcissa Williamson, 1954), Studio der frühen Musik (Thomas Binkley, 1960), Early Music Consort of London (David Munrow, 1967), Clemencic Consort (René Clemencic, 1968), and Pro Cantione Antiqua (Bruno Turner, 1968).

Currende vandaag


The 1970s marked the birth of four ensembles that decisively paved the way for early music and HIP in Flanders: the Collegium Vocale, Huelgas Ensemble, La Petite Bande and Capella Currende. With these ensembles, Belgium kept pace with developments abroad. They belong to the generation of internationally renowned ensembles in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, France and Canada (Table 2). In the same decade, Philippe Herreweghe also founded the ensemble La Chapelle Royale in Paris, which is a French ensemble in administrative and organisational terms, and René Jacobs created his Concerto Vocale in Amsterdam.

Collegium Vocale was founded by the pianist Philippe Herreweghe in Ghent in 1970. It soon began to devote itself to the historically informed performance practice of baroque vocal music (Bach in particular), guided by rhetoric, comprehensibility of the text, and transparency. The ensemble progressively extended its repertoire from this initial focus to include the Romantic and contemporary periods, which resulted in an extensive discography (Harmonia Mundi, Virgin Classics, Phi) ranging from Byrd to Janáček. Collegium Vocale has its own instrumental ensemble, but works regularly with other instrumental ensembles as well.

The reinterpretation of music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance was the leitmotif for Paul Van Nevel and his Huelgas Ensemble, founded in 1971. The connection with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis was crucial. It enabled Paul Van Nevel to put masters such as Johannes Ciconia and his contemporaries in Liège in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries on the map, along with Philippus de Monte and many other Franco-Flemish polyphonists.

His nephew Erik Van Nevel set up the ensemble Capella Currende three years later, with the aim of performing vocal polyphony focused on the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They worked with ensembles including The King’s Noyse (US) and Concerto Palatino (IT) led by Bruce Dickey and Charles Toet, in which the Flemish sackbut players Wim Becu and Simen Van Mechelen would also have prominent roles.

In 1970, Patrick Peire also founded the Collegium Instrumentale Brugense, which played repertoire from the Baroque to the present day. The Collegium occupied an unusual position in the sense that it adopted the achievements of HIP in terms of articulation, for example, but always continued to play modern instruments, with modern tuning to 440 Hz. In its baroque and classical repertoires, the Collegium made recordings of overtures by Telemann and work by Handel, Vivaldi and Mozart, among others. Later, its approach was followed by ensembles such as Prima La Musica (Dirk Vermeulen, 1991) and the Nieuw Belgisch Kamerorkest (15) (Jan Caeyers, 1993).

La Petite Bande emerged from the Alarius Ensemble in September 1972. Encouraged by Alfred Krings, the founder of Harmonia Mundi, and Gustav Leonhardt, Sigiswald Kuijken brought together a group of musicians to record Lully’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme. It was Leonhardt who suggested the group’s name. In subsequent years, the ensemble embarked up on a systematic exploration of the French (Campra, 1973), German (Muffat, 1974), and Italian (Corelli, 1975) Baroque. From the 1980s onwards, it increasingly played classical repertoire (Haydn’s Die Schöpfung, 1982; Mozart’s Da Ponte operas, 1990s; Die Zauberflöte in 2003). (16) Following in the footsteps of La Petite Bande, orchestras such as Il Fondamento and B’Rock would later play opera productions on historical instruments as well, at the Flemish Opera and La Monnaie among other places.

La Petite Bande

The Kuijken brothers also performed in smaller formations. Aside from La Petite Bande, they played under various names and in various combinations of instruments from 1972 onwards (the Kuijken trio, quartet, string quartet and ensemble), with the harpsichordists Gustav Leonhardt and Robert Kohnen, and with violin/viola players Lucy van Dael and François Fernandez, in a ‘géométrie variable’ that is echoed in many ensembles today.

Patrick Peire’s brother Marc, a recorder player, in 1976 founded the Telemann Consort, which made a few recordings of Telemann and Bononcini with Zeger Vandersteene and Greta De Reyghere for the René Gailly label. The ensemble’s composition is interesting, because all of its members would go on to have extensive careers in early music: Piet Stryckers (viol), Florian Heyerick (flute), Marcel Ponseele (oboe) and Guy Penson (harpsichord). (17)

The bass singer and musicologist Dirk Snellings founded the Capilla Flamenca in 1979. The ensemble drew its name from the court chapel of Emperor Charles V, and specialised in performances of Franco-Flemish polyphony; the productions were often preceded by new research into the sources, in collaboration with Belgian and international polyphony scholars. From the 1990s onwards, the ensemble would also make forays into mediaeval and contemporary repertoire, for example in its 2012 collaboration with Het Collectief for the production 12×12, in which it combined polyphony from the Ars Nova with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (1975).

An important project that highlighted the dynamics of HIP in Flanders in an international context was the series of recordings “J.S. Bach – Das Kantatenwerk”, featuring Collegium Vocale and René Jacobs. It was a project to record the entire series of Bach cantatas on historic instruments for the Teldec label. 

The first recordings were made in December 1970. The first album appeared in 1971, and the project was completed in 1989. The project was led by Gustav Leonhardt (with his Leonhardt-Consort) and Nikolaus Harnoncourt (with Concentus Musicus Wien). We find the Flemish participants from the second album onwards, with Collegium Vocale as a choir, alongside various international boys’ choirs. (18) The young René Jacobs also made appearances as a solo alto, and the Kuijken brothers could regularly be found in the Leonhardt-Consort.

