The Scheurleer Museum of the History of Music (1)

At the corner of two streets in what was then a developing area of The Hague, the Laan van Meerdervoort and the Carnegielaan, an impressive mansion was built in 1905 for the banker Daniël François Scheurleer. The neoclassical façade, reminiscent of the famous ‘Mauritshuis’ in the same city, reflected the owner’s predilection for Dutch culture of the 17th Century. Somewhat concealed behind the house, and later completely hidden by the adjoining premises, stood a low building consisting of four rooms, connected to the house by a long corridor. In this Scheurleer had accommodated his musical instruments collection and part of his library.

The proud proprietor and collector liked to present his accomplishments in print; the third edition of his library catalogue comprises three heavy volumes. In 1913 he published a book entitled Eene Wooninge in de welcke ghesien worden veelderhande Gheschriften Boecken Printen ende musicaale Instrumenten (‘A dwelling in which may be seen sundry writings, prints and musical instruments’). Just like the façade of his house, this baroque title and the appropriate engraving express his nostalgic predilection for the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. Its contents consist of photographs of his house and the museum, with for each image an edifying (and sometimes humorous) quotation.


w002 The four rooms and 130 m² of this museum building soon proved too small for Scheurleer’s fast growing collection. The closing-down in 1916 of the steam tram line which bordered on his garden provided an opportunity to enlarge his terrain. He added five rooms to the museum building, parallel to the existing four. Like these, the new rooms were provided with skylights. The corridor which previously had given access from a corner of the house was replaced with a corridor in T-shape, which connected to the centre; one short leg led to the new construction, the other to the garden. The new situation was documented in a second, enlarged edition of Eene wooninge which appeared in 1920.

The interior of the museum
The name ‘museum’, which Scheurleer gave to his creation, implies that this was more than a collection displayed for his private pleasure. It was his intention to make a contribution to musical life, and he provided opportunities for researchers to profit from what he had collected. Those who were interested had access by appointment and were usually given a tour by the owner.

As the full title of Eene wooninge indicates, the collection contained written and printed sources, iconography and instruments. All of this was displayed in an arrangement which may be seen as a compromise between systematics and decorative aesthetics. The 1917 extension allowed for a far more balanced and orderly presentation than before. Instruments from non-western cultures, in those days often treated with little discrimination as ‘exotic’, had been packed into one very full room in 1913. In 1917 a selection was made, divided over a Japanese and an Indonesian room. The extant photographs can only give an imperfect idea; the images of rooms VI-IX in the second edition of Eene wooninge are the same as those for the identical rooms IV-I (in that order) of 1913, though the arrangement had been modified (some objects are therefore found in two rooms).

A tour of the museum »