IIn the seventeenth-century Southern Low Countries, religious songs were used for propaganda purposes by a Catholic Church that was trying to regain by all means the ground lost after the Council of Trent. Authors of seventeenth-century Southern Netherlands sacred songbooks wrote very often religious texts on existing popular profane songs, following the principle of 'contrafacture', i.e. writing new texts to existing, mainly profane tunes. It comes as no surprise that they drew their inspiration from popular Dutch songs, but almost every sacred songbook includes references to French songs as well, often in even more than a quarter of the songs. This observation raises questions on the importance of French songs and their popularity in the Southern Netherlands song culture.
To study the role of 'contrafacture' in religious songbooks and mainly the importance and the function of French songs, we select ten representative sacred songbooks with at least a quarter of the songs composed on French airs de cour. This way we will compile a corpus of around 500 songs.
By means of the Nederlandse Liederenbank (Dutch Song Database), i.e. a digital database of the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam which contains over 150,000 descriptions of songs from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, as the latest research tool it constitutes a real breakthrough for the study of seventeenth-century songs – in combination with the databases of the Centre du Musique Baroque de Versailles (CMBV) and the international database of the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) we can now examine the relation between lyrics and melodies from thousands of songs and answer such questions as: is there a direct connection between sacred songwriters and French songs or did these songs show up in the religious environment through the profane repertoire? Did original French profane songbooks circulate in the Low Countries or did the melodies reach these regions via oral tradition? Which authors imported these songs? Did they, in turn, serve as an example for later generations? Did the latter still know these possibly foreign melodies or did they already rely on Dutch contrafacts? Did the French songs – once they had taken hold in these regions – go round under Dutch titles? To what extent Dutch sacred contrafacts are direct translations or do they include literary derivations from French texts? For how long did these intertextual relationships affect or in other words to what extent the authors seem to be aware of the tone and content of the French original? What audience these devotional songbooks were meant for? Did they particularly focus on a young elitist audience or were they trying to appeal to a larger audience? What was the function of songbooks in the Southern Netherlands song culture?
With the answers to these questions we will gain insight into the functioning of the sacred songbook in the song culture of the Southern Low Countries and we will be able to fill a gap in both literary history and in music history of the Low Countries.