Table 2: Overview of international early music ensembles, 1972-1979

UKThe English ConcertTrevor Pinnock1972
 Academy of Ancient MusicChristopher Hogwood1973
 The Tallis ScholarsPeter Phillips1973
 The Hilliard EnsemblePaul Hilliard1974
 The SixteenHarry Christophers1977
 English Baroque SoloistsJohn Eliot Gardiner1978
USABoston BaroqueMartin Pearlman1973
 Il Complesso BaroccoAlan Curtis1977
GermanyMusica Antiqua KölnReinhard Goebel1973
 SequentiaBenjamin Bagby & Barbara Thornton1977
The NetherlandsCamerata TrajectinaJos van Veldhoven & Jan Nuchelmans1974
 Amsterdams BarokorkestTon Koopman1979
SpainHespèrion XXJordi Savall1974
FranceLa Chapelle RoyalePhilippe Herreweghe1977
 Ensemble Clément JannequinDominique Visse1978
 Les Arts FlorissantsWilliam Christie1979
CanadaTafelmusikJeanne Lamon1979


The 1980s and 1990s saw the birth of a larger number of ensembles that further diversified and enriched the early music landscape in terms of the repertoire performed, stylistic periods and instrumentation. The role of the artistic director became more diverse as well. Whereas figures such as Philippe Herreweghe, Paul and Erik Van Nevel only fulfilled the role of artistic leaders, musicians such as René Jacobs and Sigiswald Kuijken would combine this role with careers as soloists and conductors. In the younger ensembles, people such as Paul Dombrecht, Jos Van Immerseel and Roel Dieltiens followed in the footsteps of Jacobs and Kuijken. Dombrecht set new standards as an oboist on early instruments and founded the wind ensemble Octophoros, the Paul Dombrecht Consort, and the orchestra Il Fondamento. Like René Jacobs, Paul Dombrecht is still active as a conductor today.

Jos Van Immerseel, on the other hand, tackled an impressive array of historical keyboards as a soloist, from the virginal and clavichord to historic organs, tangent pianos and pianofortes in all shapes and sizes. His youthful ambition and constant search for the sources inspired him to set up the Ensemble dell’Anima Eterna in 1987.

The majority of the ensembles that emerged in the last two decades in Table 1 were relatively small in scale. There are only two counterparts in later decades to the two large ensembles of the 1970s (Collegium Vocale Gent en La Petite Bande): Ensemble dell’Anima Eterna and Il Fondamento.

Zefiro Torna

The increase in ensembles in the final decade of the 20th century meant that the various stylistic periods were represented in a more varied manner. For example, the field of mediaeval music, which was only represented by the Huelgas Ensemble and Pandora in the 1970s, expanded to include Franco-Flemish polyphony of the late Middle Ages (Capilla Flamenca, Zefiro Torna), the monophonic music of troubadours and trouvères (graindelavoix) and Gregorian chants of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Psallentes).

Sources and instruments

Historically informed performance practice in any stylistic period is only possible where source material is available. A HIP draws on various sources: iconographic sources, the notation of the music in the sources, historical texts and treatises that provide insights into the use of tempo, pitch, musica ficta (non-notated changes in pitch, for example in cadences) and tuning, text setting, ornamentation, and types and combinations of instruments.

The most pressing need among these was the availability of early, historical, but above all playable instruments. Even before there was any mention of HIP, the organ scene had taken the first steps in this direction by attempting to reconstruct historical instruments, or to restore them to an older or original condition. Incidentally, the first competition at the Festival of Bruges was for the organ. (19)

Several existing historical instruments were taken from museums of instruments (Brussels Conservatory and the Vleeshuis) for use in the first Flemish HIP ensembles.(20) Later, making replicas became a steadily growing branch of the instrument ‘business’. Some musicians tried their hand themselves, such as the oboist Marcel Ponseele and his brother Francis, or Jan de Winne and the founder of the Accent record label, Andreas Glatt, who both made traversos. Others called upon the expertise of instrument makers who specialised in making replicas, such as the traverso maker Weemaels, or attempted to ‘reconvert’ instruments that had been modernised in the past, often in the nineteenth century. (21)

To gain access to the other types of source material mentioned above, musicians resorted – as they still do today – to libraries at conservatories and universities, or consulted specialist musicologists to research specific aspects. Musicology courses were developed at the universities in Leuven and Ghent. The flourishing of early music in Flanders was surely also inspired by the musicology on offer.

Both the Alamire Foundation (KU Leuven) and the Orpheus Instituut in Ghent made room for HIP approaches to research and performance, with support from growing library collections and donations from Fred Schneyderberg, Dirk Snellings, Herman Baeten, Musica and Pieter Andriessen (Alamire Foundation) and Ton Koopman (Orpheus Instituut) respectively. Organisations such as the Ruckers Genootschap (Antwerp) have also stimulated both performance and performance practice since 1969.

Government support

In this varied landscape that emerged between 1950 and 2000, it is striking that 19 of the 29 ensembles listed in Table 1 are still active in 2020. This is not explained by their persistence, increase in quality, professional commitment and artistic success alone, but also by the support they have received from government bodies, notably the Flemish Government. In the 1990s, this support was provided by means of the title of “Cultural Ambassador of Flanders”, which was granted to ensembles and individual musicians. From 1999 onwards, structural financing was awarded through the Music Decree, and since 2006 through the Arts Decree, with amended versions in force in 2013 and 2018.

Another factor that aided the growth and flourishing of early music ensembles was the growing recognition of historically informed performance practice by record labels, radio stations, print media, concert halls and festivals.


