‘I was really crazy about those history books’

‘I was really crazy about those history books’

‘Now-the-Netherlands/ is your noble part’, wrote Jacob Steindam in 1662 about the Dutch colony of America. He belonged to the poetic circles of seventeenth-century Amsterdam, but traveled widely. We now call him the first poet of New York, but that must not have given him much importance, for the city was called New Amsterdam when he lived there.

In collaboration with the Camerata Trajectina, a company specializing in the music of the period, historian Job Jacobs created a program about the sounds of Manhattan between Hudson’s arrival in 1609 and the English takeover in 1664. As a historian, Jacobs recovers Steindam’s movements.

“Stendam was born in Germany and grew up in the Republic. In 1650 he ended up in New Netherland with his wife and son. He writes: ‘This is the land flowing with milk and honey/ Where herbs (like thistles) grow’. And when things are low, he writes a lament to the Amsterdam city council and the West India Company (WIC). A call to support the colony.

“I’m the narrator in this show, I did the research, but the Camera Trajectina people know that musical tradition. To my delight, we were able to weave two of my favorite seventeenth-century pieces into the program: Daphne And this English Fortune, two classics. Poets like Steindam wrote their poems in ever-present melodies.

“We also use stentless threads. I have sometimes described them, and I never do in scientific articles. I really went wild. For example, there is a case from a certain Trijntje Pieters, who complained that her husband spends too much time in the pub and wants nothing to do with her. It’s very indirect, but I rewrote it in a conversation. It’s great fun. I see it as a way of making seventeenth-century life palpable to the general public.

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“We also say that Stendham’s colonial travels begin in present-day Ghana, where he works on a WIC ship. His ship is involved in the capture of the Portuguese slave fort of Axim. He writes that he falls for a woman with a black mother and a white father, and how it’s an impossible love, and she’s not baptized. But he didn’t write about slavery in New Netherland, which he knew was all around him. So you need context. At first, as a historian, I tended to incorporate this into my text in a very descriptive way. Now I do this in the written introduction and especially through images, prose, and of course music.

New Amsterdam’s venture into poetry and music is 2/10 at the Amstelkerk in Amsterdam. And then shows in and around New York. Including: camerata-trajectina.nl

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