JACOB VAN EYCK, de ‘Orfeus van Utrecht’

Jacob van Eyck, ‘the Orpheus of Utrecht’

Jacob van Eyck (appox. 1590-1657) is Utrecht’s number one musical son. On his death the nobleman was dubbed ‘the Orpheus of Utrecht’, ‘to the honour and glory of all artists.’ His special gifts converged in one person and bought him international fame. Because Van Eyck was born blind he possessed exceptionally good hearing skills. Van Eyck was the one who managed to decipher the top note structure of carillon bells and thus discovered how to tune them. This knowledge and his collaboration with the bell founders of Hemony produced the first perfectly-tuned carillons ever. A Hemony bell is still considered the Stradivarius of all Glockenspiels and the carillon in the Dom of Utrecht is an outstanding example.

Besides being a carillon expert, Van Eyck was also the official town carillonneur, and a virtuoso recorder player on top of all that. On balmy summer evenings he would play for ramblers around the Janskerkhof area. The music, published during his lifetime as Der Fluyten Lust-hof, is still considered theultimate challenge of every professional recorder player the world over.

Van Eyck played variations on many of the international hits of his day. He didn’t shy away from taking songs he heard in local pubs as the starting point for his virtuoso series of variations. In the 17thcentury popular culture was considered everyone’s culture, including that of the elite. And making variations on existing melodies was a very common method of improvising and composing.

As such one might well call Van Eyck a precursor to Arjen de Vreede, because he was already sampling existing tunes, as if he were a DJ avant la lettre. Nowadays this way of composing using recordings, vinyl, synthesisers and computers has become the norm.