Several radio stations, as well as record and CD labels such as Archiv Produktion (Deutsche Grammophon), EMI (especially the Reflexe series), Erato, L’Oiseau-Lyre, Teldec, Harmonia Mundi and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, played an important role in distributing HIP performances and turning them into a standard. Among the labels in Flanders, Accent Records had an important role in early music. The label was set up in 1978 by the instrument maker Andreas Glatt and his wife, the viol player Adelheid Junghänel. Accent worked closely with the BRT, the Belgian state broadcaster at the time, through the person of Pieter Andriessen, who was responsible for early music on Radio 3. Glatt and Andriessen brought legendary recordings onto the market, featuring key ensembles and musicians of the day, including La Colombina, La Petite Bande, Currende, Concerto Palatino, the Kuijken Trio and Ensemble, Jos Van Immerseel, Octophoros, and Ensemble Daedalus.

The CD label Eufoda appeared on the market in 1986. It made its mark on the early music scene with the publication of a ten-part CD series dedicated to Flemish polyphony, with the organist and harpsichordist Johan Huys in charge of the recordings. The book Vlaamse polyfonie by Ignace Bossuyt was published in parallel by Davidsfonds (1994). This was also the period in which Jan Michiels started recording for Eufoda on historic pianos (including an Erard from 1894 and a Bösendorfer from 1899). Huys also produced individual early music CDs with ensembles such as Zefiro Torna, the Capilla Flamenca and La Caccia. Moreover, Huys and Florian Heyerick worked as producers (often at Studio Steurbaut in Ghent) for labels such as René Gailly. The first productions by the Passacaille label appeared in 1994, with a recording by Il Fondamento of overtures and sinfonias by Carl Friedrich Abel and Johann Joseph Fux. On the French-speaking side of the country, Jérôme Lejeune set up his label Ricercar in 1980.

Historically, the Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR) was of crucial importance – for Flanders as well. It is the only broadcaster in Europe that still has an early music department today. Producers such as Alfred Krings (Harmonia Mundi, later WDR as well) and Klaus L. Neumann played an absolutely vital role, helping to launch ensembles such as La Petite Bande and larger productions with soloists such as René Jacobs, Greta De Reyghere, Jos Van Immerseel, Paul Dombrecht, Marcel Ponseele and Guy de Mey.(22)

In Flanders, there was Radio 3 (which later became Klara), with producers such as Pieter Andriessen and Koen Uvin as its driving forces, as well as Jan De Winne in the early 1990s. It ran an important series of early music broadcasts in the programme ‘Musica Antiqua’ on Wednesday evenings, presented by Johan Van Cauwenberghe. When Klara was launched as the successor to Radio 3 in December 2000, it was decided – following the radio policy of international broadcasters like the BBC – to slowly but surely remove the barriers between different styles of classical music (early music, Classical and Romantic, contemporary) and to think of ‘classical’ programming more as a single whole. The consequence of this was that there was no longer a specialised early music programme. Andriessen’s successor as the manager of Klara was Walter Couvreur. Today, early music is mainly offered in the form of concert broadcasts, live or otherwise, from the proliferous programmes of festivals and concert halls in Flanders and Brussels. The digital broadcaster Klara Continuo also includes a significant amount of early music on its programme.

Musiq’3 (RTBF), Klara’s French-language counterpart, still has a specific early music programme. This is a similar broadcasting policy to international stations such as the WDR, which employs an early music producer to this day: in 1998, Richard Lorber followed in the footsteps of the influential producer Klaus L. Neumann, who had been at the helm from 1976 to 1998.

Printed media for classical music, i.e. music magazines, tend to have a limited lifespan in Flanders. The magazine Musica Antiqua. Actuele informatie over Oude Muziek appeared from 1983 to 2000, with Herman Baeten as its editor-in-chief. As the founder and driving force behind Musica, the Flemish Centre for Early Music, Baeten mainly focused on enhancing the value of musical heritage from the Low Countries, and in doing so made a crucial contribution to the expansion of the early music movement in Flanders and beyond.

Musica Antiqua was followed between 2001 and 2004 by Contra. [i.e.: Contrapunt] Stemmen over Muziek. Both magazines were published by Alamire Music Publishers. The magazine published by the public broadcasting service, Muziek & Woord (1974-2008), and Staalkaart (2009-2016), published by Decom, also paid attention to early music. In contrast to the Netherlands, where Luister, Tijdschrift voor Oude Muziek and Klassieke Zaken are still published, there are no longer any classical music magazines in Flanders.

Festivals and concerts

Even more important than spoken and printed media were the live performances of early music at concerts and festivals. From 1972 onwards, various local music initiatives (including the Basilica concerts in Tongeren, which began in 1958) were brought together under the banner of the Flanders Festival.(23) Every large city and medium-sized provincial town has its own branch of the festival. Some of them have historically favoured early music programmes. In Bruges (Musica Antiqua) and Antwerp (Laus Polyphoniae) in particular, there has always been a fairly strong emphasis on early music.

The festival in Bruges (now called MA Festival) has been programming early music for the longest by far: it is the world’s longest-running early music festival. Initiated in 1963 as ‘Flanders Music Festival’, it soon became part of the overarching Flanders Festival. From the very outset, it focused on early music until 1750: not an obvious choice in 1963.

Belief in the values of HIP and the desire to connect to the musical history of the city helped to determine this choice. Right from the start, concerts for the general public were combined with a more ‘specialised’ exhibition and a competition (for the organ, harpsichord and other instruments in alternate years). The festival themes were chosen by Kamiel D’Hooghe, and from 1968 to 2004 by the artistic director Robrecht Dewitte and his successors Bart Demuyt, Stefan Dewitte, Hendrik Storme and Tomas Bisschop.(24) The organist and harpsichordist Johan Huys presided over the competition for many years, and the jury has included the greatest names on the scene: Gustav Leonhardt, Kenneth Gilbert, Jos Van Immerseel, Trevor Pinnock, Christopher Hogwood, Davitt Moroney, Ton Koopman, and Scott Ross. (25) In 1982, the festival was renamed ‘Musica Antiqua’.(26)

In Antwerp, concerts were organised at the Vleeshuis and the Rubens House, including performances by Jos Van Immerseel and Robert Kohnen on the historical keyboards in their collections. This type of keyboard concert on historical instruments would later be perpetuated by the Flanders Festival Antwerp. Antwerp, Cultural Capital of Europe (1993) rallied the forces of early music and acted as a catalyst that enabled the rich polyphony of the Low Countries and early music in general to be further developed and put into the spotlight in Flanders and Europe.

