History of the Performing Arts

Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

Theatre in the Stadsschouwburg of Amsterdam

This collection theme covers the history of all performing arts. Music, drama and dance are particularly well represented, with a smaller part of the collection dedicated to circus, cabaret, opera, operetta, mime and puppet theatre.

Thanks to interest in Dutch literature, scripts of plays were included at an early stage in the Stadsbibliotheek (City Library) of Amsterdam. Ever since the gift of J.J. en P.J. Teding van Berkhout’s collection, around 1858, and the considerable legacy of the Amsterdam theatre lover Johannes Hilman in 1881, there had been a strong emphasis on drama. The domain was further strengthened in 1900 with a large number of old stage play scripts bequeathed by H.J. Mehler and the acquisition of an interesting collection of playbills.

The circus collection came about from a legacy from the circus lover K.D. Hartmans in 1963. The collection was expanded using the accompanying fund.

The music collection came from the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst and the Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis. The historical collection from these institutions had already been managed by the University Library from 1881 to 1955, but was not officially transferred to the Special Collections until 2008.

The collections in these areas were greatly expanded in 2012 with the addition of the complete collections of the Muziek Centrum Nederland and the Theater Instituut Nederland to the Special Collections.

Theater Instituut Nederland

Vereniging ‘Het Toneelmuseum’ was founded in 1925 at the initiative of Jac. Rinse and was based on A.Th. Hartkamp’s collection of theatre memorabilia. The museum opened to the public at Herengracht 168 on 28 April 1960. In 1978, the Toneelmuseum, Internationaal Theater Instituut and Theater Klank en Beeld decided to merge, forming the Nederlands Theater Instituut. In 1992, this institute started working together with the Nederlands Instituut voor de Dans, the Nederlands Mimecentrum and the Nederlands Poppenspel Instituut, which were now housed in the adjacent buildings. This new organisation was given the name Theater Instituut Nederland (Netherlands Theatre Institute). In 2000, this period of expansion came to an end. Financial cutbacks whittled away at the organisation, until it was finally disbanded in 2013. Following an unsuccessful attempt to establish a theatre museum in the Amsterdam Stopera, in 2012 the entire collection was transferred to the Special Collections.

The Theater Instituut Nederland collection is highly diverse and contains materials and data from every genre of theatre and dance. The collection holds over one million items. It paints a picture of the history of theatre and dance in the Netherlands from the seventeenth century onwards, as well as providing socio-cultural context.

Muziek Centrum Nederland

Muziek Centrum Nederland was created in 2008 following a merger of seven different musical support organisations. Four of them had collections already:

Stichting Donemus (Documentation Center Dutch Music) was founded in 1947 to promote Dutch contemporary music. Important tasks were publishing works by Dutch composers and documenting Dutch contemporary music. The collection is formed to support the task of publishing and consists of the scores of published works, documentation on Dutch composers and recordings of performances of the works. Some of these recordings are unique documents of Dutch music.

Stichting Gaudeamus was founded in 1945 to support the development of young composers and musicians worldwide. Young composers are invited to submit their work, a selection of which will be performed during the Music Week. Gaudeamus also organised the Vertolkersconcours, where young musicians perform contemporary music.

The Nationaal Pop Instituut was established in 1975 as an organisation for the promotion of Dutch pop music, ranging from pop and rock to hiphop, dance and world music, with an emphasis on independently published material. The main focus of the collection was on documentation, books and magazines and materials (including demos) from pop musicians. In 1997, the LPs and EPs (phono) were transferred to Stichting Beeld en Geluid (The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision), while CDs and audio cassettes remained at the Nationaal Pop Instituut. The magazine FRET was first published in 1993, and the Nederlandse Popencyclopedie made its on-line debut in 1999.

The Nederlands Jazz Archief was founded in 1980 as a non-profit organisation aimed at recording the history of jazz in the Netherlands and making it available to the public. It contains collections and archives from individuals or organisations who were in some way engaged in jazz music, for example musicians, events organisers, journalists and collectors. There is a large audio collection with reel to reel tapes and cassettes with mostly unique recordings as well as a collection of commercial LPs, EPs, 78s and CDs. The history of jazz music in the Netherlands was recorded in the quarterly magazine Jazzbulletin.


The Special Collections currently manage the largest collection in the field of theatre and music in the Netherlands. The theatre collection in particular is frequently consulted by Theatre Studies researchers and students from the University of Amsterdam, as well as non-academic users. The music collections are often used in public events.

Collection profile

  • Theatre and the history of theatre, particularly in the Netherlands
  • Play scripts, particularly in Dutch
  • History of dance, particularly in the Netherlands
  • History of the circus
  • Dutch theatre productions
  • The Amsterdam theatre
  • Scenography
  • Early music and the history of music, in particular spiritual and secular songbooks, partbooks, sheet music and books about music
  • Contemporary musical compositions, including the Donemus publishing house fund
  • Jazz and improvised music: history and archives
  • Pop music: documentation, demo recordings and archives

Major collections of the University Library 

Theater Instituut Nederland collections

  • Books and texts (1550–2011)
  • Magazines (1730–2011)
  • Programmes (1751–2011)
  • Posters (1847–2011)
  • Prints and drawings (1700–2011)
  • Photos (1860–2011)
  • Sheet music (1817–2011)
  • Letters (1780–2000)
  • Archives (1810–2011)
  • Cuttings (1890–2011)
  • Models (1913–2008)
  • Paper and miniature theatres (1781–1970)
  • Costumes (1805–2011)
  • Masks (1947–1985)
  • Puppet collection (1900–1985)
  • Coins, medals and sculptures (1737–2010)
  • Paintings (1550–2002)
  • Curios (1850–2011)
  • Video (1928–2011)
  • Audio (1900–2008)
  • Data from productions (database 1751–2011)

Muziek Centrum Nederland collections

Collection from Donemus publishing house (1945–2012)

  • In-house publications of contemporary composed music in the Netherlands and recordings of associated performances
  •  Literature and documentation on their own composers

Gaudeamus collection (1945–2012)

  • Sheet music and audio recordings of young composers, performed during the Gaudeamus Music Week
  • Contemporary music from music publishers and record companies

Nederlands Jazz Archief collection (1900–2012)

  • Michiel de Ruyter archive (1925–1990)
  • Paul Acket documentation (1940–1992)
  • Jacques Waisvisz collection (1974–1999)
  • Jazz clubs archives (1930–1970)
  • Photographers collections (1940–1990)

Nationaal Pop Instituut collection

  • Demo recordings of Dutch pop music (1975–2012)


Published by  Special Collections UvA

22 August 2014