Historically Speaking

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Archive for September 2nd, 2011

Dutch Concert

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 2, 2011

A Dutch concert is either when everyone singing sings a different song at the same time or when there’s a great noise and uproar that sounds not unlike a group of people carrying on loudly with some singing, others quarrelling, and still others trying to organize the cacophony into something a little less chaotic.  It’s definitely not a compliment. 

How is it that a country that has produced such composers as Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621); Dutch composer and organ virtuoso Jacob van Eyck (1590 – 1657); Dutch baroque composer Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692 – 1766); Dutch composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862 – 1921); Dutch composer and teacher, Willem Pigper (1894 – 1947); and Dutch composer Lex van Delden (1919 – 1988) should also have such an expression tied to them by their English speaking friends?

On September 27, 1953 the St. Petersburg Times published a story entitled, “A Man Born For Pleasure Meets A Man Born For Work.”  About one-third of the way into the story, the following is found:

What work did Ernie Tarlton do to get here?  Riddle me that, pop … 

A couple of surly birds started a Dutch concert when I ducked through the gap in the hedge.  It looked like a mile and five-rights of slow track across the black, squishy lawn to the clump of blur first that bordered the main walk.  I seemed to take a half day, flat, to cover the distance.

The New York Times published an article on May 16, 1920 entitled, “A Manhattan Midsummer Night’s Scream.”  It dealt with the noise that could be heard coming from various flats and apartments in New York during the hot, summer months when windows are thrown open and how, when they all blended together, the sound was anything but pleasant.  The article offered this opinion on the anticipated months-long noise:

If music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, it also hath potencies to awaken it.  We predict an extra high tidal wave of crime over Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn this summer because of this threatened Dutch concert, and the Barrowbones and Cleaver Hallelujah Chorus.  The Beethovens of Babel and the Wagners of jazz are playing with deadly weapons — the infra-violet musical vibrations.

If a single sustained note can make a man commit a crime, what will be the result of our instinctive natures and our Freudian complexes when we have become chock-full (around the mutt days of mid-August) of the musical bellow, blare, yowl, grunt, bleat, ululation, woodnote, shimmy-twist, drone, gurgle, hiss, blatter, croak, squeak, pule, Ethiopian apetheosis, jingle wheese and tintinnabular teaseract?

In Louis Tracy’s book “The Captain Of The Kansas” published in 1907, the following is found in Chapter XIII:

The hammer-like blow of the bullet, the defiance of the dog, and the curiously accurate yelping of the men in the canoes, mixed in wild medley with the volleyed echoes of the firing now rolled back from the opposing cliffs. In such wise did the battle open. Courtenay, more amused than anxious, did not silence the terrier, and Joey’s barking speedily rose to a shrill and breathless hysteria. Some savage, more skilled than his fellows, reproduced this falsetto with marvelous exactness. There never was a death struggle heralded by such grotesque humor; it might have been a tragedy of marionettes, a Dutch concert on the verge of the pit.

On October 30, 1869 the Otago Witness published a news article that was comprised of a number of smaller stories.  One of them was this story:

A new method of attracting the attention of purchasers has been tried by an enterprising butcher in Auckland, who stationed a band at the windows of the room over his shop for the purpose of alluring the marketing people.  Queen Street was certainly well supplied with music on the occasion, no less than three bands being audible at the same time.  The kind of Dutch concert produced, however, could scarcely be called harmonious, although each band was very well in itself.

The definition for Dutch concert is also found in the Francis Grose (1731 – 1791) book “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.”

And on page 47 of the book “Voyages and Travels In The Years 1768 – 1788” written by Indian trader, John Long the following passage is found:

The Indians, in their war dances, sew hawk-bells and small pieces of tin on them to make a jingling noise, and at a dance where I was present, these, with the addition of a large horse-bell, which I gave the chief who led the dance, made a noise not much unlike a Dutch concert.

Considering that in the 1700s, new expressions took longer to become part of the language, and considering that John Long used the expression Dutch concert with such ease in his writing, one can date the expression Dutch concert to at least the early part of the 1700s.

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