Laus Polyphoniae saw the light of day during that festival year, and generated a particular dynamic on the international early music scene that resulted in a fully-fledged concert hall for early music in the heart of Antwerp, the Augustinus Music Centre, now known as AMUZ. The deliberate choice of a programme entirely devoted to HIP made it unique in the world.

Like Bruges, the Antwerp festival hosts an initiative for young performers of early music, the International Young Artists’ Presentation (IYAP), which was founded in partnership with Musica in 1998. Ensembles are selected for coaching by experts such as Catherine Bott, Patrizia Bovi, Pedro Memelsdorff, Barthold Kuijken, Raquel Andueza, and Peter Van Heyghen. For many participants, IYAP has been a step towards an international career.(27)

Important early music events have also been held in unexpected locations. On 4 February 1977, for example, to mark the beginning of Rubens Year in Antwerp, Monteverdi’s Orfeo was staged at the Flemish Opera by an ad hoc ensemble led by Jos Van Immerseel, with Sigiswald Kuijken as the concertmaster. The soloists included Mireille Capelle, Liane Jespers, and Frans Van Eetvelt. Everyone involved in early music in Flanders was involved in this production.

Besides the Basilica concerts in Tongeren, there were other small-scale initiatives in Limburg that played a prominent role in putting HIP on the map and promoting ensembles (especially younger ones) trying to find their way in the early music landscape. A small festival programme focused on folk music and early music was set up at the Deuster chapel in Peer in 1974, including Gregorian music interpreted by the young singer and musicologist Iégor Reznikoff. “Deustival” would move to the Landcommanderij Alden Biesen in 1983, where it was renamed Dag Oude Muzike [Early Music Day]. This one-day event was organised annually by Musica from 1983 to 2013. In 2014, the day and its vision and intention were transformed into the festival now known as AlbaNova. Not long before that, a new initiative was set up in Ghent as well; what is now the two-day festival of polyphony MeerStemmig Ghent will be holding its ninth edition in 2021. In Leuven, the festival Voices of Passion began in 2009, an annual, citywide event that focuses on the research findings of the Alamire Foundation.

Other small-scale initiatives have also brought early music to the attention of concertgoers. An example is the Chapel of the Minimes in Brussels, where one or two Bach cantatas have been performed every last Sunday of the month since 1980. The young vocal soloists have to make do with a single rehearsal for this project, which has often acted as a springboard to launch them in this repertoire and HIP (although here, too, performances are tuned to 440Hz).

As mentioned above, early music has also occupied a steadily increasing place in the major concert halls as well. At some, like AMUZ, the Bijloke, or Concertgebouw Brugge, this has always been the case. At others, such as deSingel, Flagey, or BOZAR, early music has gradually earned a permanent position.

The non-professional and pre-professional ‘grass roots’

It is not possible within the scope of this text to provide a comprehensive overview of all the trends and initiatives in the form of ensembles, education and workshops that are undertaken by and for amateurs and pre-professional musicians. Let it be clear, however, that they do play an important role in the creation and maintenance of a wider support base for early music and HIP.

Sigiswald Kuijken

The many traineeships and music camps organised by Musica, Impulse Centre for Music (formerly Muziekactief and Mallemuze), for example, have contributed significantly to making a HIP approach based on historical sources and played on historical instruments accessible to (advanced) amateur and pre-professional musicians. An example are the masterclasses for choir and orchestra that were organised in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Musica and 30CC in Leuven, led by Sigiswald and Barthold Kuijken. These classes drew on the wide repertoire for choir and orchestra: Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passions, his motets and one of the Missae breves, Mozart’s Requiem and his oratorio Davide Penitente. Musica’s annual Renaissance course, which focused on making music from the original score, is another example. Other associations and individuals have also organised important courses in this area: there is the Halewynstichting, which has been organising courses and traineeships since 1951, including (since 1963) an early music course; and there were also the Recorder Days, courses by the Belgian Lute Academy, and initiatives of the Ruckers Genootschap. Individual initiatives have been organised by members of Vier op ’n Rij (recorder), Wim Becu (brass), and Sophie Watillon (viol).

Alongside these traineeships, there is a certain tradition of project-based activities whose impact should not be underestimated. It is not only the conservatories and the Lemmensinstituut that organise project weeks on early music (among other themes). Specific project ensembles and orchestras have also emerged here and there. These are (almost) always ensembles with no financial support, or at best the occasional project subsidy. These ensembles have suffered most from the disappearance of the provincial cultural subsidies. The better amateur ensembles and choirs also play a role in creating and maintaining a broader support base for early music, although it would take us too far to list the many high-quality amateur ensembles here. Last but not least, a contribution is made by the instrumental courses focusing on HIP at many city music academies: Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe and Antwerp (Ma’GO), as well as the academies in Bruges, Leuven and many others.

2 Tendencies in the early music landscape in Flanders today

A few recent tendencies can be observed on today’s early music scene. For example, musicians are increasingly involved in networks – often international ones – and play in ensembles that are usually either instrumental or vocal. The share of early music in professional education and training seems to be decreasing in Flanders, although the repertoire that they cover as ‘historically informed’ musicians is becoming ever wider, more diverse and more interdisciplinary.


