Brussels – Music, Art, Fries, & Sprouts

Over the coming months there will be four blog posts for each city on the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble’s 2020 England-France Tour tour: Place of Interest; Concert Venue; Music; History of the city. This week’s post, the fifteenth of the series, is on the Music, Art, Fries, & Sprouts of Brussels.


The Garden of Love, Rubens, 1633

The Garden of Love, Rubens, 1633

Unlike France, England, Germany, or Italy, ‘Belgium’ had few native-born composers or artists during the baroque period. As with painting, the heyday of music in Flanders & Wallonia was in the 15thc. Peter Paul Rubens was a notable exception – one of the most important painters in the early baroque period in Europe who, in addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat.

Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck self-portrait

Anthony van Dyck, here seen in a self portrait, was a student of Rubens in
Antwerp. After further study in Italy, he work for the Royal Court in England for many years.

baroque-instrument-holland

Many paintings from Holland depict baroque musical instruments and groups of musicians

Holland, immediately to the north of Flanders had a rich history of ‘genre’ painting during the baroque period. Many of the paintings depict musical instruments and groups of musicians. These paintings are a valuable source of information about the ‘set-up’ of the instruments – design of bridge, shape of neck of the instrument, string length, type of strings and bow, and playing position etc:

As mentioned in the Bruges blog, the few baroque composers in Flanders and Wallonia are not well known – with the exception of the Loeillet cousins, and Fiocco.

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Historically Informed Performance
From late 1960’s the Belgian brothers Weiland (viola da gamba), Bart (baroque flute) & Sigiswald Kuijken (baroque violin), together with Frans Bruggen (recorder), Anner Bylsma (baroque cello), and Gustav Leonhardt (harpsichord) started recording historically informed performances of baroque music, and in the process inspired a whole generation of musicians to take an interest in the repertoire and in period style performance. While still a music student in London in 1972, their early recordings influenced my decision to specialize in the performance of baroque music. A year later I became a founder member of the first baroque orchestras in England since the 18thc. – The English Concert, and Academy of Ancient Music.

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French Fries (US), Chips (‘British’), Pomme Frites (French, S. Belgium – Brussels), Frieten (Flemish, northern Belgium – Bruges):

The French and Belgians have an ongoing dispute about where fries were invented, with both countries claiming ownership. The potato was introduced to France and Belgium as animal feed at the beginning of the late 16th. via Spain, but its true value as food was not recognized until the late 18th century, when a renowned army chemist, A.A. Parmentier, in his comprehensive study: Examen chymique des pommes de terres, Paris, 1774, recommended potatoes as the solution to endemic famines that were then devastating the country,

Brussels Sprouts:
Native to the Mediterranean region with other cabbage species, brussels sprouts were first cultivated in Ancient Rome. They first appeared in northern Europe during the fifth century, and in the 13th century especially in the Brussels area – from which they derived their name. During the 16th century, they enjoyed a popularity in Holland and Flanders that eventually spread throughout the cooler parts of Northern Europe, and eventually to US and other temperate parts of the world.

Interesting facts about Belgium:

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