Everything in musicians’ lives – and that goes for early musicians too – depends on belonging to a network. Although the number of ensembles seems to have declined in recent years, along with the number of individual musicians, these individuals are well-connected in international networks. There is frequent, ongoing interaction between musicians and ensembles.

This networking happens in Flanders and Belgium, and obviously also at international level. A few examples are sufficient to illustrate this point. In 1991, Philippe Herreweghe founded the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, whose repertoire ranges from Haydn to Mahler. Barthold Kuijken is the artistic director of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, founded in 1997. The tenor Tore Denys is one of the driving forces behind the Cinquecento ensemble that operates out of Vienna. The same principle applies to Frank Agsteribbe and his ensemble CantoLX, based in Luxembourg. In turn, Cappella Pratensis is based in ’s-Hertogenbosch but in residence at the Alamire Foundation’s House of Polyphony near Leuven. It gives concerts in Flanders as often as in the Netherlands.

B’Rock Orchestra

It is not possible to provided a detailed overview of the constant interplay between musicians and ensembles within the limited scope of this text. However, a single example may serve to demonstrate the phenomenon. It is striking that – apart from Collegium Vocale – the ensembles are either instrumental or vocal. Depending on this initial choice, they then work with other ensembles, making vocal-plus-instrumental productions possible. For example, this was how La Petite Bande operated in its early years, consistently calling on Collegium Vocale when vocalists were required. Even now, ensembles such as Les Muffatti, Anima Eterna or B’Rock Orchestra work regularly and frequently with the same Collegium and with ensembles such as Vox Luminis or the Choeur de Chambre de Namur.

Professional training

When it comes to the professional training courses, it seems that shifts are occurring in early music. Here in Belgium, the conservatories in Antwerp, Brussels and Liège were strongly committed to instrumental training and singing in the past. In the glory years, there was great interest in Jos Van Immerseel’s instrumental classes in Antwerp or those taught by the Kuijken brothers in Brussels, and the Lemmensinstituut (now LUCA School of Arts, campus Lemmens) also included more and more early music besides the organ classes. Likewise, many early musicians such as Jan De Winne, Ewald Demeyere, Marcel Ponseele, Bart Naessens and Peter Van Heyghen work at our own conservatories today.

Many Flemish musicians still work as tutors and lecturers at foreign conservatories. For example, Sigiswald Kuijken’s position as a baroque violin teacher at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague from 1972 onwards was historically important.(28) In France, the traverso player Jan De Winne taught at the conservatory in Lyon until 2004. Since that year, he has been teaching the traverso and performance practice at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. Marcel Ponseele also worked at that conservatory. René Jacobs, in turn, taught baroque singing at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. More recently, Stratton Bull and Björn Schmelzer have taught a series of masterclasses in Basel.

The formerly central role of the conservatories in Belgium and the Netherlands in the training of early music specialists seems to be declining, however. The Hague and Amsterdam are the main institutions that still play an important role in the Netherlands today, but the focus in terms of early music courses at conservatories is increasingly shifting to Switzerland, specifically the conservatories in Geneva and Basel.

We also find flourishing early music courses in Bremen, Barcelona, Paris and in conservatories in the United Kingdom and the United States.

A new trend is the integration of a historical element into instrumental training. With an instrument such as the (contemporary) trombone, for example, it is possible to pay a certain amount of attention to playing a historical instrument such as the sackbut, since the two instruments are quite closely related. However, when it comes to instruments such as the violin, both the instrument and playing technique of a baroque and contemporary instrument are very different. Furthermore, it is striking that courses in instrument making – including historical instruments – are being organised both in conservatories and elsewhere.

At the same time, higher arts education is becoming more academic, offering opportunities for artists and musicians to obtain a doctorate in the arts or music. In Flanders, Barthold Kuijken was the first Doctor of Music in 2007 (at the VUB). Other doctoral courses and programmes are being and have been followed at Leiden University and the Orpheus Institute, among other places.

What is more, centres that have long since offered ‘traditional’ research programmes, such as the Study Centre for Flemish Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp and the Alamire Foundation, the Centre for the Study of Music in the Low Countries at the KU Leuven, pay attention to historically informed performance and practice-based research into the music of various stylistic periods, from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.

Historicism and creativity

As for the repertoire and how it is approached, we are seeing an increasingly broad spectrum that ranges from (historical) reconstruction to (creative) recreation and crossovers between styles and repertoires. This trend is moving in two directions.

The first direction is historicising. The aim here is what it has always been: for an “authentic” historically informed performance, with the intention of making the music sound “wie es eigentlich gewesen” – the way it really would have been – to quote the positivist adage of Leopold von Ranke, one of the forefathers of historiography.

The historicising approach from the early years of HIP has also been logically extended in recent decades to the repertoire of the 1800s through to about 1950. This means Schubert, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, but also Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók and Carl Orff. Raphaella Smits has compiled many programmes for nineteenth century guitar repertoire on a historical instrument; Ann Cnop and Luc Devos play Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms on historically appropriate instruments, Jos Van Immerseel presented a HIP performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana with Anima Eterna and Jan Michiels plays Bartók on a historical Bösendorfer.(29) In turn, Chris Maene was inspired to build a replica of the historic Steinway “No. 1” and then a new, straight-strung piano. He found an enthusiastic promoter in the pianist Daniel Barenboim, and Piet Swerts was the composer who wrote a first series of new sonatas for the instrument.

The second trend is moving towards a freer or more creative approach to the heritage. Back in 1996, Herman Sabbe voiced the fear that “the increasing admiration for musical works from the past is having a sterilising effect.”(30) It has since turned out that Sabbe’s fear was unfounded. There is a tendency towards transcreation, reinvention, greater creativity, updating, the use of crossovers and confrontation.

This second tendency is not necessarily contrary to the spirit of HIP. HIP remains an entirely legitimate approach to early music, but it has turned out to be insufficient at times due to a lack of available sources or detail in these sources. In many situations, a dose of interpretation and creativity needs to be added: in such cases, going beyond HIP is an absolute necessity even to be able to play certain repertoire at all.

There are cases where there are simply no decipherable musical sources, cases where the notation requires many assumptions and hypotheses before a performance is possible. Take the songs in the Gruuthuse manuscript, for example; the performance of ancient Roman or old Spanish songs, neumatic notations added to classical texts by Virgil or Boethius, the Winchester Troper, the songs of Hendrik Van Veldeke or Hadewych,(30) or epic mediaeval poetry from the Edda. Musicians find themselves obliged to draw on ‘living’ traditions in religious music (as Ensemble Organum does, and also graindelavoix) or folk music (Rans’ approach to the Antwerp Songbook or the Gruuthuse songs as performed by Pandora or ClubMediéval).

Old and new

There is a tendency – you might even say a certain tradition – of combining early music with other repertoire, whether the typical Classical and Romantic repertoire or music from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The search for a juxtaposition or integration of old and new is far from a recent phenomenon. From the 1950s to 1970s, we find examples in the programmes by the Alarius Ensemble, which played both early and contemporary music.

Philippe Malfeyt

More recently, one of B’Rock Orchestra’s first productions included both Bach and Cage. Others have combined the music of Francesco Landini (fourteenth century) with contemporary music; the HERMESensemble has combined polyphony with the work of Salvatore Sciarrino. The lute player Philippe Malfeyt’s Trio Luthomania brings various cultures together, and the oboist Marcel Ponseele combined early music with jazz. Likewise in 2020, there are ensembles firmly committed to a fusion of old and new music, such as the lute player Pieter Theuns’ ensemble B.O.X, which seeks patterns from the Baroque in the music of today. An international example is the performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto with a decidedly ‘contemporary’ cadence (Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Teodor Currentzis). In Flanders, the composers Annelies Van Parys and Samir Odeh-Tamimi brought Bach’s St John Passion up to date in a production for the Klarafestival (2016), by adding new compositions.

Performers are also once again allowing themselves more freedom in terms of instrumentation today. There have been ensembles who played baroque music on contemporary instruments in the past. A step further is to opt resolutely for present-day instruments to perform early music: Bl!ndman plays works by Josquin and Ockeghem, Bach and Handel on contemporary saxophones.

The tendency to mix and combine genres is also in evidence at festivals. Early music has become a mainstream genre within classical music: even festivals that do not present themselves as early music festivals habitually make space for early music in their programming.

City festivals such as the Flanders Festival in Mechelen, Limburg, Flemish Brabant or Kortrijk do commit more to diversification and a wide range of content, but they also support early music throughout their programming. Cultural centres such as those in Maasmechelen, Hasselt, Roeselare, Strombeek and Leuven also schedule early music productions. Even the more specialised festivals are shifting their emphasis. For example, Musica Antiqua in Bruges was rechristened MA Festival in 2005, with a greater emphasis on creation and innovation in its programme content.(32) In 2014, Early Music Day in Alden Biesen shifted towards the integration of more creations and contemporary music: the new format is now called AlbaNova.


In other situations, musicians feel the need to move beyond HIP and express their ‘artistic freedom’. They seem to experience HIP as overly limiting, and want to integrate improvisation, other styles or elements from other musical contexts into their performances. Crossover, juxtaposition, mixtures or combinations of various musical styles are popular ways of breathing new life into ‘old’ music.

International examples are the crossover projects that combine jazz instruments and improvisation with the polyphony of Cristóbal de Morales (Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble in Officium), a freely improvised harpsichord accompaniment added to Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, accompanied by Anthony Romaniuk), or Satie’s piano music performed on a variety of keyboards (Tamar Halperin).

Other ensembles, in turn, are moving towards a combination or fusion of folk music and oral traditions with early music. Consider productions in which the soprano Lieselot De Wilde explores Italian music, combining Monteverdi with folk music traditions from Sardinia. The lute player Sofie Vanden Eynde explores the borders between western and eastern music, connecting them with historical literature and investigating how visual art (Anouk De Clercq) can lend an extra dimension to the music. In her production A Call to Prayer, Romina Lischka worked with the Tunisian singer Ghalia Benali, combining baroque music for the viol and Indian Dhrupad singing with music from the Islamic traditions. Then there are ensembles such as graindelavoix (Björn Schmelzer), which takes a different approach to oral traditions in western and non-western cultures, combining them with musical heritage from the Low Countries and their own film production (for example in the production Ossuaires, 2012) or opting for a semi-theatrical setting (Trabe dich, Thierlein, 2014).


Over the last fifteen years, based on the history of the early music movement, we have observed a growing interdisciplinarity in the arts scene. When performing early music, it is often not only a question of performing a work of art in a historically justified manner, but about embedding it in other dramatic arts such as theatre, music theatre and dance, or an integration with literature, visual art, video art or multimedia for example.

As far as dance is concerned, this integration has been happening for even more than thirty years. Integrating polyphony or music by Bach to create new dance productions and thus give another dimension to the music has become a tradition in its own right. Examples include Alain Platel’s Iets op Bach (with Roel Dieltiens and numerous key figures from the early music scene); the production Foi by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Les ballets C de la B (in which the Franco-Flemish polyphony sung by Capilla Flamenca forms a distinctive layer within a many-layered work). In a more pared-down form, there are Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s productions with Rosas: French Suite, En attendantMitten im LebenThe 6 Brandenburg Concertos and Partita 2, Mozart Concert Arias (with Jos Van Immerseel, Claire Chevallier, Amandine Beyer, Jean-Guihen Queyras, B’Rock, Bart Coen, Philippe Herreweghe).(33)

Theatre companies such as Zonzo Compagnie (annual opera for young people), Muziektheater Transparant (for example the production Waar is mijn ziel?) and Muziek LOD (Het Huis der Verborgen Muziekjes) hold space for early music, in its own right or in combination with contemporary or folk music.(34)

This trend is continuing today, with a younger generation of artists who are looking at early music from a fresh perspective. Examples are Jurgen De bruyn’s ensemble Zefiro Torna, which often makes music-based productions with a link to literature (Scattered Rhymes, a Tribute to Francesco Petrarca), religion, alchemy or the visual arts. They bring a different commitment to early music, but always with respect for authentic performance and for the work of art that was made centuries ago.

Ratas del viejo Mundo

The integration of visual, video and multimedia art have not been far behind. The ensemble Ratas del viejo Mundo, led by the lute player Floris De Rycker, approached the video artist Bram Ollieuz to make small video productions as long as the madrigal they were based on, sometimes just three or four minutes.(35) Walter Verdin fulfilled a commission for the Concertgebouw Brugge (2005) in which he merged visual art, exhibition and live music (Mozart).

3. A vision of the near future

As is the case in every healthy artistic discipline, new initiatives are continuing to pop up, whether festivals and organisations or ensembles. Since the year 2000, many new ensembles have been founded. Table 3 provides an overview; the ensembles are listed extensively in the Guide to Early Music in Flanders (2020). A number of individual musicians from the ‘post-pioneer’ generation are also occupying an increasingly prominent place in the early music landscape, such as the singer and conductor Marnix De Cat and the recorder player and lecturer Peter Van Heyghen, who has recently also conducted major productions for Il Gardellino.

Marnix De Cat

The tendencies towards networking and internationalisation in ensembles and training described above, towards more creativity in approaches to and extensions of the repertoire, and towards greater interdisciplinarity, will doubtless continue and increase in the future.

Table 3: Overview of early music ensembles in Flanders, 2000-2020

LuthomaniaPhilippe Malfeyt2001
B-FiveKatelijne Lanneau2003
MezzalunaPeter Van Heyghen2003
B’Rock OrchestraFrank Agsteribbe, Hendrik Storme, Tomas Bisschop, Tom Devaere2005
EncantarSarah Abrams, Lieselot De Wilde, Kerlijne Van Nevel, Soetkin Baptist2006
Musica GloriaBeniamino Paganini2006
Capriola Di Gioia          Amaryllis Dieltiens, Bart Naessens2007
Edding QuartetBaptiste Lopez, Caroline Bayet, Paul De Clerck, Ageet Zweistra2007
Euterpe Baroque ConsortBart Rodyns2007
Il Trionfo          Jan Van Elsacker2007
Les BuffardinsFrank Theuns2007
Bach Concentus          Ewald Demeyere2007-2018
Per Flauto          Bart Coen2009
B.O.X.Pieter Theuns2010
BachPlus          Bart Naessens2010
Bel AyreLieselot De Wilde & Peter Verhelst2010
ClubMediévalThomas Baeté2010
Les AbbagliatiRonan Kernoa2010
Pluto-ensembleMarnix De Cat2010
QuadriviumGeert Van Gele2010
Scherzi Musicali          Nicolas Achten2010
Ensemble Apotheosis (36)Korneel Bernolet2011
RedHerringPatrick Denecker2011
Hathor ConsortRomina Lischka2012
Le Concert d’AnversBart Van Reyn2012
Park Collegium          Stratton Bull2012
Terra Nova Collectie          Vlad Weverbergh2012
Transports PublicsThomas Baeté2012
Il Nostromo del Sogno        Steven Mariën2013
Ensemble IsabellaMarie Verstraete2015
I Suonatori PoeticiNele Vertommen, Beniamino Paganini2015
Musae Jovis          Pieter De Moor2015
Utopia Griet De Geyter, Adriaan De Koster, Lieven Termont, Bart Uvyn2015
a nocte temporis          Reinoud Van Mechelen2016
Hildebrandt ConsortWouter Dekoninck2017
Ratas del viejo Mundo     Floris De Rycker2017
Delle Donne ConsortFrederike Van Lindt2020
Le Pavillon de MusiqueAnn Cnop2020

Heritage in a digital world

The ‘digital turn’ has had a significant impact on all aspects of our society, not least on the way we experience music today, whether it is pop, rock, classical or contemporary.

For listeners, there is a wide range of possibilities, for example using streaming platforms such as Qobuz, Tidal or Spotify, or those of the group of record labels brought together by Outhere. The virtual library of available recordings is astoundingly huge and complete. Specifically for Flanders, we might mention the ‘Belgian Early Musicians’ playlist on Spotify in this context.(37) An international example is the series of podcasts on early music made by REMA (Réseau européen de musique ancienne).(38)

When it comes to research, it is striking that recordings are being increasingly integrated into other databases. For example, it is now commonplace – or it certainly will be in the near future – to include an MP3 or recording with music from the source in question with music that has been made available in visual databases (by which we mean digitised manuscripts, for example those in the Integrated Database for Early Music (39))

The contribution of digital technology to research into (early) music is clearly not limited to making the source material available. The research itself is increasingly supported and enabled by digital technology. The analysis of historical objects – such as a historical instrument – enables exact dating of the material but also makes it possible to construct an exact replica.

Advanced technology – such as that at the Library of Voices Alamire Sound Lab – makes it possible to analyse a manuscript in terms of its material and musical composition. The analysis goes even further, permitting conclusions about the originally intended acoustics of the music in question.

The use of high-tech equipment thus enables us to explore the historical source material and its historical context in far greater depth and far more precisely. Research – in this case artistic research – by the pianist Tom Beghin (Orpheus Institute, previously McGill University), for example, is being conducted in this light.

Whether in digital applications, traditional or high-tech research, the role of centres such as the Alamire Foundation at the KU Leuven, the CESEM (Centro de Estudos de Sociologia e Estética Musical) at the Universidade Nova in Lisbon, the Centre BruZane in Venice and the Centre de Musique Baroque Versailles is becoming increasingly important. Such organisations – often linked to research institutions – do not only conduct fundamental research, but also take on enhancement projects, often in international partnerships. In the past, such organisations focused on traditional research, the organisation of conferences and creation of publications: musicologists contributed to transcriptions, published facsimiles and other publications on early music (in the case of the Alamire Foundation, the series Leuven Library of Music in Facsimile and the Journal of the Alamire Foundation). Today and in the future, the focus is clearly elsewhere: interdisciplinarity and the appliance of new technologies are increasingly taking centre stage.

Towards a new, historically informed experience

We are witnessing a tendency – that has been underway for some time – towards an increasing rejection of the traditional concert with applause framing the musical performance before and afterwards. Several installation and multimedia artists have tackled polyphony in recent years, in search of a new way of experiencing this music. An example is the installation Forty Part Motet (2001) by the Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, based on Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium, where visitors can move between the 40 speakers. This creates an interaction between the visitor and the work. The series of installations by the Belgian artist Rudi Knoops (DIORAMATIZED #02 and#03, and Speculum Musurgica) are a more recent example.

We are not only talking about virtual reality (VR), in which the entire experience happens in a virtual space, but also Augmented Reality (AR), in which the virtual and real world interact.

With AR, for example, it is possible to recreate a space (maybe a historical one) visually and acoustically. This means we will be able to come ever closer to a new, all-encompassing concept of a “historically informed experience” of music. In this new concept, not just the auditory aspect but all sensory parameters will approximate the historical experience as closely as possible, visually as well as in sound. Clearly such “integral” historical experiences of a work of art will require the necessary budgets to bring them about.

Ideally, the performance spaces of the future will be equipped with variable acoustics. In the long term, the results of research will make it possible to recreate historical or lost acoustics (such as those of Notre Dame in Paris), even in the concert hall, depending on the repertoire performed. It is even imaginable that performances in different historical spaces might be reproduced in a single place.

By way of a conclusion: the search for an authentic form of performance remains a constant journey. Driven by historical and artistic curiosity, everyone involved is searching for innovative ways of penetrating the historical work of art more deeply. The path we have travelled over the past fifty years and the one we will follow in the decades to come will be one in which HIP is increasingly permeated by HIE, an approach in which the experience takes precedence.


  1. For a synthesis, see Sabbe 1996, 60-68: For HIP, see among others: Cnop 2019, De Vos 2010, Demuyt & Simoens 2018, Harnoncourt 1982, Simoens & Nuchelmans 2011. For a concise introduction to early music in Flanders, see Taes 2013, 6-15; also Baeten (undated), Tambuyser (undated), Vanderweerdt 2009. An extensive historiography for the Netherlands is available in Van der Klis 1991 and 2007.
  2. Sabbe 1996, 62; Wangermée 1997,16-18.
  3. For Gevaert, see the brief account in Wangermée 1997, 20-23; also Everist 2010, Mannaerts 2010, Scarcez 2010, Wahnon de Oliveira 2011. For Wotquenne, see Eeckeloo 2011.
  4. Van den Buys 2004, 30-39; Wangermée 1997, 25-28.
  5. Gagnepain 1980.
  6. 1983 is the date of the ensemble’s last recording.
  7. Now “Collegium Vocale Gent”.
  8. Later “Currende Consort” for the ensemble of soloists; the name “Capella Sancti Michaelis” was also used. Now simply “Currende”.
  9. Now “Pandora²”.
  10. Later “Anima Eterna”, now “Anima Eterna Brugge”.
  11. Later “Flanders Recorder Quartet” in international communications.
  12. Now simply “Rans”.
  13. Bartholomée 1997, 37-41; Pirenne 2004, 37-45, 146-47.
  14. Later came “New York Pro Musica”, which it is possible to distinguish from Safford Cape’s “Pro Musica Antiqua”.
  15. From 1993 until the disbanding of the ensemble in 2006, it bore the name “Beethoven Academie”.
  16. Kuijken 1997 and 2012.
  17. Peire 1989 and 1995.
  18. The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge sang on the first album; the boys’ choirs included the Wiener Sängerknaben, the Tölzer Knabenchor and the Knabenchor Hannover.
  19. Taes 2013, 29-30.
  20. Kuijken 2012, 13-16.
  21. Kuijken 1999, Ponseele 1999, Van Immerseel 1999, Lindeman 2014.
  22. Kuijken 1997, 48-51, and Kuijken 2012, 11-17.
  23. Van Caekenberghe 1994, Maes & Segers 2019.
  24. Taes 2013, 3, 19-22.
  25. Taes 2013, 25-27, 33-34.
  26. Taes 2013, 72, 102.
  27. Laus Polyphoniae 2020, 23-26.
  28. Kuijken 1997 and 2012.
  29. Cnop 2019, De Keyzer 2007.
  30. Sabbe 1996, 63.
  31. See Baeten 2014.
  32. Taes 2013, 107-108.
  33. Demuyt & Simoens 2018; Vandenhouwe 2017.
  34. Demuyt & Simoens 2018.
  35. They can be seen on the ensemble’s YouTube channel, (consulted on 16 October 2020).
  36. Under the name “Apotheosis Orchestra” when the ensemble performs as an orchestra.
  37. (consulted on 12 October 2020).
  38. (consulted on 14 October 2020).
  39. (consulted on 16 October)
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